Turnovers proved costly for the Emerald Coast Stingrays as they lost 16-6 to the visiting Walton County Warriors from the north in middle school football action Tuesday night in Santa Rosa Beach.
“We turned the ball over twice, that was the biggest difference,” said Stingray Coach Matt Brooks. “We turned the ball over on the first play of the game and I think we did the exact same thing last year."
The Warriors beat the Stingrays by a touchdown last year as well.
“But it just goes to show you that turnovers are a big difference-maker when you have two evenly matched teams,” he said, noting they were pretty evenly matched on defense. “Our hats are off to them, they did a good job and showed good sportsmanship. They just got the better of us tonight.”
Nevertheless, Brooks said, “I was proud of the way we played. They showed a lot of heart and we finished strong.”
To start, Emerald Coast had the ball first and fumbled it away. However, the Stingray defense stopped the Warriors and forced a punt.
Under drizzling rain, the Stingrays started their second possession from the 20-yard line and made across the 50 before having to punt.
In the second quarter, Walton mounted a drive from its own 17-yard line and took it the distance for the score. In the 15-play drive, Makia Jones was the workhorse with 45 yards on the ground. Jones also completed a half-back pass to Jytrell Anderson for a gain of 36 yards. Minutes later, quarterback Kaden Henderson found Anderson open on the left side for a 21-yard catch and run to the end zone. The two-point conversion was good and Walton led 8-0.
With 47 seconds left in the first half, Emerald Coast started from its own 45-yard line. On the first play, quarterback Caleb Lindsey broke loose around the left side and took the ball 45 yards down to the 10-yard line. On the next play, Beau Adams was fighting his way to the end zone when the ball was knocked loose right at the line. Walton recovered and got off one play before time expired.
With the rain starting to fall a little harder in the second half, Walton fumbled the ball away on their first possession.
Emerald Coast took charge on the 25 and put it in the end zone in five plays. Lindsey found an open Ryan Lawson on the right side for a 4-yard TD. The two-point conversion attempt failed. Walton led 8-6 with 4:38 to go in the third.
The Walton Warriors had the ball the rest of the quarter and put one more touchdown on the board. Keyante Miller was the main ball carrier, picking up almost 60 yards on the drive. Jones scored the TD on a 1-yard run around the right end. Miller scored the two-point conversion with 33 seconds left in the period.
Emerald Coast had the ball two times in the fourth quarter and was on the move when time ran out. Noah Ford ran for 19 yards and had a catch for a gain of 6. Adams had a couple of catches for 18 and 6 yard gains.
Top Stingrays on defense were Adams with eight tackles, Gus Perez with seven and Lawrence Corkran, six.
Up next for Emerald Coast is a 6 p.m. game on Sept. 12 at home against the Lewis Falcons of Valparaiso.