The Patriots (3-5, 1-1) reinvigorated their playoff chances Friday night with a 42-31 district win over Gulf Breeze (2-6, 1-1) at Pace High, but the Dolphins aren’t washed up quite yet.
Pace overcame a slim deficit in the fourth quarter to secure victory in what Dolphins coach Chris Nemith deemed a “classic Panhandle battle between 2-6A schools.” The knockout blows in this gridiron brawl were delivered by Patriots RB Anthony Johnson Jr., whose decisive rushing touchdowns in the last seven minutes of the game (67 and 40 yards respectively) shattered the Dolphins’ hopes for a marginal win.
Johnson, who scored all six of Pace’s touchdowns, was once again the spearhead of the Patriots’ offensive blitzkriegs led by QB Ashton Stephens. An early and disciplined showing by the Patriot offense put the team on the board ten minutes into the game, 7-0. Their lead vanished six minutes from the end of the second quarter when Dolphins WR Cole Sheppard completed QB Ricky Alexander’s 20-yard pass and scrambled into the end zone for a touchdown. Any emphatic whoops from the Gulf Breeze cheering section quickly evaporated as Johnson once again smashed through the Gulf Breeze defense in a 77-yard bolt for the end zone that hoisted the Patriots up 14-7 with a good PAT. Undeterred, the Dolphins finished out a well-executed drive with RB Tyler Ditmer’s 25-yard rushing touchdown, but the Patriots’ unrelenting offense once again evened the score 21-21 at the close of the second quarter.
The Pace defensive line grew rowdy in the second half. The referees peppered the Patriots with flags and Alexander exploited the penalties, ending the third quarter with another touchdown pass, but that wasn’t enough to halt the Johnson juggernaut. The Pace RB’s first fourth quarter touchdown, followed by Tyler Butcher’s PAT, tied the score 28-28. The Dolphins surfaced briefly with TJ Brubaker’s 35-yard field goal, but Johnson plowed over that fleeting lead with a 67-yard rushing touchdown and, for good measure, followed up with another 40-yard sprint to the end zone to furnish Pace the win.
An elated Patriots head coach Mickey Lindsey smiled as he accepted appreciative greetings on the crowded post game field. “The kids gave a great effort in a hard ball game,” he said, pausing between handshakes. “I’m proud of these young men.”
Nemith was undaunted as his team strode to their buses for the ride back to Gulf Breeze. “They did exactly what we asked,” he said. “They battled, they earned respect.” Despite the loss, he remained positive about his Dolphins’ status in the playoff picture. “I’ve fallen in love with these kids,” he said. “The scoreboard may not say it, but there’s victory in this.”