FORT WALTON BEACH – Through two games and most of a third, Choctaw’s Lady Indians had yet to figure out how to score against Arnold’s defense.
So, after watching his team enter the final 10 minutes of Friday night’s District 2-3A championship match at Choctaw, Lady Indians’ head coach Jeff Rynearson decided to shake things up and move an extra attacker onto the offensive end in hopes of scoring that elusive goal.
It worked – twice.
Trailing Arnold by a score of 1-0 deep into the district title match, Choctaw scored two goals in the final 10 minutes – the game-tying score coming off a penalty kick from senior Ashley Quackenbush, the game-winner on a streaking one-on-one bullet from sophomore Kelsey Douglas – as the Lady Indians captured their first-ever district championship with a thrilling 2-1 win.
“We were getting a little desperate,” said Rynearson. “So we decided to make a change and go entirely offensive. We changed to a 3-3-4 look and brought an extra attacker in, and I think that triggered something in our girls’ minds. They knew it was now or never.”
It was now.
In a game played mostly in the middle of the field for 70 minutes, Choctaw dominated time of possession in the second half, forcing Arnold’s back line to defend shot-after-shot, which eventually led to a handball call in the Arnold box in the game’s 71st minute. That meant a penalty kick for Choctaw, and after some deliberation, it was Quackenbush that got the call from Rynearson.
Once the referee whistled the ball into play, Quackenbush calmly stepped up and drilled the ball into the left corner of the net past the lunge of Arnold keeper Raye Sutton.
“When (Rynearson) called on me to kick it, that told me that he had confidence in me,” said Quackenbush, “and that gave me confidence in myself to get the job done.”
Quackenbush’s equalizer energized the Lady Indians, who were fighting from behind all night thanks to a first-half goal from Arnold’s Kelli Crowley, who blasted in a shot from 30 yards out past Choctaw keeper Sam Shaw midway through the first half.
Once the game was even, however, Choctaw stayed on the attack, ultimately leading to a perfect pass to a streaking Douglas from Dani Weyer. One-on-one with Sutton on the right side, Douglas threaded a shot past Sutton’s dive and into the left side of the net to give the Lady Indians the improbable come-from-behind win.
“As soon as I saw Dani pass the ball my way, I knew there was a chance,” said Douglas, who found herself alone with her best scoring opportunity of the night. “The keeper came out to meet it, but I was able to get the ball past her. It seemed like it took forever to go in. It felt amazing.”
On the night, Choctaw out-shot Arnold 11-7, and the Lady Indians limited the Dolphins to just one shot on goal in the second half. The loss avenges two earlier setbacks to the Dolphins, who had previously beaten Choctaw by scores of 1-0 and 2-0.
“To win it like that was just incredible,” said Rynearson.
The win for Choctaw means a home game in next week’s regional round of the Class 3A playoffs, where they will host West Florida Tech. Arnold (12-12) will visit Gulf Breeze.