NICEVILLE — Their districts and classes may have changed. The significance of the Choctaw-Niceville rivalry hasn't.
A pair of 1-0 starts affirm that.
While 7A Niceville was shutting out Mosley 15-0 at Eagle Stadium, 5A Choctaw was handing Pace a 29-13 loss in Pensacola.
Each armed with momentum, the former District 3-6A rivals will match up at Eagle Stadium for a 7 p.m. kickoff tonight in the Daily News Game of the Week.
Despite a tightly contested 17-14 Niceville win last year, it’s a rivalry that’s been noticeably one-sided the last six years.
Ever since Choctaw’s 31-28 time-expiring win in 2012 on the right leg of Dominik Jordan, the Eagles have won six straight by a 237-110 margin.
"I think that doesn't matter in a rivalry like this," said first-year Niceville coach Grant Thompson. "This is a new year, new coaches, new game."
A new slate. And new jabs from both locker rooms.
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it,” Niceville quarterback Will Koch said after the win over Mosley. “They’re already talking trash so we may have to start in on them a little bit.”
Added senior defensive tackle Logan Schaeffer, “I’m so pumped. The whole entire team is pumped.”
This will be Choctaw quarterback Ezra McKenna’s first foray into the rivalry, the Navarre transfer ingratiating himself to Indians fans with 151 passing yards, 80 rushing yards and two scores in his debut.
"He spins it well," Thompson said.
Further illustrating Choctaw’s shift from last year’s 3-6 struggles, lead back Mario Banks found the end zone twice in helping lead the Indians to their first win to open the regular season since 2015.
Less flashy was Niceville’s offense, which struggled with drops and third-and-longs against Mosley. Nonetheless, quarterback Will Koch looked healthy and strong, Luke Unterseh’s hands matched the hype and Shawn Parker looked capable of becoming the next 1,000-yard Niceville running back.
Koch ended the night with 159 yards (90 passing, 69 rushing) and two touchdowns, one a 21-yard to Luke Unterseh and the other a 25-yard touchdown run up the gut. Unterseh ended up with four catches for 61 yards.
Asked about his newfound dual-threat prowess, Koch said, “Coach is giving me the ball a lot more and I’m just putting my head down and getting what I can get,”
Parker, meanwhile, had 115 all-purpose yards — 94 yards on 17 carries and two catches for 21 yards.
“You’ll be writing about Shawn a lot,” Thompson said.
The defense, led by Payton Kerle, Logan Schaeffer and Aidan Dark, was where the Eagles shined, limiting the Dolphins to 40 yards passing and three yards rushing and forcing a turnover and safety. It was the first shutout since last year's 42-0 win over Fort Walton Beach on Sept. 28.
"We were really pleased with the effort and how well the defense played behind Payton Kerle and Logan Schaeffer," Thompson said.
Choctaw’s defense didn’t need any turnovers in Friday’s road win, instead leaning on a bend-but-don’t-break mentality. The Patriots ran the ball 45 times for 197 yards, just 4.4 yards per carry, and two touchdowns. Meanwhile Choctaw’s secondary featuring D.T. Grant and Jimmy Hart limited the Patriots to just 32 passing yards on a 2-of-8 completion rate.
Now the Indians gear up for another stiff road test.
“It’s a great atmosphere they have up there and we can’t wait,” Thomas said.