By PATRICK CASEY
The Walton Braves earned their second District 1, Class 4A title in as many years as the varsity football team posted a 31-27 win over East Gadsden on Friday night in a contest at Everette Yates Memorial Stadium that went down to the final minute before fans of the host squad could relax and celebrate the school’s 10th district championship in the sport since 1968.
The win by Walton overshadowed one of
the most dominant performances by a visiting running back in the Braves’ 96-year history of playing football as East Gadsden sophomore Tony Street ran for 369 yards on 38 carries with four touchdowns to keep the Jaguars within reach of snatching away the district championship.
Street raced 67 yards for a touchdown on East Gadsden’s first possession of the game to give the Gadsden County squad a 7-0 lead just over two minutes from the opening kickoff.
Walton responded with a 70-yard drive that needed only five playS to even the score as Dre Matthews caught a 10-yard pass from Kentrell Parker at the 8:16 mark of the first quarter.
Keandre Holmes sacked East Gadsden quarterback Thomas Jones on the Jaguars’ next possession, forcing a fumble that was returned by Matthews nine yards to the visiting team’s 26-yard line, setting up an 8-yard run from Javon Graham moments later to give the Braves a 14-7 lead midway through the first quarter.
After an East Gadsden punt, kicker Thomas Brack drilled a 42-yard field goal through the goal posts on the south side of the field to increase the lead to 17-7 late in the first quarter.
East Gadsden got right back into the game on their next possession as they moved 65 yards in six plays with Street scoring on a 3-yard run to trim the lead to 17-14 four seconds into the second quarter.
Walton punted on their next two possessions with Brack pinning the Jags at their own 6-yard line on the second kick only to see East Gadsden put together a 7-play, 94-yard drive that had Street doing the honors once again with a 14-yard scoring run with 1:44 left in the first half to put head coach Corey Fuller’s squad up 21-17.
Walton was undaunted as Brack, who was questionable to play at the quarterback position for most of the week due to a shoulder injury, launched a pass to Matthews who reeled in the short grab but got loose down the home sidelines to race 71 yards for the go-ahead score with just 22 seconds left in the first half for a 24-21 lead.
The third quarter saw no scoring as Walton’s Truman Morrison stopped East Gadsden’s first drive of the second half with an interception in the endzone while Brack was picked off moments later on a deep throw into Jags territory.
East Gadsden had an odd possession after the Brack interception as the Jaguars held the ball for 13 plays but netted only three yards of total offense as penalties and a high snap from center that resulted in a 17-yard loss killed a drive that moved into Braves territory but ended at the visiting team’s own 24-yard line. The possession used up nearly seven minutes of the third quarter before the club was forced to punt the ball away.
Walton started in East Gadsden territory on their next possession but Brack missed a 29-yard field goal to the left with 10:42 to go in the contest to leave the score at 24-21.
A short punt by Brack gave the Jaguars the ball at their own 49-yard line with 8:15 left in the game and East Gadsden took advantage as they continued to pound away with Street, finally getting him loose on a 24-yard run to take a 27-24 lead after kicker Markeith Wood missed the extra point with 5:03 left in the game.
Walton then made the play of the 2016 season on a 3rd-and-10 call from their own 21-yard line as sophomore Kentrell Parker hauled in a pass at midfield over a Jaguars defensive back and raced 79 yards for the go-ahead score and a 31-27 lead.
East Gadsden answered by reaching the Braves’ 32-yard line on their next possession only to have a 15-yard penalty kill the drive as the Braves forced a punt with 2:23 left in the game.
Walton ran the ball to force East Gadsden to use their final two timeouts of the game but had to kick the ball back to the Jags with 1:12 left in the contest.
East Gadsden had one last chance from their own 35-yard line but Street fumbled the ball on the first play from scrimmage with Walton’s Zachary Teeples falling on the loose pigskin to end the threat as the Braves ran out the clock and celebrated an improbable district title and home playoff game on Nov. 11 with the 31-27 win.
Brack threw for 230 yards with a pair of scores while Graham ran for 78. Matthews had four catches for 106 yards. Holmes had four rushing tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble as the Braves gave up a lot of yardage but forced three turnovers with the Jags hurting themselves with 10 penalties for 109 yards.
Walton(3-6) now hosts Panama City Bay(6-2) on Friday night in the final regular season game of the 2016 season. The Braves will host Jacksonville Raines on Nov. 11 in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs while East Gadsden must travel to Jacksonville to face Bolles.