The Choctawhatchee High School football team fell to Pine Forest High School 42-17 on Tuesday night in the District 1-5A championship game.
FORT WALTON BEACH — Prior to Tuesday, Greg Thomas had never experienced such an occurrence.
For a man with four state championship rings, that’s odd in and of itself.
Choctaw’s coach has seen or done most everything in his 25 years helming programs in North Carolina and Florida, but to start a game on Monday after a weather delay on Friday, play a quarter, then call the game off until the following evening, well, that’s a new one.
And it’s one, Thomas isn’t so fond of after his Indians fell to visiting Pine Forest 42-17 in the de facto District 1-5A championship game Tuesday night at Joe Etheredge Stadium.
“I just think the whole last few days have kinda taken us out of our routine,” Thomas said. “And I think it showed a little bit the last few nights, so we gotta regroup and get back to work.”
Choctaw trailed Pine Forest 14-3 with 11 minutes left in the second quarter Monday when the lightning started and the game was postponed. Eagles quarterback Ladarius Clardy had already thrown two touchdown passes.
When the game resumed Tuesday, Pine Forest (5-2 overall, 3-0 District 1-5A) didn’t skip a beat. Right out of the first water break, sophomore running back Joseph Garrett bounced handoff out to the left sideline and scampered untouched for a 32-yard touchdown, the first salvo in a 21-0 run that wouldn’t end until early in the fourth quarter.
In between, Choctaw (4-4, 3-1) had five scoreless possessions, including two that ended in turnovers.
“I didn’t think we played well offensively,” Thomas said. “We kinda kept our defense out on the field way too long, and with a team like Pine Forest, they’re gonna take advantage of that … Ain’t no smoke and mirrors; we played bad offensively.”
With 9:15 left in the game, the Indians finally put a touchdown on the board. Ezra McKenna capped a 14-play, 75-yard drive with a dive at the goal line to make it 35-10 Eagles.
Ezra McKenna pounds in the Indians’ first TD from a yard out. Choctaw trails 35-10 with 9:15 left. pic.twitter.com/qazmMSrV13— Sam Grubenhoff (@SamGrubenhoff) October 23, 2019
A second touchdown came shortly thereafter, the Choctaw defense recovering a fumble at its own 5 to set up the offense for its best drive of the night. Junior running back Kybert McGlothin opened the possession with a 38-yard run down the left sideline, then McKenna hit receiver Javaris Young for a 48-yard gain, the junior spinning out of a tackle before flying down the left sideline to put the ball on Pine Forest’s 9.
Two plays later, McKenna hit Young again for a 7-yard touchdown that trimmed the deficit to 35-17.
McKenna to Young. Choctaw trails 35-17 with 3:55 left.
After recovering a fumble deep in their own territory, the Indians covered 95 yards in five plays. pic.twitter.com/QU0QmbUDgG
The celebration proved short-lived, however. After it took Choctaw four plays to go 95 yards, the Eagles went 80 in three. Clardy connected with Vontarious Hill on a 32-yard gain, the scrambled out of trouble for a 44-yard touchdown, the final nail in the coffin.
“Pine Forest is a good football team, but I didn’t think we played well last night or tonight,” Thomas said. “I thought we took a couple steps backward from the last few weeks, but we got two more games.
“We’re kinda in a must-win situation. Our kids know that, so we gotta regroup quick ’cause we’re playing a tough (Pensacola) Catholic team on Friday.”
STAT OF THE NIGHT: Eighth
When the FHSAA debuted its latest RPI rankings Tuesday afternoon, the Indians ranked eighth in Region 1-5A, possessing the last wild card berth. With an RPI of .513, they ranked .021 points ahead of ninth-place Suwannee (Live Oak).
That number is sure to drop after the loss to Pine Forest, but Choctaw remains firmly in playoff contention.
“We’re right there on the edge,” Thomas said. “We can go either way.”
OFFENSIVE MVP: Ladarius Clardy, Pine Forest
The 6-foot-1 senior accounted for four of the Eagles’ six touchdowns, two each on Monday and Tuesday. He was dialed in and slippery in the backfield.
Second half underway.
Choctaw tries a surprise onside kick to open the third, but can’t come away with the ball, giving PF a short field.
Six plays later, the Eagles lead 28-3. 9:55 left 3Q pic.twitter.com/RgSJMXOPCZ
DEFENSIVE MVP: Douglas Benjamin, Pine Forest
The junior defensive back provided the back-breaker Tuesday night.
After falling behind 28-3, Choctaw finally got a drive going, pushing the ball down to the Eagles’ 36.
Then McKenna tried a throw over the middle. Benjamin stepped in front of it, bobbled it slightly, then took off down the far sideline for a 70-yard touchdown and a 35-3 lead.
The Indians have just two days to prepare before they take on undefeated Pensacola Catholic (8-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Pensacola.
“They’re very good,” Thomas said. “Just like Pine Forest, they’re tough. They have three tremendous running backs and play great defense. It’s gonna be a big challenge for us.”