As the first-half clock fell below two minutes, Gulf Breeze quarterback Tyler Phelps stared out onto the field, then got coach Bobby Clayton’s attention.
“We still got three time outs?” he inquired, watching the Gulf Breeze special teams unit trot onto the field to receive the punt.
They did, in fact, and Phelps intended to use every last one to his advantage, despite the dwindling seconds and the two-touchdown lead his Dolphins already had over district foe Pace.
By the time Gulf Breeze got the ball, Phelps had 85 seconds with which to work. It proved more than enough, and true to his word, Phelps hit a double-teamed Cole Sheppard in the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown pass with 2.3 seconds to spare, on the way to a career night and a 55-28 victory against the Patriots.
“I was ready to get in,” Phelps said. “Cole Sheppard made one of the best catches I’ve ever seen. To end it like that, that was huge.”
Even before that last-second drive, Phelps, who finished 26-of-34 for a career-best 424 yards, proved tough to stop. He completed 40- and 24-yard passes on the Dolphins’ opening drive, capping it with a 1-yard touchdown run.
While the Dolphins (7-1, 2-2) excelled through the air, Pace found its stride on the ground behind the Pensacola area’s 2015 leading rusher Anthony Johnson Jr., who took off for an 81-yard touchdown run to bring the Patriots (3-5, 0-2) within a point. Johnson later scored touchdowns of 48 and 34 yards in the second half, finishing the night with 279 yards rushing.
After Johnson’s run, Gulf Breeze created some distance early, scoring three touchdowns in the final 6:12 of the first half on scores from Tristan Covell, Parker Baynes and Sheppard, and within the first minute of the second half the Dolphins were in the end zone once again, on a touchdown run from Tyler Dittmer, his first of two in the game.
But Pace wasn’t giving up just yet, and the Patriots scored the next two touchdowns on a run from Johnson and a 97-yard touchdown pass from Dameon Bivins to Camaron Rohling, cutting Gulf Breeze’s lead to 12.
“That kid is unbelievable, and he showed it tonight,” Clayton said about Johnson. “We just kept hitting him and hitting him. I’m just happy for our guys that we kept putting points on the board.”
And after Pace’s attempt at a comeback, the Dolphins continued to do so.
Johnson scored once more in the second half, but during that span the quick-scoring Gulf Breeze offense found the end zone three more times, twice on touchdown passes from Phelps to Covell.
The win against Pace was the Dolphins’ first in over a decade, and just the second time in the past 10 years they’ve hit the seven-win mark.
The win also assures Gulf Breeze of its second straight playoff appearance and now sets up a District 2-6A championship showdown against Navarre in two weeks.
As far as Phelps is concerned, though, the milestones are just beginning.
“That’s a testament to coach Clayton and everything he’s done,” Phelps said. “It’s been huge. We beat Pace. We haven’t beaten them in a long time. But now we’re on to the next one.”