NICEVILLE — In nearly every facet on the stat sheet, Niceville compares favorably to South Broward headed into Saturday’s 6A state championship at 4 p.m. EST in DeLand.
Of course wins aren’t won or lost on paper, but let’s delve into the numbers.
Niceville is unbeaten at 24-0-2. South Broward is 18-4-2.
Niceville is ranked No. 1 in the state and second nationally. South Broward is 14th and 34th, respectively.
Niceville averages 3.7 goals per game. South Broward just 2.3.
Niceville is allowing 0.73 goals per game on the strength of 15 shutouts, four of which have come since the start of the postseason. South Broward is allowing 0.83 goals per game on nine shutouts.
Niceville has the top strength of schedule in the Sunshine State at 13.6, per MaxPreps. South Broward’s is 9.9.
Niceville has two elite goal scorers in Logan Harrelson and Liam Etan; Harrelson has 25 goals and 15 assists and Etan has 23 goals and 17 assists, the two in a heated race for Player of the Year honors. South Broward’s leader in goals is eight, a mark split by Mark Kurtevski, Daniel Popa, and Brian Corion. For reference, Niceville’s third leading goal scorer is Ryan Freeman with 10, while Carl and James Hawver each have eight.
@NicevilleSoccer STATE CHAMPIONSHIP send off! Good Luck! pic.twitter.com/SzLg66Xk2Z— Niceville Football (@Niceville_FB) February 28, 2020
Yet, as Wes Nelson said earlier in the playoffs when his team drew the Region 1 top seed, "when the whistle blows, records and rankings don’t matter anymore."
That was the case when South Broward routed Doral Academy, then the No. 1 team in the state, 4-1 in the Region 4-6A championship. That avenged a 4-0 loss to the previously unbeaten Firebirds.
The upset theme has resonated for the Bulldogs all postseason. They also secured a 2-0 win against second-seeded St. Thomas Aquinas in the region quarterfinals and a 2-1 victory over George Jenkins, the top seed in Region 3, in the Final Four.
As for the history of the two programs, this will be the first state finals appearance for both programs. Niceville was previously 0-3 in Final Four trips, while South Broward had never made the Final Four before this year.
But one of state title droughts will end in DeLand.
"We’ve all been dreaming about this day since the moment we stepped on Niceville High School pitch," defender Austin Paugh said. "It’s finally coming true. We’re not gonna hold back. We’re gonna deliver."