FORT WALTON BEACH - Counting Friday night’s clash at Steve Riggs Stadium, the Fort Walton Beach Vikings and the Choctaw Indians have met 42 times on the football field.
SLIDESHOW: View photos from the game >
VIDEO: View a short video from the game >
It’s hard to imagine any of those 42 matching the drama and excitement put forth in the 2012 edition.
On a night when both teams needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, senior quarterback Blake James passed for 404 yards and five scores, including the game-winner to Marquese Davenport with 23 seconds left, to lift the Vikings to a thrilling 38-31 win in front of an overflow home crowd.
“It’s incredible,” said James. “We said at the beginning on the year that this game was the one we wanted. To come out here and get it, to see this team fight like that, it’s unbelievable.”
Both teams entered the night needing a win and some help to grab the No. 2 spot in the District 2-6A playoff chase, as both entered at 2-2, tied with Niceville and Crestview. When Niceville topped Crestview, that eliminated the Vikings from playoff contention, but it didn’t take away the feeling of accomplishment from head coach Mike Owens and his squad, who recaptured the City Championship Trophy and knotted the all-time series at 21 wins apiece.
“Both teams have a lot to be proud of tonight,” said Owens. “Every time it looked like we had things going right, they just came back at us. And they kept coming and kept coming.”
Choctaw, which fell to 3-7 overall and 2-3 in district play, came within an eyelash of grabbing the postseason bid, fighting back from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to tie the score at 31-31 with 2:46 left in the game. The Indians tied the game on a 4th down play, as QB Garrison Floyd connected with Chase Whitehead on a nine-yard TD with just under three minutes to go. Senior Dominik
The time left was more than enough for James, though, who engineered a 13-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in the game-winning pass to Davenport.
“That’s just my quarterback making big-time plays,” said Davenport, who caught four of James’ five TD passes on the night. “He just makes big throws when we need it.”
The Vikings needed them often Friday night. Choctaw opened the scoring in the first half, as Floyd scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns with a 12-yard sprint just three minutes into the game. Jordan’s PAT gave the Indians a 7-0 lead, which would last about 40 seconds. After FWB’s John Marvin delivered an 84-yard kick return to the Choctaw 15, James got his big night started, connecting with Chris Bauduin from seven yards out to knot the game at 7-7.
“This quarterback….To see him now and knowing where he was as a ninth grader. He’s turned into a great player,” said Owens. “He’s been doing this all year.”
After the two teams traded second-quarter field goals, the Vikings began to get separation in the second half, building a 24-10 lead on the strength of two James-to-Davenport scores, the first from 65 yards out, the second from five.
Like they would all night, Choctaw responded, using a John Hicks three-yard score on the final play of the third quarter to make the score 24-17 heading into the final period.
That’s when the theatrics began. After James and Davenport hooked up from 16 yards out to push the lead to 31-17, Choctaw mounted their final comeback attempt, starting with a 1-yard run by Floyd midway through the quarter.
Trailing 31-24, Choctaw’s Chase Whitehead delivered the night’s biggest defensive play, intercepting a James pass and returning it to the Viking 22. Five plays later, Whitehead was on the receiving end of Floyd’s 4th-down pass, evening the score at 31-31 and setting up FWB’s last-minute drive.
After FWB took the 38-31 lead, Choctaw had one final chance. But a sack from Viking lineman Ellis Warren ended that threat, and FWB’s student section emptied onto the field as time expired.
“I’ve been involved with these games for 13 years,” said Owens. “It’s like this every year. It was just unbelievable effort from both teams.”
Choctaw finished with 336 total yards, while Floyd passed for 117 yards and one touchdown. The junior QB also ran 14 times for 115 yards and two scores.
Fort Walton Beach managed 500 yards of total offense, with 404 coming through the air. James completed 27 of his 39 pass attempts, while Davenport notched eight catches for 148 yards and four TDs.
Now 7-3, FWB will end its season with a home game against Arnold next week, while Choctaw’s season is complete.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Brandon Walker at 850-315-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonWnwfdn.