By PATRICK CASEY
Junior quarterback Jace Fielder threw for 243 yards and had a pair of clutch touchdown passes as the Walton Braves earned a 16-6 road win at Blountstown on Friday night in the regular season opener for both squads.
Walton took the opening kickoff and drove inside the Tigers’ 30-yard line only to have Fielder get sacked on a third down play, forcing a fumble that the host squad recovered to thwart the Braves’ first drive of the season.
The teams traded punts with the Tigers putting together a 66-yard drive that ended in a 3-yard touchdown run by Lonnie Perez for a 6-0 lead with just over 11 minutes to go in the first half. Senior quarterback Dylan Lee hit sophomore receiver Danta Williams with a 32-yard pass that set up the first score of the night.
Walton came right back with a score of their own as Fielder connected with Cody Phillips on a 29-yard touchdown strike on a 4th-and-long play that tied the game. The Braves marched 69 yards in nine plays to put points on the scoreboard but Dylan Scott’s extra point sailed wide left to leave the game knotted at 6-all.
The Tigers marched back into Braves territory on their next possession but Walton’s defense rose to the occasion and stopped the home team on downs at the 36-yard line.
Walton’s offense went back to work as Fielder gained yardage with his legs while hitting Taylor Sutton and Alfonza Glenn with passes to keep the drive alive. The Braves stalled out at the Tigers’ 13-yard line and coach Jimmy Ray Stephens sent Scott out for a 30-yard field goal try. Scott was able to line a 30-yard kick inside the right upright to give the DeFuniak Springs squad a 9-6 lead heading into halftime.
The Tigers crossed into Walton territory on their first two drives of the second half but could go no further with the Braves using their second possession after intermission to lengthen the lead after Blountstown pinned the Braves at their own 9-yard line on a punt.
Walton put together their signature drive of the night as they marched 91 yards in 12 plays with junior running back Azende Rey doing most of the work. Rey pounded away at the Tigers defense on the ground while catching passes that he turned into significant gains, eventually scoring on a 14-yard pass from Fielder to increase the lead to 16-6 with 11 minutes left in the game.
The Tigers went back on the march as Lee moved the team with his legs while coach Greg Jordan used a variety of running backs to try and move the ball against a staunch Braves defense. Walton ended the comeback attempt as Jalen Jones buried Lee on a third down play with eight minutes left in the game, forcing the senior quarterback from the contest with an injury to his throwing shoulder.
Walton ran out the clock as Rey ended the night with 103 yards on the ground while catching four passes for an additional 52 yards. Fielder hit on 19-of-32 passes and overcame a penalty-marred first half to help the Braves to their first 1-0 start since the 2010 season.
Walton’s defense held the Tigers to 182 total yards with Lee hitting on only 4-of-14 passes for 50 yards.
Walton had 357 yards of total offense in a game that saw both squads’ defenses bend but not break as neither team started a possession on the opponent’s side of the field, forcing long drives for scoring opportunities.
Walton(1-0) will travel to Freeport(1-0) on Friday night as the Braves face their two county rivals over the next two weeks. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
By PATRICK CASEY