BAKER - Johnathan Ortner executed South Walton's hurry-up, spread attack to a tee Friday night.
But for every pass that threaded the needle en route to a 309 yard, five-touchdown performance, Baker's D.J. Thomas had an answer.
Well to be fair, the senior had 361 yards and six touchdowns of answers, both career-highs to lead Baker to its first undefeated regular season since 1985 in a 42-33 win over the Seahawks.
"It was just like Oregon and Stanford," said Thomas. who eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing mark and now has 27 touchdowns on the season. "They were running that hurry-up offense while we were pounding it. We just needed that one stop and we got it. That's what it came down to."
The stop he's referring to was Brandon Engler's sack on Ortner in the end zone with 2 minutes and 48 seconds left, a safety that represented Baker's seventh sack and secured a two-possession, 42-33 lead that would hold up.
It also secured Baker's third straight win over the Seahawks in the rivalry, and more importantly it pushed the Gators' record to 10-0 headed into the Nov. 22 Region 1-1A semifinal matchup against Cottondale at home.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, had their five-game win streak snapped and will next travel to Port St. Joe on Nov. 22 for a Region 2-1A semifinal.
Asked about the shootout, South Walton coach Phil Tisa echoed Thomas' thoughts.
"It was kind of like Oregon versus Stanford 2," said. Tisa, the face of a program that won just two combined games in 2011 and 2012. "They got us with the ground-and-pound game. I thought we made some good adjustments at the half, but it didn't hold up in the end."
The adjustments were needed after Thomas dominated the opening 24 minutes of play.
In the first half alone, Thomas had 241 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries to give the Gators a 25-20 lead headed into the locker rooms..That answered a 216-yard, three-score effort in the first half from Ortner, who was building off the momentum generated from the previous week's six-touchdown, 300-plus-yards performance. Even against a stacked box, Thomas scored on touchdown runs of 38, 18, 2 and 80 yards, the final of which showcased his 4.40 speed up the right sideline.
When told of his career-high totals, Thomas led out an audible "Wooooo!" that would rival WWE legend Ric Flair .
"What?!," he said. "Unbelievable."
And every one of his yards and touchdowns was needed in a back-and-forth game that looked to be decided by the team to have the final possession.
Down 25-20 to start the second half, the Seahawks took a 26-25 lead on Ortner's 17-yard pass to Alex Smith. Thomas answered with a 1-yard score, which the Seahawks then followed up with a 13-yard connection between Ortner and Vinnie Ciurleo -- who ended the night with two touchdowns – to knot the score at 33 early in the fourth quarter.
But Baker, driving 66 yards and milking seven minutes off the clock, converted two fourth downs on the next set of downs and set up a 16-yard touchdown run by Thomas to take a 40-33 lead with 3:30 left to play.
Two plays later, Ortner was being taken down in the end zone to end South Walton's hopes of an upset.
Ortner, who now has more than 2,600 passing yards and 35 touchdown throws on the season, ended the night 23-for-39 with two touch-downs throws to Ciurleo and one each to Smith, Harrison Schaffer and Sage Roberts.
Undaunted by the loss, Tisa hopes the Seahawks can carry over the near-upset to the playoffs.
"My dad told me I set the bar too high," Tisa said with a laugh. "No, but we're excited. We 're looking forward to seeing what we can do."