Judging by its first possession against Choctawhatchee in Friday’s regular-season opener, Gulf Breeze appeared to have a long night ahead of it.
The Dolphins went backwards on the drive, and the visiting Indians took that opportunity and ran with it, scoring soon after on a 28-yard touchdown reception.
“Whenever we’re dropping back and going backwards and they score eight points, that’s just adversity,” senior Gulf Breeze quarterback Tyler Phelps said. “Coach (Bobby) Clayton has put us in that spot all summer.”
And when it really mattered, that experience paid off.
The Dolphins soon overrode that failed possession with consistent offensive efficiency, accumulating 411 yards and forcing four Choctaw turnovers on the way to a 38-29 victory.
Gulf Breeze (1-0) had 14 first downs in the first half alone, scoring on a 10-yard Phelps run, 4- and 11-yard Parker Baynes receptions and a 57-yard bomb from Phelps to Cole Sheppard.
“He’s a heck of a ballplayer. That kid is one of the best quarterbacks I’ve coached in my 17 years of coaching,” said Clayton, the Dolphins’ first-year head coach. “He understands the game. Once he calmed down and settled in, he did a great job for us.”
After the break, though, the adversity Gulf Breeze thought it silenced earlier slowly crept its way back in.
The Dolphins, who led 31-23 at halftime, had just 13 yards of offense in the third quarter, and the teams punted four times during that span. Choctaw (0-1) began second-half scoring in the fourth quarter with a 13-yard rushing touchdown that brought the Indians within two points.
A few minutes and costly Dolphin penalties later, the Indians were in the red zone, moments away from completing the rally. But this time, Matthew DeMahy had something to say about it.
The senior cornerback picked off Choctaw quarterback Brady Ooten on the 7-yard line, ending the threat and kicking off a final drive the Dolphins would cap with a 1-yard Phelps touchdown.
“It was good,” DeMahy said of his grab. “It was just too easy.”
And it was so easy, he did it again, this time with six seconds left to play, all but ending the game with one giant leap.
“They held us in the second half,” Phelps said. “But we say, ‘We’re all we’ve got. We’re all we need.'”
And as the final seconds ticked away, the Dolphins celebrated the fact that they’d proven just that.