FORT WALTON BEACH – Kaylah Butterworth walked toward midfield and motioned toward Gulf Breeze keeper Margeaux Hunt, stunned over what transpired just minutes earlier.
“Dude, that save was amazing,” she said to a teammate out of the first water break, the Steve Riggs Stadium scoreboard flashing a 0-0 game with 19:07 left until halftime.
She was right. The Fort Walton Beach senior struck a well-placed left-footer well right of Hunt, who lunged across her body to make a one-handed save before gathering up the loose ball.
Butterworth was snake-bitten three times in the first half, as was Elaina Davies on a shot just above the crossbar. Against the No. 1 3A team in the state, the Vikings needed those opportunities to fall.
Instead Gulf Breeze (14-0-1, 8-0) followed with three first-half goals in a seven-minute span en route to a 3-0 win to secure the No. 1 seed in the District 1-3A tournament.
We had some great opportunities early but we just couldn’t capitalize,” said Fort Walton Beach head coach Brett Latham.
The Vikings (11-3-1), which lost the first meeting 5-1 at Gulf Breeze on Nov. 30, can take solace in earning the district tournament No. 2 seed with a 7-2 district mark.
They can also take solace in a strong start that should’ve resulted in a lead, as well as playing the Dolphins to a draw in the second half. They'll use those stretches as a bode of confidence if they meet Gulf Breeze again for the district title.
“We still gotta get past Choctaw, who’s only lost to us and Gulf Breeze,” Latham reasoned. “But yes, we’re very pleased with the defense and the effort tonight.”
The wheels fell off for the Vikings around the 26-minute mark, just minutes after Trinity Chastain made a brilliant sliding tackle to deny Mya Swinton of a point-blank shot in the box.
Blair Amberson found room on the right side of the box, trapped a Swinton ball over the top and netted a left-footer that deflected off Madison Phillips inside the right post.
Two minutes later Riley Cassidy blasted a right-footer past Phillips below the crossbar, and five minutes after that Amberson netted a right-footer inside the left post for a 3-0 lead at halftime.
While 40 minutes of play remained, essentially that was the nail in the coffin.
Fort Walton Beach, ranked 12th in 3A, struggled to use the full width of the field and orchestrate runs out wide. The Dolphins didn’t allow much up the middle, and the lack of opportunities completely closed up in the second half with the Vikings unable to connect passes.
Well, to be fair, the scoring opportunities closed up for both squads as the Vikings’ back line responded to the lackluster close to the half.
By the final water break, Latham was yelling, “Still zero-zero in the second half. Keep working.”
The Dolphins never stopped attacking. Nor did the Vikings as the teams played to a stalemate in the final 40 minutes of play.
The Vikings next head to West Florida on Tuesday. Gulf Breeze, whose lone non-win came in a 1-1 tie against perennial power Navarre, next travels to Pensacola on Monday.