ZACK JOHNSON, Freeport quarterback (8) takes off on one of his nine rushing attempts against South Walton. The senior tallied 110 yards rushing in the exhibition contest as the Bulldogs prepare to open the regular season at home against Vernon while South Walton travels to face Panama City Arnold on Friday night. (Photo by Blake McCormick)
By BLAKE MCCORMICK
Two of Walton County’s football teams debuted their 2017 squads against each other in the Kickoff Classic this past Friday night as Freeport took a 21-7 road victory over South Walton in the exhibition tune-up for both squads.
The preseason contest, played on an unpleasantly humid night in Santa Rosa Beach, does not count toward either teams’ official win-loss record.
With varsity starters only playing in the first half, Freeport quarterback Zack Johnson rushed for 110 yards and the Bulldogs garnered two short touchdown runs by K’wan Powell and Shannon Carswell to give the Bulldogs a 14-7 halftime lead.
On the game’s opening drive, Johnson connected with Hunter Clark on a pair of third down passes for 14 and nine yards before a 39-yard scamper by the senior gave the Orange and Blue possession at the South Walton 11. Three short runs by Powell set up a 4th-and-3 from the 5-yard line with new head coach Shaun Arntz calling for Carswell to use his 6-foot-5, 300-pound frame to get the first down. Powell, a highly touted ninth grader who Freeport fans have been itching to see in high school action, scored his first varsity touchdown one play later with a short lunge into the endzone to cap a drive that took nearly seven minutes off the clock.
South Walton answered their rivals quickly as quarterback Cade Rowland found Jaden Page for a 24-yard reception on the Seahawks’ first play from scrimmage, giving the gray-clad home squad possession at the Freeport 46. Following a third-and-five conversion on a 6-yard run by Daniel Leuze, Rowland found Tanner Kotowske for 14 yards, and escaped the grasp of several Bulldog defenders on the following play before connecting with Page for a 10-yard reception to the Bulldogs 4-yard line. Rowland ran it in on the next play and the PAT tied the game at 7-all.
Johnson responded by scurrying for 53 yards on the sixth play of the following drive, setting up a first-and-goal from the South Walton 1-yard line. Carswell returned at running back and plunged in one play later to give the varsity Bulldogs a 14-7 lead.
The subsequent South Walton possession started well as Rowland tossed a 15-yard pass to Page and Leuze crossed midfield with a 9-yard run that set the home offense up at the Freeport 47.
The Bulldog defense stiffened on the next five plays, knocking the Seahawk offense backwards three times while forcing an incomplete pass thanks to great coverage by cornerback Clayton Bartlett with David Ramshur later forcing a fumble.
Johnson and company took over at the South Walton 31-yard line but only managed one first down. After a 37-yard field goal attempt by Tragen Appelman fell short, South Walton took over at their 20-yard line. Again, the sputtering South Walton offense started well, procuring a 19-yard run by Leuze and a pass interference call that gave the newly reclassified 4A program possession at the Freeport 47. But three consecutive sacks by Ramshur, Austin Johnson, and Bailey Davis forced Coach Phil Tisa’s crew to punt it back to Freeport with 2:42 left in the half.
After a holding call helped push the Bulldog offense back to their own 15-yard line, it looked like South Walton would have one last chance to tie the varsity contest before the junior varsity and second stringers took over. However, Powell broke loose around the right side of the offensive line for 26 yards and helped to drain the clock after rushing three more times for 18 yards, giving Freeport’s varsity a 14-7 win of the first half.
In the second half, South Walton’s junior varsity and second string generated only one first down while Freeport’s B-squad dominated the yardage and time of possession. Freshman Jarrett Dunwald scored the lone touchdown with a 5-yard run in the fourth quarter while fellow running back Austin Johnson rumbled for 58 yards on just three carries while also forcing and recovering a fumble on defense. Reserve cornerback Branden Haberek snagged an interception that was nullified following an unsportsmanlike penalty.
KEY STATS: Johnson 2/5 passing for 23 yards with both completions to Justin Clark while he rushed nine times for 110 yards. K’wan Powell 14 rushes for 71 yards and one touchdown. Carswell had two rushes for five yards and one touchdown. Rowland, 4/7 passing, 63 yards. Page had four catches for 49 yards. Kotowske 1/14. Leuze had six rushes for 41 yards.