By PATRICK CASEY
The Walton Braves won their second game in a row in one of the wilder finishes in school history in the sport of football as Rodney Shipman’s 87-yard return of a fumble put the only points on the scoreboard for either team in the contest as the host squad picked up a 7-0 victory over Panama City Bay on Friday night at Everette Yates Memorial Stadium. Shipman, who scooped up the loose pigskin after Tornadoes quarterback Darreven Sims could not handle a high shotgun snap from center, outran the Bay defense the length of the field as he sprinted into the north endzone for the game-winning score with only 27 seconds left on the clock.
The play was not without controversy as the Tornadoes fans and coaching staff claimed that there was both an inadvertent whistle and that Sims was down by contact after attempting to recover the football at the 11-yard line. Replay from TV-24 did not show conclusive evidence that Sims ever possessed the football while attempting to recover it before his elbow knocked the ball backwards to Shipman’s feet. The head referee, who was trailing the play, never blew his whistle and raced down the field with Shipman as he provided the deciding score.
The game had been a defensive slugfest for the first 47 minutes of play that likely should have already had the Braves on top as Walton had a pair of scoring opportunities go awry in the first half. Early in the second quarter, Walton used a wingback pass from Amos Williams to Christian Adams that resulted in a 37-yard completion inside the Tornadoes 5-yard line only to have Adams fumble the ball into the endzone on a hit from behind. Bay recovered the ball and earned a touchback to thwart Walton’s chance at earning the lead on that possession. The Braves reached the Tornadoes’ 15-yard line with just over a minute to go in the first half but a field goal attempt was muffed as the football sailed through Adams’ hands, allowing Bay to swarm Walton’s holder after he tracked down the loose football at the 29-yard line to end the possession.
Walton’s defense stole the show on the night as the Braves held Bay to 52 yards of total offense and three first downs in the first 24 minutes of play. The Walton County squad also forced five turnovers in the game as Ken Randolph, Terrell Campbell and Josh McNeal each had an interception as the Tornadoes did not complete a pass, unless one counts the three that Walton defenders came up with in six attempts. McNeal’s interception sealed the win with six seconds left in the game as he grabbed an errant deep throw by Kyle Melquist at Walton’s 35-yard line. McNeal elicited a little drama on that play as he fumbled the ball on the ensuing tackle that was likely caused by a Tornadoes player pulling him down by his facemask. That action resulted in a penalty, allowing Walton to keep the football at midfield and take a final snap to earn the win.
After not reaching Walton territory in the first half, Bay had three possessions end on Walton’s side of the field in the second half. Each ended in failure as a turnover or bobbled snap allowed the Braves defense to halt the Tornadoes’ potential scoring threat.
The fourth quarter saw the two teams combine for five turnovers with Bay living on Walton’s side of the field, only to be denied.
Bay seemed to be on the move for the winning score after a fumbled snap at Walton’s 35-yard line was used to march to the Braves’ 5-yard line with just 44 seconds left in the game. Walton burned a timeout on defense to settle down the troops and the stoppage of play set up the fateful events that resulted in a Walton score on the next snap.
Neither team had much going for it on offense as the two squads combined for 11 punts, eight overall turnovers, a muffed field goal attempt and 14 total penalties for 111 yards.
Diontre Pate led Walton with 59 yards on the ground while Bay got 69 yards rushing from Jordan Gipson.
The defenses shined for both sides as Walton held Bay to one third down conversion in 10 attempts and did not allow a single passing yard for the second consecutive game.
Ken Randolph added a spectacular diving interception at midfield in the first half of play and had a 10-yard fumble return that stopped a Bay scoring threat with 3:41 left in the game. T.C. Chestnut was another Braves player with a strong performance as he had two tackles for a loss and harassed four different Bay quarterbacks on the night. It is also significant to note that Bay High had seven lineman that outweighed Walton’s heaviest player on the roster.
In the end, though, Walton made the biggest play of the night when it mattered most as the Braves now hold a winning record at 2-1 for the first time since the 2010 season.
Walton will hit the road for the first of four consecutive road games this week as they make the short jaunt down Highway 331 to play the Freeport Bulldogs on Friday night at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs are coming off a tough home loss to Blountstown that has Freeport holding a 1-2 mark after three games of the 2012 season.