NICEVILLE – Who’s up for some doughnuts?


Niceville’s Jacob Dunne, Carson Hickok, Nathan Thompson and Austin Paugh, that’s who.


Not literally, of course. Metaphorically speaking – the doughnuts offering a code name for clean sheets. And there have been many for the Eagles quartet.


A 3-0 state semifinal win over Mitchell — the only threat of the night resulted in a shot off the right post in the waning seconds —represented the Eagles’ 15th doughnut of the season.


Throughout it all, goals by Michael O’Leary, Ryan Freeman and Logan Harrelson providing the ample cushion, one message resonated for the back line.


“We kept saying throughout the night, “Keep that doughnut, keep that doughnut,” said Hickok, a junior. “That always just motivates us, that feeling of having that zero on the scoreboard. Our offense was playing great and it was our turn to make a statement.”


A statement?


For the backbone of a 24-0-2 crew ranked tops in the state and second in the nation headed into Saturday’s 6A championship against South Broward in DeLand, there’s been no shortage of those.


Here you have a back line that’s allowed just 19 goals on the year. That has four doughnut since the start of the postseason, a mark that hasn’t gone unnoticed by veteran coach Wes Nelson.


“Knowing we have a defense back there that’s gonna make it really difficult for the other team to score gives us that confidence to go forward, to commit guys forward know that they have our back,” he said.


In all, Niceville has allowed two or more goals just three times this season. That includes the 5-5 (3-1) win over Fletcher in the region semifinals, the most goals given up all year by the Eagles.


But four of those goals came off free kicks, throw-ins or corners – the set pieces problematic against the taller, more physical visitors from Neptune Beach.


“There really was no other team this season like Fletcher,” said Paugh, a junior. “They were massive, they were aggressive, they were fast. Honestly it was intimidating.”


Yet through the relentless 50-50 balls and set pieces and barrage of attacks and counters, Niceville’s defense bent but never broke. It culminated with Dunne allowing just one goal in four PK shots while Cody and Tim Albert and Logan Harrelson buried their PK opportunities.


“Toward the end we knew this couldn’t be the last game for this team, we wouldn’t allow that,” Paugh said. “We’ve come too far, been through too much. So we buckled down and got the job done.”


From the win, Niceville learned a lot about itself to set the tone for the Mitchell doughnut.


“We learned to be aggressive even when we’re the smaller man, to never be intimidated” said Thompson, a senior. “With Mitchell we saw they liked to bypass the midfield and go over the top, so the key was to win the headers and not allow that.”


And Dunne gained even more respect for his offense.


“Them scoring up top like they’ve done, it’s pretty tremendous,” said the senior. “It definitely helps my confidence and calms my nerves when that first goal goes in.”


Echoed Hickok: “The offense is clicking when it matters most. When they score at least a couple of goals, I’m confident and everyone here is confident we can protect that lead.”


For the quartet, communication is central to the success.


“It’s nonstop communication between us,” Thompson said. “We know where each other is gonna be and we know when to back each other up. And right now, everything is clicking.”


Echoed Hickok: “We’re all vocal. We all can do different things, so in that we compliment each other. Like with Nathan it helps to have a left-footer playing on the left side. And we’re all not afraid to get onto people. Everyone knows what they’re doing.”


Added Dunne: “There’s been so many times where I’ll punch it out and I have faith they can get it to first, clear it out. I love these three so much and they’re so clutch. We just love each other so much, and we know each individual will do everything for the betterment of this team.”


Paugh said it helps “we’ve been playing together pretty much our whole lives so the chemistry is great. We get the job done and get those donuts.”


Of course the biggest doughnut is in the loss column of that 24-0-2 mark.


“We take great pride in it,” Dunne said. “Coach Nelson, he takes great pride in it. He’s been here for 19 years and he’s never had an undefeated season, so it’s a big deal for everyone.”


Now only South Broward separates the Eagles from their quest for perfection.


“We just gotta go out there and play like we’ve been playing,” Hickok said.


“We’re confident in each other and we’re confident we can go all the way,” Thompson added.


“We’ve all been dreaming about this day since the moment we stepped on Niceville High School pitch,” Paugh contributed. “It’s finally coming true. We’re not gonna hold back. We’re gonna deliver.”


Cue Dunne nodding his head: “We gotta get that doughnut.”