Friday’s game pitting Pine Forest against Gulf Breeze marked a playoff rematch — though the regular-season meeting felt like more of a playoff atmosphere than the last time the teams met.
Gulf Breeze (4-0) shocked the Pensacola area and the state by holding on for a 21-14 win — marking the Dolphins first defeat of Pine Forest since 2005 — as the final five minutes at Lon Wise stadium left everyone in attendance with their nerves shot.
“It’s just a credit to all the hard work this team (Gulf Breeze) has put in,” Dolphins head coach Bobby Clayton said. “These kids have done unbelievable things and done everything I’ve asked of them.
“I’m still in shock. I’m still pinching myself to see if I’m dreaming. When I took the job in February, I wanted to get these kids and this community (Gulf Breeze) to believe they could compete with teams like Pine Forest.”
Inside of seven minutes, Pine Forest found itself in a grim situation as Gulf Breeze held the momentum and a 14-point lead after the Dolphins scored on a 12-yard run by Tyler Dittmer, a 30-yard reception by Cole Sheppard and a 3-yard TD run by Tyler Phelps.
But Pine Forest QB Xavier Saulsberry delivered clutch passes to Travis Peacock for a 40-yard gain and then Jacob Copeland for a 12-yard touchdown to give the Eagles’ hope of a comeback victory.
After the Eagles recovered an onside kick, Pine Forest had the momentum and time it needed to find the end zone again.
But Gulf Breeze’s secondary just wouldn’t allow it, backed by the confidence and belief that they practice against the area’s top quarterback (Phelps) every day.
“I tell our guys on defense, Tyler is a very special quarterback and he proved that again tonight,” Clayton said. “(Phelps) puts the ball in very tight windows. I try to remind our defense that there aren’t too many Tyler Phelps running around.
“(Saulsberry) is a helluva player — I coached him for two years. But tonight I think we were able to frustrate him and get into his passing lanes.”
Inside of five minutes, Walter Yates III intercepted a pass and returned it to Pine Forest’s 30, but the Eagles halted the Dolphins on fourth and inches to get another chance.
The Eagles converted a sensational fourth down, but another Dolphins defensive back was ready to make his presence felt.
Matthew DeMahy answered the call with an interception (his fourth of the season), to ice the game and leave Pine Forest stunned.
“It’s an amazing feeling, we work so hard and we knew we could win,” DeMahy said. “(Practicing against Phelps) works us and it makes things easier in the game for us.”
It left the Dolphins with an obvious confidence boost, as the team held Pine Forest to it’s lowest scoring output of the season, while scoring more than any team against the Eagles thus far.
And to top it all off, the Dolphins are 4-0 for the first time in program history.