BAKER — A pair of Class 1A playoff contenders squared off at Baker School's Doug Griffith Memorial Stadium on Friday as Baker hosted Graceville in the 2013 football season opener.
Powered by a 205 yard, four-touchdown rushing performance by senior tailback D.J. Thomas the Gators beat the Tigers 42-27 in a game that wasn't decided until Thomas scored from one yard out with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter.
The fourth Thomas touchdown might have the score that sealed the win for the Gators, but an 80-yard pass play from Jon Beck to Austin Martin with 8:42 was likely the straw that broke the collective backs of the Tigers.
Faced with a third down and 18 at their own 20-yard line, Gator coach Matt Brunson called for the quick pass to Martin at wingback. The pass only covered about 10 or 15 yards in the air and Martin did the rest outrunning the Graceville defense to the end zone.
"We were running the football very successfully and they had about nine guys up around the line and we kind of hit a little pop pass and got a wingback behind the safety and Austin Martin did an awesome job," Brunson said. "Jon Beck made a good play in getting Austin the ball, and Austin made a good catch and that was the turning point in the ball game.
"What made that possible is the way our line blocks and the way our backs run hard. The running game we've got opens that stuff up later on."
Martin said the touchdown was the longest of his career.
"It was long and it tired me out a lot, but it was worth it every step of the way," he said. "That was the fastest ever ran. Jon got the ball to me -- it was perfect over the middle and easy to catch all I saw was the end zone and I was gone."
The Gators (1-0) finished the game with 272 yards rushing on 39 carries. Richard Stroheker was more than capable of providing Thomas with a breather at tailback as gained 76 yards on just eight carries.
Although the Gators only threw nine passes, Beck made the most of his four completions. Beck not only hit Martin with a touchdown pass, but he had an 11-yard scoring strike to Kodi Moen with 8:12 left in the second quarter.
Beck finished the night 4-of-9 passing for 108 yards and the two touchdowns with one interception.
Baker turned three Tiger turnovers into touchdowns.
The first game on the game's first play when Tiger running back Jared Padgett fumble at the Graceville 28. Martin recovered the fumble for Baker and two plays later Thomas scored his first touchdown.
A tough Tiger squad (0-1) responded with two touchdowns by Jarrett Brogdon to go up 14-7.
Beck's pass to Moen pulled the Gators to within a point when the extra point was wide.
Graceville added another score on a 42-run by Kyler Trim.
With less than two minutes left in the half Baker's Izayaih Thomas pounced on a Graceville fumble setting up the second D.J. Thomas score of the night.
Baker tied the game when Beck hit Kodi Nixon for the 2-point conversion.
The Gators scored on a four-play, 75-yard drive to open the third quarter with D.J. Thomas scoring from 22 yards out. Malcolm Griffith's extra point gave the Gators the lead they would never relinquish with 10:27 left in the third quarter.
Graceville answered with a score from Eddie Myrick, but the Tigers ran out of gas as Baker picked up the two fourth quarter scores to seal the win.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at email@example.com, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.