By PATRICK CASEY
The Walton football team suffered seven turnovers in their spring game with Pensacola Tate on Thursday night as the Aggies claimed a 27-14 victory over the Braves to close out the spring practice season.
Walton, which had 22 seniors on the 2007 squad, struggled on the offensive line and had trouble holding onto the football as Tate used the running of Luchez Purifoy to put three touchdowns on the scoreboard. Purifoy had scoring runs of 48, 40 and 15 yards to help Tate to a 20-0 lead late in the first half. A Walton fumble that was returned to the 1-yard line set up the final score of the half with 90 seconds remaining before intermission.
Walton moved the football on offense the entire night, but most of the possessions ended in Tate territory due to turnovers or Tate’s defense holding Walton on fourth down plays. Walton fumbled five times and starting quarterback Tarrell Bramlet threw a pair of interceptions, including one on Walton’s first play on offense to begin the game. The Braves also saw a possession end at the Tate 1-yard line as Bramlet was stopped short of the endzone on a fourth-and-goal play.
The Braves poor luck finally gave way to some points in the third quarter as Bramlet hit Brandt Ellenberg over the middle for a 28-yard gain to the Tate 5-yard line. Fullback Marrion Holmes crashed in on the next play to cut the lead to 27-6.
Walton’s defense got busy in the second half as the Braves intercepted backup quarterback Brandon Blackwelder four times over the final 24 minutes to stop Tate from mounting any offense with its second string unit.
Will Brock picked off a pair of passes in the secondary while Quamille Williams returned one of the errant passes 46 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 27-14 early in the fourth quarter.
Issac Jackson ran for 108 yards in limited duty at his running back spot while Deron Hogans caught seven passes for 44 yards to lead the receivers. Bramlet connected on 18-of-33 passes for 184 yards while having to scramble to avoid the pass rush for most of the night.
Walton’s defense struggled to finish off tackles early as Tate ran for 190 yards on the ground in the first half. Walton’s second unit dominated Tate in the second half as they limited the Aggies to just a couple of first downs in the final minutes of the game.
The Braves could not overcome the miscues as turnovers were the story of the night. “We could have hung on to the ball better,” Walton Coach Lenny Jankowski said after the game. “We did some good things out there, but obviously, we have a lot to work on over the summer. We had a lot of new kids on the line and at linebacker, and it took a while to get into the flow of the game. We wanted to look at everyone and got out of the game without any injuries.”
Walton will host the Kickoff Classic on August 29 when Holmes County comes to town for an exhibition contest before the regular season opener at Freeport on September 5.
Game Notes: Walton played without Caleb Cole, Devron Ford and John Langford, who all will be in the mix this fall. Walton dressed just under 50 players for the game. The Braves expect to have a total roster of 70-80 players this fall when freshman arrive from the middle school in August. Though turnovers are always worrisome, Walton moved the ball very well despite playing young players at wide receiver. Walton should be fine in the fall, barring injuries, and will hopefully not commit seven turnovers in a game in the regular season. Tate, like Walton, is in a three-team district. The Aggies have Milton and Pace to beat to get into the playoffs, as Walton has to go through Marianna and Pensacola Catholic. Tate hasn’t had a winning season since 2000, but has been 5-5 twice during this decade. The Aggies won the Class 4A title in 1980, with Walton winning the Class 2A title in 1985.