PANAMA CITY BEACH — Hayden Mango bounded to the locker room Thursday night with three fingers held high above his head and sweat dripping down his face.
“Don’t Stop Believin’” appropriately serenaded he and his Viking teammates over the Mike Gavlak Stadium loudspeakers, the lot of them just as energized as they broke their postgame huddle.
“3-0 coming up,” Mango shouted. “3-0 coming up.”
Shrugging off a slow, penalty-laden start and a six-point halftime deficit, Fort Walton Beach topped Arnold 24-16 Thursday night, claiming its first 2-0 start since 2017 and doubling its 2018 win total.
“This was a good one to get because we didn’t feel like we played as well as we should have, especially in the first half,” Vikings coach Phil Dorn said. “That’s a great learning experience for our kids. It’ll help us a lot going forward.”
Thanks to a halftime pep talk junior running back Jay Jarrett said was fairly straight forward, the Vikings (2-0) opened the second half with a stop of Arnold and a six-play, 72-yards to retake the lead, 17-16, Jarrett racing up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown.
Arnold (0-1) never answered, it’s passing attack limited to just 65 yards and its ground game held without the game-breaking plays it needed.
And after a fourth-down snap flew high over the Marlin’s punter midway through the fourth quarter, the Vikings made use of short field to add some insurance, quarterback Brady Bachmann capping a five-play, 18-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Bachmann passed for 31 yards Thursday and ran for another 48.
“The way we played after halftime, that’s how we play all the time,” Jarrett said. “That’s the team that we are.
“We got something special this year, man. We’re gonna keep proving that.”
STAT OF THE NIGHT: 0
That would be the amount of points the Fort Walton Beach defense allowed in the second half.
The Vikings trailed 16-10 at the halftime whistle largely because their defense couldn’t get out of its own way.
With 4:21 left in the first half, Arnold took over at its own 20, the game knotted up 10-10. Fort Walton surrendered three straight 15-yard penalties, and the Marlins took the lead four plays later, sophomore Rock Holland scampering in from 9-yards out.
For the most part, those mistakes disappeared in the second half.
OFFENSIVE MVP: Jay Jarrett
Quite simply, the Viking junior was his team’s offense Thursday.
Powering through some midgame cramping, Jarrett rushed for 201 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries against Arnold, carving up the Marlins with his patient and physical running style.
“When he gets hot and starts to get the feel of the game, he gets better and better as the game goes on,” Dorn said.
On Fort Walton’s first touchdown drive, Jarrett converted two fourth-down carries, the latter a 23-yard dash into the end zone for a 10-3 lead with 11:43 left in the second quarter.
In two games, Jarrett has totaled 330 yards and four touchdowns.
“Really, I’m just reading my blocks better, getting lower, getting my speed up, hitting the right holes, knowing where the holes are gonna be,” Jarrett said. “Little stuff like that, that’s what I didn’t have last year.”
DEFENSIVE MVP: Gaveen Alexis
If Thursday’s contest is any indication, Alexis, might just be the heart and soul of this Viking defense.
The sophomore linebacker patrolled the sidelines with the gusto of Ray Lewis, dishing out encouragement and big hits with equal measure.
“I feel like a lot of people look up to me, so I just try to keep everybody going with big plays and momentum changes,” he said.
On Arnold’s first drive of the second half, Alexis set the tone for the shutout to come, laying in to Arnold receiver Rett Triplette on third-and-7 to force a punt. The Vikings’ sideline all but ran to greet him on the field.
“Gaveen, he’s a natural leader, “Jarrett said. “Even though he’s a sophomore, he gets everybody right in the locker room.”
“Coach was saying we knew we could beat this team. We knew that from the jump. We was just out making mental mistakes, stuff that we knew we shouldn’t be doing. Our coach told us to tighten up because we were beating ourselves. That’s all it was. We were just beating ourselves.” – Jarrett on what was said during halftime
The Vikings will welcome 7A Niceville to Steve Riggs Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday.
“We’re looking forward to having ’em,” Dorn said. “Really it’s big boy football now. We’ve gotta rise up and play a good team, a 7A team that’s gonna come into our place.
“It’s a good rivalry game for the communities, but for us now, it’s time to take another step forward and become a school that can step into that arena and play well also.”
- Should this game have ended in a Viking loss, penalties, no doubt, would have been the culprit. Fort Walton was penalized 10 times for 100 yards Thursday, and two of those penalties took touchdowns off the board.
- Fans of kickers were treated to a rare sight Thursday. Viking senior Joshua Brazzel booted a 30-yarder, and Arnold junior Zack Bischoff bounced a K-ball off the crossbar for a 40-yarder.
- The Vikings have started 2-0 four times in the past 10 years.
- Arnold was the only win on Fort Walton Beach’s schedule in 2018, the Vikings besting the Marlins 21-7 in Panama City Beach.