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December 13, 2013

Dwyer wins 7A title 55-39

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ORLANDO -- Dwyer took the 7A state championship Friday night by winning the battles that will win you every big game: the turnover battle.

The Panthers picked off Niceville's Ashton Hooker five times en route to Dwyer's second state championship in the past five years, beating Niceville 55 to 39.

They also survived a near turnover disaster of their own.

Up seven points late in the third quarter, Dwyer was looking to go up two scores for the first time in the game after one of the defense's interceptions set the offense up in the red zone.

On 2nd and one, fullback Gerald Hearns leapt to go over the pile, the ball slipping from his hand. The ball bounced into the end zone and was promptly picked up by Niceville.

"The ruling on the field is the ball carrier entered the end zone before losing possession"

While the replays on the jumbotron and televisions disagreed, that was that. There is no replay in high school athletics. There went the wind from beneath Niceville's wings.

Dwyer never relinquished that lead.

The game opened as a shootout, each team scoring in its first three possessions. The teams combined for more than 500 total yards of offense and 40 points by halftime.

Photo Feature: Dywer 55 Niceville 39

Both teams turned the ball over in the red zone on their last drive of the half. Shawann Lurry picked Hooker inside the 5, the first stop either defense had made all day.

Dwyer drove the ball 96 yards down the field, and then Panthers QB Daniel Parr coughed it up going into the end zone just seconds before halftime.

Dwyer trailed at the half, 21-19, courtesy of missed extra points. The Panthers weren't just down on the scoreboard, they had got themselves down.

"You know it was panic in there, the kids were yelling at each other, down and yelling. Just like we had lost." Dwyer coach Jack Daniels explained, "I said 'listen, we are down two points. We are getting the ball. We're going to score and get some momentum, our defense is going to get some stops'. I said 'just to play football'."

Dwyer came out of the half a different team. Not only did the Panthers grab four second half interceptions and clamp down on third downs (3 for 3 in the first half, 3 for 7 in the second), but the offense took it up a notch.

Dwyer outscored Niceville 36 to 19 in the second half.

Running back Alonzo Smith bowled over Eagle defenders, gaining 219 yards on 29 carries for two touchdowns. Ezra Saffold and Johnnie Dixon made the Niceville's secondary's life hard all game.

Parr bounced back from his fumbles to finish 21 of 27 passing for 236 yards and four total touchdowns, 3 in the air.

Perhaps the biggest play of the game came on the first punt of the game.

Niceville, trailing 41-33, had just stopped the Panthers for the first time and forced a short punt, but was called for roughing the kicker.

The ensuing 15 yard mark-off set Dwyer up in Niceville territory and extended the nine-play, 66 yard drive. Parr scrambled in for the game-clinching touchdown, giving the Panthers a 48-33 lead.

Hooker finished 15-26 for 245 yards - but had five interceptions to go with his two touchdown passes - the last one on the final play of the game.

More than 500 yards of total offense in the first half of the 7A state title, but missed PATs give Niceville a 21-19 lead.

Each team scored on its first three drives - but Dwyer missed two extra points.

The first half ended on back-to-back turnovers. Niceville QB Ashton Hooker was intercepted at the Dwyer three - and the Panthers drove to the Niceville one, but Daniel Parr fumbled at the one to end the threat.

Niceville took the opening drive and Hooker led the Eagles quickly down the field with both his arm and his legs. Hooker scored from one yard out to give Niceville a 7-0 lead.

Dwyer came right back down the field, behind Parr - and tied the game on a touchdown pass to Ezra Saffold for 27 yards from Parr.

Tayjon Culley went in from four yards out just before the end of the first quarter to give the Eagles a 14-7 lead, but Dwyer countered with a 10 play, 65 yard drive, with Alonzo Smith going in from 4 yards out - but the extra point was missed.

Niceville took a 21-13 lead on another Culley touchdown run. Dwyer scored again on a pass from Parr to Saffold for 27 yards - but the two point conversion failed.

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