Trenton, Newberry battle for 1A state final berth
Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 7:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 7:58 p.m.
Chris Baker is not surprised at all by the recent success of the Trenton football program.
Having been the Tigers' coach for three years (2008-10), he has a good idea of the talent level at his former school.
In tonight's Class 1A state semifinal, Baker, who is in his second season as Newberry's coach, now has the challenge of finding a way to have success against his former club.
“They were already good ballplayers when I got there, and (since) I left they have gotten better,” Baker said. “They are a special group of kids, and you couldn't ask for a better group of athletes to coach.
“We're going to do the best we can to try and stop them.”
At the top of that list for top-ranked Trenton (12-0) is running back Cedric Stokes. The senior is the area's leading rusher with 1,671 yards and 24 touchdowns on 190 carries. Junior quarterback Stephen Smith, the trigger-man for Trenton's ground attack, has rushed for 1,124 yards and 14 TDs. He has also thrown for 732 yards and 13 TDs.
Prior to his arrival in Trenton, Baker served as Newberry's defensive coordinator for three seasons. When he decided to return to Newberry in March of 2011 to spend more time with his family, Baker contacted his eventual successor, Andrew Thomas. Less than two weeks later, Thomas a former Dixie County and Chiefland assistant, had his first head coaching job.
“He is a great guy and I consider him a friend,” said Baker, who was 11-19 at Trenton. “He has taken it to another level, and I'm not shocked.”
Thomas has followed Baker by guiding Trenton to a 23-1 mark, including a pair of district titles and undefeated regular seasons.
“Me and him have been close ever since he has moved down here (from Kentucky),” said Thomas, who has four assistant coaches on his staff from Baker's regime. “I'm sure he probably feels a little bit the same way.
“If you win, it's great and you go play for a state championship. You lose, it is a buddy in the business that goes.”
The Panthers, 2007 Class 2B state runners-up, are powered by Ra'kheem Hoyt, who despite being suspended for three games this season due to a disciplinary issue, is eighth in the area in rushing. Hoyt leads the No. 5 Panthers (9-3) with 1,199 yards and 21 TDs on 189 attempts. The Tigers, on the other hand, are eyeing their first state championship game appearance.
“We're excited to still be around. It is heck of a turnaround from last year (2-8), and I don't think many people thought we'd be here,” Baker said. “Either way how it turns out (tonight), I will be cheering for the team that gets to the state final.”