It was a battle to the end, but the Emerald Coast Stingrays held their ground and pulled off a 16-14 win over the Baker Gators in the championship game of the Northwest Florida Middle School Athletic Conference Tuesday night in Freeport.
“The difference was defense,” said Emerald Coast Coach Matthew Brooks. “We were actually out tackling.”
Plus the Stingrays added a new offense this week.
“We went a little more spread this week,” he said.
Last week, the Stingrays lost on the road to the Baker Gators 30-8.
But Tuesday night, when it counted, the Stingrays showed up.
“For the first time all year we played like should,” Brooks said.
The Stingrays had the ball first and made a couple of first downs before having to punt. Quarterback Caleb Lindsey, who completed five of nine passes for 85 yards on the night, hit Noah Ford for a gain of 8 yards and then he ran for 3 yards for a first down. The next first down came on a 21-yard connection between Lindsey and George Gillory.
Baker took over and made a couple of first downs on runs from Ryan Fleming and Tristen Derrick, but that was it as the Stingray defense kicked in and stopped the Gators at midfield.
Emerald Coast took over and scored in two plays. Lindsey hit Gillory in stride up the middle for a 55-yard touchdown pass play. Lindsey ran in the two-point conversion on a play tagged “banana pudding” by offensive coach Christopher Mayer.
Baker didn’t waste any time answering. Four plays later the Gators struck pay dirt on a 12-yard run by Derrick, who finished up the game with 140 yards on the ground. Derrick was good for the two-point conversion and a tie game.
Late in the second quarter, both defenses picked off passes. Jezreel Roy pulled down an interception for Baker and Ford one for the Stingrays as time ran out on the first half.
To start the third, Baker was on the move with Derrick sweeping around the right end for gains of 38 yards and 9 before the Stingrays put a halt to it. Cooper Douglass and Noah Stone made a big hit for no gain and then Gus Perez and Ford combined dropping the Gators for a 3-yard loss.
The Stingrays took over on the 8-yard line with 3:59 left in the third. On the first play, Beau Adams broke loose for a 92-yard dash to the end zone. Lindsey ran in the two-point conversion for a 16-8 lead.
Baker then put together an 11-play drive for the score. Fleming had a catch for a gain of 34 yards in the drive and Chris Still had a couple of big runs for 12 and 10 yards. Fleming eventually got the TD on a 6-yard run. On the two-point try, the Stingrays held the Gators out of the end zone, maintaining their lead.
On the ensuing kickoff there appeared to be a bit of a mix up on assignments for the Stingrays and the Gators got the ball on the 25-yard line. The Stingray held them out of the end zone and then took over with 2:48 left to play.
Emerald Coast made a couple of first downs on runs from Adams and Lindsey before time ran out.
“Beau Adams was huge for us tonight,” Brooks said. “He didn’t carry the ball many times, but when he did he made a huge difference.”
Adams had four carries for 128 yards and one TD.
Brooks also made mention of Ford and Keenan Campbell on defense as well as all of the eighth graders.
“This makes the whole summer, all the hot days and screaming … it makes it worth it for the kids.”
The Stingrays finished up 4-2.