The amount of time spent on the field by the offense will likely be a key barometer during the 2018 football season for the Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School Gators.

With a lack of depth, the Gators will need to perform at a similar level to last week’s preseason classic, when Wewahitchka ran twice as many offensive plays at Bozeman during one half of action.

In fact, eliminate a running-into-the-punter penalty and an interception, and the Gators could have held host Bozeman to just four plays from scrimmage.

“That is what we have to do,” said Wewahitchka coach Bobby Johns. “We have to limit possessions for the other team.

“The whole key is you have to have first downs, you can’t get behind the chains.”

That will be the formula Friday night when the Gators open the regular season against county rival Port St. Joe in Shark Stadium.

Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. ET.

The Gators ran 32 plays during one half against Bozeman that ended 7-6 Bucks, with a 15-play drive and a seven-play drive.

Wewahitchka drove the opening kickoff 54 yards in 15 plays, Trevor Nunnery’s 34-yard return providing a short field.

The big plays were a 12-yard burst by Tyreeq Thomas on the first snap from scrimmage, a 14-yard scramble by quarterback Creed Pariera and Thomas’ 5-yard smash on fourth-and-5.

Three runs by Pariera and two more dives by Thomas reached the end zone.

Bailey Brodgon’s extra-point attempt suffered from faulty timing and was squibbed short.

“The goal is the same (against Port St. Joe) but it is a different challenge,” Johns said.

That challenge will be on a defense still learning a 3-5 scheme put in place this season to take advantage of the players’ skill-sets.

Players have not become fully comfortable with the defensive calls, Johns said, and the lack of depth, especially in practice, is also an impact.

“It is very difficult to simulate the game, speed-wise, in practice,” Johns said, noting the Gators allowed two long runs during a preseason scrimmage against Blountstown.

Last week, Bozeman cashed in an interception returned to the Wewahitchka 30 for its lone score, which came after an eight-play drive.

An extra point kick was the difference in the score.

“We knew there would be growing pains on defense,” Johns said. “It is a question of them understanding their responsibilities enough to respond instinctually, instead of thinking about.

“And we are not adjusting to the speed of the game. (Port St. Joe players) are still learning a new system, but when they touch the ball they can take it to the house.”

Another important aspect to this week’s game is learning to be a better road team, Johns said.

At times last year, playing before sparse crowds and the Gators lacked the energy Johns hoped to see.

After playing at Bozeman last week, the Gators visit Port St. Joe this week with a trip to Lighthouse Christian in Pensacola coming as conference play gets underway next week.

“This is a new challenge this week and that is good, because all the mistakes, we need to know where they are with conference play starting next week,” Johns said.

“The conference is more important to us (in the long run). And with our seniors were trying to teach them to have a little more focus and a higher energy level on the road.”