By PATRICK CASEY
Walton junior Cody Phillips caused two fumbles and had an interception in a little over one half of play while junior running back Azende Rey scored three touchdowns as Walton posted a 41-28 win over South Walton in the exhibition game played on Friday night that is known as the Kickoff Classic.
In a contest that featured no kickoffs, punt or kickoff returns or rush by the defense on extra points, offense ruled. South Walton got the football first with possession at their own 35-yard line and promptly marched into Walton territory, converting a fourth-and-one to keep their drive alive. The Seahawks attempted to pick up a first down on another fourth down play inside the Walton 40-yard line only to have senior quarterback Johnathan Ortner get sacked by Walton junior Dre Matthews to end the threat.
The Braves took their first possession and went down the field as Azende Rey pounded away for big chunks of yardage in a handful of plays. Walton junior quarterback Jace Fielder then got loose on a 19-yard jaunt to the endzone only to be hit just shy of the goalline, fumbling the ball through the endzone for a turnover as the Seahawks took over on their own 20-yard line.
South Walton went right back to their passing attack as Ortner dumped the ball off to running back Donnie Grosskopf who was nailed by a punishing hit from Phillips, jarring the ball free as Walton sophomore Truman Morrison scooped up the loose pigskin and raced in from 23 yards out to put the Braves on top. Senior Dylan Scott added the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 7:33 to go in the first quarter.
South Walton’s next possession ended in an interception as Phillips stepped in front of an Ortner pass in Braves territory and returned the ball to the Seahawks 19-yard line before he could be corralled. Rey ran in from six yards out four plays later to give Walton a 14-0 lead.
South Walton put together a nice drive on their next possession as they moved 65 yards to trim the lead to 14-7 as Harrison Schaffer dove in from a yard out to get the host squad on the scoreboard.
Walton needed only one play to respond as Rey took a short pass from Fielder and worked his way into the clear on a 65-yard dash that pushed the lead back to 21-7 with 9:34 left in the first half.
Ortner hit Grosskopf with a pass that he turned into a significant gain into Walton territory only to have Phillips strip the ball from his hands as he was fighting for extra yardage. The Braves recovered the ball, having forced their third turnover of the first half, at their own 31-yard line.
Walton put together a nine-play drive with Fielder and Phillips helping to move the ball down the field with Rey cashing in on a 14-yard run for a 28-7 lead with 5:47 left in the half.
South Walton answered right back with a 65-yard drive that ended with a 13-yard dart from Ortner to Jireh Crittenden to move the home team within 28-14 with just under three minutes left in the half.
Walton answered on the next play from scrimmage as receiver Taylor Sutton got turned loose and caught a long pass from Fielder that he turned into a 65-yard scoring play. Scott’s extra point pushed the lead to 35-14.
Walton’s defense stopped the Seahawks on fourth down on their next possession to slow down the scoring onslaught but Walton gave the ball back as reserve quarterback Truth Richardson overthrew his intended receiver with Seahawks defensive back Jeremiah Crittenden picking the ball out of the air and returning it to the Walton 40-yard line.
Ortner then hit Jireh Crittenden with a 40-yard pass on the next play to stun Walton and trim the halftime lead to 35-21.
The varsity reserves played most of the third quarter with the Seahawks putting together a 67-yard drive that was capped off by a 13-yard pass from reserve quarterback Alex Smith to Baze Clark to get the South Walton squad within 35-28.
The fourth quarter saw the junior varsities hit the field as both sides struggled to move the ball forward, suffering numerous penalties and high snaps from center.
Walton tacked on a touchdown on the final play of the game as sophomore Jeremiah Howard got loose on a 38-yard run as time expired for the final margin of 41-28.
Ortner threw for 205 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while Walton’s Fielder had 154 yards on five completions with two touchdowns.
Rey had 133 total yards and three touchdowns as Walton put up 312 total yards in the first half while South Walton had 217.
Walton will open the regular season in Blountstown on Friday night at 7 p.m. while South Walton makes the long drive to Jacksonville to face Christ’s Church Academy at 6 p.m.
By PATRICK CASEY