MIDDLEBURG, Fla. – A five-hour drive in three SUVs didn’t bother visiting Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee one bit.
Nor did the fact that the Indians were the No. 2 seed in Class 1A-Region 1 coming into their first regional final appearance since 2018.
In the end, it was Choctaw, who most people refer to the school as, that put the end to the No. 1 seed Middleburg on their home field of Alan Powers Field to advance to their first trip to state since 2017.
The Indians used a strategy they have used before, putting quarterback Rowan Franklin in charge while mixing things up with Trinity Myers and putting in a heavy dose of Kendal Wilson in the seams that flustered the host Broncos with Choctaw (14-2) winning 14-0 over Middleburg (16-1) to lay claim to the Class 1A-Region 1 Championship.
FIRST HALF TIGHTNESS
In the first half of the game, Middleburg (16-1) started the night with the ball first got things going that saw the Broncos cross the 20 for a first down quickly but sputtered just as quickly as Choctaw’s defense got into force a punt.
However, the Broncos were ready to match the Indians defensively and after getting the ball at their own 25, Choctaw moved quickly almost to midfield facing a fourth and two at their own 38, needing to get to the 40 for the first down.
In needing the stop rusher Desiree Hall for the Broncos got in quickly on Franklin to put the stop to Choctaw’s first drive and set Middleburg up with great field position at the Indians’ 33.
At first, it appeared that the Broncos were going to strike first with Brooke Swenson getting out two quick passes to Jaden Lopresti and Kelsey Harrelson along with a third-down run by Swenson to get them inside the 20 with 3:15 left to go in the first quarter.
A couple more passes by Swenson would get down to the 7 of Choctaw before two incomplete passes with just under a minute to go in the quarter would shut the door on points as the Indians’ defense made it difficult for Broncos’ receivers to get open to force a turnover on downs.
Middleburg was not going to let Choctaw have it easy though as they were able to force a punt quickly into the second quarter with 9:25 left after the Indians got one first-down play.
Just as quickly as the Broncos has the ball back in hand, with one first-down play happening that got things out to the 20, Trinity Thomas rushed in for an Indians sack on Swenson, sending the drive sputtering as Choctaw started to lock things down on defense.
And if things were starting to potentially unravel, they did near the two-minute warning when the Broncos got flagged for illegal contact that set up the first of what would become two Choctaw scores when Franklin found Wilson for two quick strikes including an 18-yard touchdown pass that came after receiving the pass that set up first and goal.
But Middleburg didn’t shut the door on getting points for the first time in the game when they got the ball back with the full two minutes on the clock that saw Choctaw get penalized for illegal contact after a first down play to Harrelson that put the ball at midfield.
After a sack and eventually, two passes that got the Broncos back in the red zone, a dropped pass along with three straight incomplete passes ended the hopes of the Broncos getting points with the Indians taking a 7-0 lead into the half.
INDIANS TIGHTEN UP, BRONCOS SPUTTER IN THE SECOND HALF
With Choctaw getting the ball to start the second half, the urgency was on for Middleburg to keep the Indians away from the endzone and it showed quickly after the Indians got one first down pass play out to their own 30 when the Broncos forced a punt with 7:39 left to go in the third quarter.
Middleburg, however, quickly work themselves back into the red zone once again for the third time as Lopresti and Kayleigh McWatters quickly got the Broncos in scoring position once again.
But things stalled once again after Swenson ran for a few yards to get things closer, but a sack by Choctaw back at the 21 on third helped shut the door when a fourth-down attempt went incomplete.
After that, things basically unraveled for the Broncos who had scored over 400 points in the 16 previous games played so far as Choctaw was about to unleash its full potential coupled with another illegal contact penalty on the Broncos that would result in Franklin finding Marissa Brown from 14 yards out for the second and final touchdown of the night with 10:15 left to go in the game to take a 14-0 lead.
Middleburg would cross midfield and get into Choctaw territory one more time on the night, but time was not on their side at that point with Choctaw’s defense playing lights out and forcing punts, sacks and stopping the Broncos from getting anywhere close to the red zone for the rest of the game.
CO-COACHING AT ITS BEST
For Choctaw Head Coach Jim Bay and assistant head coach Matt Pacheco, they have been building this program up for years over in Fort Walton Beach and they talked to FloridaHSFootball.com after the game about how much better this team appears to be compared to the team that got to the Final Four in 2017.
Choctaw will be the No. 2 seed for the state semifinals on Friday and will take on No. 3 Miami Edison when the FHSAA Flag Football Finals open at Mandarin High School in Jacksonville at 3:45 p.m. ET.
C Rowan Franklin 18 pass to Kendal Wilson (PAT good)
C Franklin 14 pass to Marissa Brown (PAT good)