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'THE GAME': Choctaw, Fort Walton Beach to face off for 50th time

Sam Grubenhoff
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — The 50th playing of “The Game” should come with more fanfare.

Instead the annual matchup between the Choctawhatchee High School and Fort Walton Beach High School football teams, which kicks of at 7 p.m. Friday at Steve Riggs Stadium with limited attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will have to settle for only a handful of interesting storylines.

Action from the Fort Walton Beach-Crestview football game played Monday at Steve Riggs Stadium.

Namely this: Is 2020 finally the year the Vikings put one back in the win column?

Across their previous 49 matchups, the Indians lead the all-time series 28-21. That includes a streak of seven straight wins dating to the 2013 season, as well as a 42-6 victory a year ago at Joe Etheredge Stadium.

However, first-year Vikings coach Chip Petree, who served as the Indians’ defensive coordinator from 2015-2017, said the streak doesn’t pertain to his players. As far as he’s concerned, each team and each season is different.

“People on the outside hear it, but that’s really irrelevant because this group hasn’t played ’em,” Petree said. “It’s fun to talk about in the paper and all that, but it’s obviously time for Fort Walton Beach to get a win in the series. That’s for sure.”

Action from the Choctaw-Crestview football game at Choctaw.

Choctaw coach Greg Thomas said he shares similar sentiments.

“I think our kids don’t really look at how many years we’ve won consecutively,” Thomas said. “We’re just trying to take care of business this year. That’s really what we’re focused on. Our kids are excited, and I know (Fort Walton Beach’s) players are, also.

“It ought to be a great game.”

At the very least, it should be a more contested game.

Choctaw has had Fort Walton Beach’s number in recent years due to its wealth of playmakers. Just a year ago, Indians quarterback Ezra McKenna threw three touchdown passes in the blowout victory.

Well, in 2020, no team has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than Choctaw. Although none of his players have tested positive for the virus, Thomas said he’s had to send 11 players home for a mandatory two-week quarantine due to contact tracing protocols.

Being short-handed has left the Indians 0-2 on the year, suffering a 56-0 loss to Niceville in Week 1 and a 40-28 loss to Crestview this past Friday.

Despite visible improvement against the Bulldogs, Choctaw’s outlook remains grim this week, too, as the Indians will be without starting running back Kybert McGlothin, starting left guard Lazarus Shockley and starting defensive end Derrick Lei-Sam.

“Someone else has to step up and get the job done,” Thomas said.

Action from the Choctaw-Crestview football game at Choctaw.

With their rival’s roster depleted, Fort Walton Beach (1-1 overall) has an opportunity to score their first victory in the series since winning 38-31 against the Indians on Nov. 2, 2012.

Thus far in 2020, the Vikings have already made a point of ending streaks, upsetting Crestview 21-14 in Week 1 to secure its first win against the Bulldogs since 2013. A 49-14 loss to Niceville followed this past Friday, but Petree said the Vikes have already put it behind them.

Vikings head coach George Petree  pumps up his team during the storm delayed Fort Walton Beach-Crestview football game played Monday at Steve Riggs Stadium.

“Niceville, they really played good,” Petree said. “We could’ve played better, and having Crestview and Niceville within three days of each other is quite a task, but we took our hat off to Niceville and turned the page to Choctaw.”

And in his former team, Petree sees an opponent that’s tough but not invincible.

“They’ll certainly be ready to play,” he said. “They are a very, very big team, very physical and they’ve got athletes all over the place, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. We’ll have to have a couple good days of practice. That’s for sure.”