NICEVILLE - A fourth and one penalty flag led to a 41 yard touchdown, but the highlight effort was not enough as the Fleming Island High unbeaten season came to a crashing halt Friday night with Niceville handing out a 47-28 loss in the region 1-7A semifinal played on a cold, blustery Friday night in football-crazy Niceville.
"It takes a lot of hard work to get where are this year," said Fleming Island coach Damenyum Springs, who finished at 10-1 and earned his second deep region run in three years after an 11-3 record and region finals berth in 2017. "I thank Broden Domenico, Jeremiah Jackson, Zack Payne and Dean Hyams and all the four year players for being great kids as well as great athletes. Those seniors gave us all they could."
Fleming Island ends their season at 10-1 while Niceville, now 12-0, will travel to face top-ranked Edgewater, a 23-17 double overtime winner (17-17 at end of game) over Tallahassee Lincoln, in that region 1-7A semifinal.
"I learned a lot about this kind of football in this area," said Fleming Island High coach Damenyum Springs, "We just got to get back to our gym and get back to work. They came out stronger than us."
On the Golden Eagles first offensive series, an encroachment flag on a fourth an one put the Dean Hyams-led offense back on the field and, with the flick of a wrist, Hyams found wide receiver Kaleb Seybolt off the Niceville sideline for a solo score of 41 yards. The quick strike caused a collective "What the heck?" from the Niceville crowd as Fleming Island looked to take the overwhelming crowd out of the picture.
“We just didn’t play very well as a team tonight," said senior quarterback Dean Hyams. "We are a lot better than what the scoreboard says and I just wish everyone could see that.”
On the Niceville initial series, Fleming Island allowed just one yard in the Eagles first three downs; a sack by Jeremiah Jackson and two quick tackles on quick-out passes by Shaq Magwood and Isiah Blair, as Niceville was testing the outside defense of Fleming Island with little success.
After the initial salvo, and after the corners' shutdown on their second series, Niceville simply pushed their way through the middle of the Fleming Island defense with authority with a sets of scoring runs of 68 yards and 12 yards with a blocked punt squeezed in between to leave the field at the half up 21-7.
"They made adjustments after the first score and were more physical up front," said Springs. "They took care of us in that first half."
Hyams, on the run for the better part of the first quarter, was forced to throw on the run on most tosses with two sacks leaving a second punt and a startup from their own 23 before Niceville's first long touchdown run. Niceville had seven sacks on the night.
"He never got to setting his feet in the pocket because their guy was chasing him most of the game," said Springs. "He was scrambling all night."
After the long scoring run, Hyams again got snagged on a pass play with a 10 yard loss to the Golden Eagle 19. Punter Garrett Godfrey was overwhelmed at the five yard line and the ball was recovered in the end zone for a quick reversal of the game's momentum.
Fleming Island relentlessly attempted to offset the thunderous Niceville front line rush and a screen pass to running back Timothy Thomas netted a 30 yard gain to midfield and some energy on the Fleming Island sideline.
From there, again, Niceville harassed and sack Hyams twice for another punt.
With Jackson and middle linebacker Zack Payne on the sprint to slow down the Niceville attack, a quick out pass netted 23 yards to the Fleming Island 13 with quarterback Will Koch slamming in from the one yard line for a 21-7 halftime lead.
Fleming Island got a reprieve from the Niceville rush with a 15 yard flag on a third and nine, but two successive 15 yard flags against Fleming Island squelched the drive with downs of first and 25, then second and 35.
Payne and defensive end Zack Little bashed in for two sacks to send Niceville into the lockers thinking the second half may not be so easy, but Hyams was intercepted on a long pass attempt that ended the half.
In the third, another sack on Hyams halted the initial series, but Fleming Island defensive tackle Elijah Montgomery answered on his end with a third and one stuff at midfield that forced a punt.
Springs tried to get the ball to his senior playmaker, Broden Domenico, to generate some room, but a nifty pass breakup on a hurried throw forced a punt that Niceville returner Luke Unterseh outmaneuvered six tacklers before hitting paydirt to push the lead to 26-7 with 6:40 left in the third.
"Dean never gave up," said Springs. "He's a competitor all the way and he played all night."
Niceville would get another score with a midfield start leading to a 16 yard scoring run for a 34-7 lead.
After a Fleming Island series with two incompletions and a punt, Niceville against started at midfield and took just two plays; 18 yards and a 49 yard scoring run to push the score to 40-7.
Injecting a bit of speed to his offensive strategy, Springs put in freshman tailback Sam Singleton for a spark and the shifty Singleton put together a 24 yard kickoff return, a nine yard run off tackle and a 21 yard blast to wake up the Fleming Island offense.
Passes to Domenico and wideout Will Stephens led to a toe-tapping, back of the end zone scoring snare from Domenico that gave Hyams and the offense a reprieve to a blowout.
"Everyone played their hearts out and that's all that matters at the end of the day," said Domenico. "We embraced the grind and loved working with each other and that usually comes with "W"s (wins). I guess we got as far as we could."
Niceville again answered with runs of 18, 15 to the Fleming Island 17 before a flag backed up the Eagles to the 26 only to have back Shawn Parker, who finished with 119 yards, rumble 21 yards to the six and Niceville score from there for a 47-14 lead with 8:51 left to play.
Domenico punched in with a 25 yard kickoff return with Stephen snatching two slant passes as Hyams got some pocket time. Singleton got loose for a 15 yard sprint to the Niceville 22 before crashing through the middle of the Niceville defense for a 15 yard touchdown and a 47-20 score with 6:07 still to play.
An onsides kick and a sack from Tyler Cross got Hyams one final shot to close the scoring gap and the final drive showed off some resilience on the offense despite a 42 yard pass play to the two yard line by Domenico getting nullified with a penalty flag. The Golden Eagles refused to leave without finishing with a flurry with Hyams finding Seybolt for a 25 yard strike on fourth and 12 at midfield to set up a second score from Singleton to end the game.
In other area playoff contests, Bartram Trail's undefeated season came to a screeching halt in the region 1-8A semifinal with Apopka winning a 34-13 contest.
In region 1-7A, Edgewater, 11-1 and the top seed, beat Lincoln 23-17 to advance.
In region 1-6A, Robert E. Lee (9-3) beat Columbia 6-3 in double overtime (0-0 at end of regulation time) to advance to play Pensacola Escambia (12-0) in that region final.
In region 1-5A, Wakulla, 12-0 and the top seed, beat Raines (6-5) 17-9 while sixth-seed Godby (6-6) beat Pensacola Pine Forest 42-13. Pine Forest (8-3) was second seeded.
In region 1-4A, top-seed Bolles (9-1) beat fifth-seed South Walton (6-5) 62-6 to advance to play sixth-seed Bradford County (6-5) who beat second seed West Nassau (8-3) 45-13.
In region 2-4A, where Keystone Heights lost in their region opener to Astronaut, top seed Cocoa beat Astronaut 48-6 with South Sumter beating the Villatges 21-7 to set up that region final.
In region 1-3A, Episcopal (10-2) lost 48-19 to Florida State University High (10-1) to end their season.
In region 1-2A, University Christian, the top seed, beat North Florida Christian 36-6 to advance to that final against Tallahassee Maclay, a 38-2 winner of St. Joseph Academy.
In Class 1A, Union County, a season final winner over Keystone Heights, beat Lafayette County (9-2) 32-19 to face Madison County (9-2), the top seed and a 56-0 winner over Hilliard. Madison County won recent state titles in 2017 and 2018 and was state runnerup three times; 2014-2016. The Cowboys program has four state titles, six state runnerup finishes and 10 region titles. Union County won three consecutive 3A titles in the 1990s.