The clock struck midnight on what had been a Cinderella-story season for Gulf Breeze High School last night, as the Pine Forest Eagles scored 37 unanswered points to advance to the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 6A Regional Semi-Final.
“They played very well, we had a playoff game, we had a very good week and we didn’t expect anything less,” Pine Forest defensive coordinator Stephen Kederly said after the game. “I think we had pretty good pressure on the quarterback, we played the run well, we need to work on the deep ball a little bit, but we will do something different next week – we didn’t show everything we’ve been working on, but they will come out ready next Friday,” he said.
Pine Forest did not waste any time putting points on the board, handing off to junior Ladarius Wiggins on their first possession for a 45-yard touchdown run, followed up with a two-point conversion to give the Eagles an early 8-0 lead. The Dolphins did a good job moving the chains on the following drive, picking up a big first down from a 21-yard carry by freshman Tyler Dittmer and a crucial screen pass to junior Parker Baynes that brought them into Pine Forest territory with just under four minutes to go in the first quarter.
At the start of the second half, senior center back Clark Couget saved Gulf Breeze from what would have been a huge touchdown pass to sophomore Jacob Copeland, tipping the ball away just before the wide receiver closed his hands around it. The textbook pass coverage from Couget would only succeed in delaying the inevitable Pine Forest touchdown that happened when quarterback Xavier Saulsberry pitched the ball back to junior Jaden Gardner, who ran around the left side of the defensive line and into the end zone to make the score 15-0 with 10:47 left in the half.
The Dolphins seemed to be gaining some momentum after a touchback brought the ball out to the 20-yard line and senior quarterback Ricky Alexander got the offense off to a solid start with a couple of first down passes to junior Cole Sheppard and a penalty that went Gulf Breeze’s way. The drive brought the Dolphins to the Eagle’s 43-yard line where any hope of a score came to a crashing halt. Alexander overthrew a pass to a double-marked Sheppard, resulting in an impressive over-the-shoulder interception from Copeland on the 1-yard line with 9:39 remaining in the first half.
On the first play of the following drive, Saulsberry handed it off to Wiggins, who exploded through the Gulf Breeze offensive line and sprinted down the right-hand sideline for a 99-yard rushing touchdown. The second two-point conversion of the night was completed with a pass to junior Travis Peacock to make the score 23-0.
“I never ran 99 yards before – not that far, but it felt really good,” Wiggins said after the game. “And we all played well tonight, very well … we need to just work on our passing schemes and block routes.”
The Dolphins struggled to do anything offensively in the first half, coming up short on many downs and being hit with a lot of what head coach Chris Nemith would define after the game as ‘passion penalties.’
“We hurt ourselves with a lot of penalties that stopped some drives – they were passion penalties, they weren’t penalties that were non-character penalties,” Nemith said. “Our kids came out here to play, they played to win and we ended up not winning, ya know, we just have to use this and keep moving forward.”
Freshman running back Anwar Lewis would score once again before the end of the half for Pine Forest to make the score 30-0 with 1:25 remaining in the second quarter. Brubaker kicked off for Gulf Breeze to start the second half and sent the ball soaring through the middle of the uprights for a touchback, sarcastically asking the other players if it counted as three points as he jogged back to the sidelines.
The Dolphin defense would successfully counter the Eagles offense until 2:45 before the end of the third when Pine Forest again tried a reverse play to Gardner, who out ran the defense and sprinted down the line for a touchdown. Gulf Breeze would score with 3:28 left in regulation off of a 25-yard field goal from Brubaker, finishing the game with a final score 37-3.
“Our heads were straight (coming into the game), we had nothing to lose, so we were 100 percent from the first play and we gave it our all,” Gulf Breeze junior Parker Baynes said. “We’ll have our qb back next year – he’ll come back stronger than ever – and we’ll just work on the off season.”
With the victory over Gulf Breeze, Pine Forest advances to the regional semi-finals for the first time in five years and faces off against Tate at home on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.