By PATRICK CASEY
All three Walton County schools played their Kickoff Classics on Friday night (Aug. 24) with the Braves earning victories at home against Freeport in both junior varsity and varsity competition while Vernon held on for a 21-19 win in Washington County over the South Walton Seahawks.
Walton and Freeport arranged for their junior varsity squads to play the first half against each other with the Braves coming out on top 14-0.
The Braves scored both of their touchdowns in the opening quarter of play, one via the ground game and the other via the pass. Quarterback Jace Fielder hit Jalen Jones with a 17-yard scoring strike for the second score of the night with less than 30 seconds left in the first quarter of competition after the Braves had taken advantage of a Freeport fumble on their opening possession of the game to give Walton a short field to drive for their opening score.
The Freeport junior varsity had trouble moving the ball against the Braves defense and had a pair of fumbles end two of their four possessions. The Bulldogs managed only 59 yards of total offense, all on the ground, with Alan Bartlett recording a 37-yard run on the last play of the half.
The second half saw each team’s varsity take the field. Walton caught the first break of the game as Freeport decided to go for a first down on a fourth down instead of punting and quarterback Gabe Moore overthrew his receiver to set Walton up at the Bulldogs’ 27-yard line. The Braves needed only four plays to cash in as Daiquan Brown got loose on a 14-yard run to help the home team to a 7-0 lead with 2:24 to go in the quarter.
Freeport stalled again on their next possession and Moore, who also punts for Freeport, tried to connect with a wide open receiver instead of following through with a punt on fourth down. The receiver was unable to make a play on the high throw down the field and Walton was once again in business on Freeport’s side of the field at the 34-yard line.
The Braves used five running plays to up the lead to 13-0 as quarterback Chris Kelly followed his offensive in for the score from six yards.
Freeport needed only two plays to respond as Gabe Moore connected with Nick Russell on a 50-yard pass play with Owen Cole finishing the quick drive with a 15-yard scamper to cut the lead to 13-7 with 9:46 to go.
Walton showed their own resiliency on offense as running back Amos Williams took the pitch around the right side of the Braves line for a 65-yard touchdown on the next play to push the lead to 20-7.
Interceptions stopped Freeport’s last two drives, the final toss picked off by Braves junior defensive back Isaac Morrison who promptly raced 56 yards for a touchdown, avoiding Moore’s last-gasp attempt at a tackle in the red zone, for the final margin of 27-7.
Walton was a beneficiary of four turnovers and two stops on fourth down as the Braves limited the visiting squad to 177 total yards on 51 plays.
The Braves rolled up 243 yards on the ground in four quarters of play as they outscored the Bulldogs 41-7 in 40 minutes of competition.
In Vernon, the Yellowjackets put up the first 21 points of the game using their passing game and the talents of senior quarterback Dylan Kirk.
South Walton got things going in the second half as Brandon Whalen got loose on a pair of touchdown runs while quarterback Johnathan Ortner connected with Bishop Waldrop on a 75-yard touchdown pass to rally the Seahawks to a 21-19 deficit with two minutes left in the game.
The Seahawks were unable to pull out the exhibition contest but gained valuable playing time for both the varsity and junior varsity units in preparation for the regular season openers scheduled for this week.
Drew Pfeiffer had an interception to stop a Vernon drive and the inability to convert an extra point and two-point conversion likely stopped the Seahawks from tying the game and sending the contest into overtime.