NICEVILLE – Friday night’s matchup between Fort Walton Beach and Niceville was expected to be a tense, down-to-the-wire affair between a pair of rivals aiming to gain ground in District 2-6A.
So much for that.
Tayjon Culley rushed for four touchdowns, Niceville’s defense held the normally-prolific Fort Walton Beach offense out of the end zone and the Eagles were never seriously challenged in a convincing 34-3 win at Eagles Stadium.
“When we were 2-3 a couple of weeks ago…We knew that wasn’t us,” said Culley, who rushed for 119 yards and scored two touchdowns in each half. “We felt like we needed to show everybody what we are about as a football team. We’re not that team that struggled earlier, we’re better than that.”
Culley and his teammates made that point emphatically against Fort Walton Beach, opening and closing the game on a pair of 17-0 runs. The Eagles jumped all over the Vikings early, scoring on all three first-quarter possessions to take a 17-0 lead with more than three minutes to go in the first quarter. The early onslaught took all momentum away from the visiting Vikings, and Fort Walton Beach (5-2, 2-1) never recovered.
Culley scored on runs of seven and eight yards in the first quarter, sandwiching a 41-yard field goal by senior Andrew Mitchell.
“Just a total team effort,” said Niceville head coach John Hicks, who watched his team move to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in 2-6A play. “I thought the offensive line was outstanding and I thought the defense did a great job. The defense really looked like they got their mojo back starting with the win against Mosley, and it continued here tonight.”
Fort Walton Beach entered the night averaging 31 points per game on the season, and the Vikings only threatened the Niceville end zone once. That second-quarter possession ended on a 25-yard field goal by FWB kicker Austin Minks, which turned out to be the only Viking points.
“It started up front,” said Hicks. “Our guys did a good job of getting pressure on the quarterback, and we slowed down the running game.”
Fort Walton Beach ended the night with 247 total yards, managing just 88 yards after halftime. After leading 17-3 at the break, Niceville took complete control in the second half, rolling up 237 second-half yards and 15 first downs. Culley rushed for 90 of his 119 yards after the break, and the Eagles finished the night with 334 rushing yards.
“I knew my offensive line was going to do a great job tonight,” said Culley. “We’ve all been working hard, wanting to play well. To come out here and do this felt pretty good.”
Culley finished his big night with two more touchdowns, an eight-yard run in the final minute of the third quarter and a seven-yard run with four minutes, 53 seconds to go in the game. Mitchell also added a 37-yard field goal in the second half.
Fort Walton Beach QB Blake James passed for 158 yards on the night, but the Vikings were unable to string enough first downs together to muster any serious drive after the break.
For Niceville, Devin Vazquez continued his hot streak, rushing for 124 yards on just eight carries.
Despite the loss, Fort Walton Beach remains in playoff position, holding on to second place in the district alone with a 2-1 record. Navarre leads at 4-0, while Choctaw, Crestview and Niceville each have two losses.
Niceville will be off this Friday, while Fort Walton Beach will travel to district-leading Navarre.