The last time Niceville visited the Pensacola area, things did not go according to plan for the state powerhouse.
For their return trip, the Eagles stuck to the script, upending host Pine Forest 42-14 at Lon Wise Stadium.
“When you come over here, one thing about the team is that they’re physical and they’re fast,” Niceville coach John Hicks said. “I think we’re a little better of a football team than we were (when we played Escambia).
“We’ve improved a lot in a lot of areas. I’m really proud of this game. I thought we executed almost flawlessly on offense and then, defensively, once we kind of got used to their speed I thought we played pretty well defensively.”
Niceville, ranked eighth in the state, was nearly unstoppable on offense as it scored on six of its nine possessions.
Early on, however, it looked like both teams would be in for a grind as Pine Forest opened the game with a 71-yard run from Jaden Gardner that set the team up with first-and-goal from the Niceville nine-yard line.
After two runs and an incomplete pass, the Eagles went for it on fourth-and-goal from the four, but Travis Peacock was stuffed for a loss of four yards and a turnover on downs.
“That was poor coaching. I should have kicked a field goal,” Pine Forest coach Jerry Pollard said. “That was all me.”
“They’ve got a really good football team, and we didn’t do a very good job,” he continued. “Playing, coaching — we got outplayed, got out-coached. They did a great job, they were very well prepared.”
Pine Forest kept the momentum on defense as it pinned NHS deep at its own 25 yard line, forcing them to punt it away, but a costly fumble on the kick led to the first score of the game seven plays later as Niceville’s Jordan Tinder ran the ball in from three yards out.
Tinder added two more scores before the night was over (a 17-yard catch-and-run and a seven-yard run) while Niceville quarterback Tyler Russell added two more through the air — a nine-yard score to Trey Diggs and a 20-yard shot to Deonte’ Sheffield.
A number of penalties also chafed the Pine Forest sideline (chief among them some questionable hits), but Pollard downplayed their impact after the game.
“We did not play well,” he said. “Regardless of the officiating or anything else, we did not play well.”
Pine Forest avoided the shutout with two scores from Xavier Saulsberry, a 10-yard run in the second and a short five-yard dash in the fourth, but by then it was too late.
All that is left now is for the team to turn its attention to next week’s game against Tate — a contest with the District 1-6A championship on the line.
“We just go back to practice and try to work on what we did wrong this week and get better,” Pollard said.