PENSACOLA – With the Pensacola High Tigers leading 22-7 late in the second quarter, the Choctaw sideline started to show signs of frustration.

Shoulders started to slump, heads started to hang and despair started to set in.

And in the blink of an eye, it all changed.

After the Indians cut the lead to 22-15 on a 71-yard catch and run from Javaris Young, Choctaw defensive back Detarian Grant welcomed Pensacola backup quarterback Jacob Leonard into the game with a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Grant’s defensive gem sparked a comeback of epic proportions, as the Indians (2-2, 1-0) returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown, recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and added three more scores in rolling to a District 1-5A opening 50-22 win over the Tigers.

After giving up 242 yards passing to Simmons in the first half, the Indians limited the PHS passing attack to only 61 yards in the second half. Simmons left the game late in the second quarter after a hard hit near the Choctaw sideline, but returned in the third quarter. He struggled the rest of the game, finishing with 27-of-49 passes for 299 yards and two interceptions.

Meanwhile, Choctaw’s offense, which was stagnant in the first half, came alive in the second half with touchdown runs by Ezra McKenna as the Indians rallied for a big road victory.

STAT OF THE NIGHT: 43

Number of unanswered points the Indians scored after spotting the Pensacola High Tigers a 22-7 lead. The Indians started the 43-point onslaught with a 71-yard touchdown throw from McKenna to Young and ended it with a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown by Grant, his second pick-six of the night.

“It’s an emotional game and a lot of the kids, even though we don’t preach it, in a lot of their minds they’re starting to think ‘Oh here we go again,’” Choctaw coach Greg Thomas said. “And something big happens so it kind of rejuvenates you, so to speak.

“That was big, at the right time, we really needed it and he had a big night.”

Offensive MVP: Ezra McKenna, Choctaw QB

McKenna and the Indians overcome a slow, and sometimes sloppy start, to explode for three unanswered touchdowns on offense to pull away for the victory. McKenna completed 13-of-18 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns and also carried the ball for two scores.

McKenna’s 71-yard touchdown pass to Javaris Young on a nice long ball down the PHS sideline ultimately sparked the Choctaw comeback. McKenna then added two short touchdown runs of his own in the second half to pace the Indians.

Defensive MVP: Detarian Grant, Choctaw DB

Who else besides DT, right? The senior defensive back picked off two passes, returning both of them the distance for touchdowns to lead the Indians to a 43-point turnaround Friday night.

Grant’s first pick-six came after the Indians had knocked PHS starter Nate Simmons out of the game. Leonard came in and immediately tried to go deep against the Indians. Grant was having none of it, going airborne to pull the pass out of the air and racing untouched down the sideline for the touchdown.

His second interception of the night came in the waning moments of the game, when Simmons was back under center for the Tigers. The Tigers had been throwing a quick route to the outside all game and Grant was just waiting for the right moment to jump the route.

He timed it perfectly, getting there right as the ball arrived and racing 63 yards to paydirt and a 50-22 lead.

“I was like ‘I’m going to get it eventually,” but I didn’t want to break too fast because we were playing under (coverage),” Grant said. “My linebacker had the under and I said to myself “I’m gonna break on it” and I got it and my teammates got me in the end zone."

QUOTABALE

“It feels big, because it’s our first win against Pensacola in 30 years,” Grant said. “We were doing bad, I was doing bad, I got burned a couple of times. But my players got my back, they told me to get right and they got me right.

“We all feed off everything we do. If the safety gets something, if our linemen get something, we all feed off each other. It’s that energy we have. We have to put that together every game, we can’t lose any more.”

UP NEXT

The Indians will take another break from district play when they return home to take on the Milton Panthers. Milton improved to 2-1 on the year with a 21-7 win over Fort Walton Beach on Friday in the District 1-6A opener.

FROM THE SIDELINE

It’s been a rough last two weeks for Choctaw after starting the season with a 29-13 win over Pace.

The Indians followed up that win with a loss to Niceville before falling to Gulf Breeze in a tough one last Friday.

So Friday night’s win at Pensacola was just what the doctor ordered for the Indians.

“The past few weeks, it’s been rough,” Thomas said. “We are just happy to come away with a win. It was a tight game there, we got some big turnovers and that’s what did it. Our offense struggled. We are just happy with the win, hopefully we’ll correct all our mistakes.”

The Choctaw offense struggled again at times Friday night, fumbling the ball six times and losing it twice. The Indians also threw an interception. The six fumbles resulted in minus-36 yards and included a snap that went over the punter’s head and out the back of the endzone for a safety.

“We’re going to have to correct our mistakes,” Thomas said. “The last three weeks, we have almost 10 turnovers and we are going to have to correct that.

“But when you get turnovers from your defense, it’s big time. Our defense did a great job tonight.”