MILTON — The Vikings’ final punt of the night seemed to hang in the air forever, yet Marquise McRoy never flinched.
Drifting to his left, McRoy let ball drop like a stone, Fort Walton Beach’s coverage team bearing down on him like starved coyotes. When the ball finally landed in his arms, his right hand rose up to point at the end zone.
Just like Jake Taylor in “Major League,” McRoy, was calling his shot.
Eyes downfield, the Milton senior sidestepped twice before taking off to his right, running past everyone in sight. The Milton band started to play before he even high-stepped across the goal line.
Not necessarily the difference maker, McRoy’s 45-yard punt return was the final nail in Fort Walton Beach’s coffin, the Vikings dropping Friday’s road game against the Panthers 26-6 at Haywood Hanna Stadium in a game they never led.
Fort Walton Beach (1-2) won the coin toss, but it didn’t win much of anything else Friday. Coming off a 38-35 overtime loss to Choctaw, the Panthers started fast and got only faster.
The Vikings’ opening kickoff barely left the tee, sliding along slick grass to the 45 where the Panthers recovered it. Three plays later, Milton (2-1) was in the end zone. Quarterback Noah Wingate connected with Marquise McRoy on a slant pattern that went for a 47-yard score 1 minute, 15 seconds into the game.
“We didn’t play really well at the beginning,” Viking coach Phil Dorn said. “I think you can’t start off poorly against a team like this. They got the momentum early and were making the plays that we weren’t.”
Wingate later connected with Antonio Elmore running down the seam for a 37-yard touchdown on third-and-14 to give the Panthers a 20-0 halftime lead.
Making heavy use of the run-pass option, Wingate completed 5-of-6 first-half passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
His counterpart, Viking quarterback Kevin Quinn, did not fair as well. Facing constant pressure, he completed 14-of-24 passes for just 101 yards and two interception, though one came in garbage time.
Without the passing attack, the Viking offense wasn't able to cross midfield until midway through the second quarter, a pass interference call extending their drive. On the ensuing play, a low snap skidded across the turf and between Quinn’s legs. He recovered the ball 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
McRoy’s punt return aside, Fort Walton Beach improved in the second half. Early in the fourth quarter, Jay Jarrett capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
“We did a little better in the second half,” Dorn said. “It was a little more even game. Really, I thought the game would be that way if we could have played better in the first half. It would have been a little tighter the whole way.”
Up next, Fort Walton Beach hosts Wakulla at 8 p.m. Friday. The Vikings made the trip to Crawfordville a year ago with an unblemished 2-0 record the War Eagles wasted no time tarnishing with a 29-3 victory. Wakulla finished 2017 with a 9-3 record and a trip to the 5A region semifinals. Fort Walton won only one more game after the contest, finishing 3-6.
Momentum would have been helpful against the Eagles, but the Vikings will have to put the Milton game behind them, Dorn said.
“Milton did a great job,” Dorn said. “They played well, and we’re gonna have to go back and correct our misstates and get ready. We got another tough one next week."