Posted: 10:48 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, 2013

Dwyer stops Niceville 55-39 to win second state football championship

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Dwyer wins state title photo
Allen Eyestone
Dwyer quarterback Daniel Parr (center) squeezes the class 7A State football championship trophy at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida on December 13, 2013. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
Clint Stephens photo
Allen Eyestone
Dwyer's Clint Stephens holds the class 7A State football championship trophy at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida on December 13, 2013. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
Johnnie Dixon photo
Allen Eyestone
Dwyer Johnny Dixon stiff arms Niceville Alec Musser in the class 7A football championship at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida on December 13, 2013. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
Ezra Saffold photo
Dwyer Ezra Saffold scores a touchdown in the first quarter against Niceville in the class 7A football championship at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida on December 13, 2013. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

By Anthony Chiang

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

ORLANDO —

Despite 14 consecutive playoff appearances entering this season, Dwyer had just one state championship to show for it.

On Friday, the Panthers doubled that total.

In its 15th consecutive trip to the postseason, Dwyer finally grabbed that elusive second state title in a 55-39 victory over Niceville (13-2) in the Citrus Bowl. With the win, the Panthers (15-0) also clinched their first undefeated football season in school history.

Both of Dwyer’s state football championships have come with wins over Niceville — the first one coming in 2009.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Dwyer coach Jack Daniels said. “It’s only high school football and there are a lot more important things in the world. But to win this, it feels great.”

The two teams combined for 14 touchdowns and 936 total yards. But in the end, Dwyer quarterback Daniel Parr and running back Alonzo Smith were too much for the Eagles. The two players played a part in six of the Panthers’ eight touchdowns Friday.

The Panthers rebounded from a 27-26 deficit, scoring on a 13-yard touchdown catch from star wide receiver Johnnie Dixon to take the lead with 4:42 left in the third quarter.

Dwyer never trailed again, building a 14-point advantage on fullback Gerald Hearns’ controversial 1-yard rushing score. Replays showed Hearns losing control of the football before he crossed the goal line, but referees called it a touchdown.

After Niceville cut the deficit to just eight points, Parr and Smith each scored a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal it.

Parr ended his stellar junior season with another memorable performance, overcoming two costly fumbles to throw for 236 yards and three touchdowns.

“Every day he gets better,” Daniels said of Parr. “It’s amazing the throws he makes.”

Meanwhile, Smith was just as good with 219 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.

From the start of the game, the offenses had no problem finding the end zone.

Niceville started the scoring, capping off a six-play, 60-yard opening drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown from quarterback Ashton Hooker.

But Dwyer answered right away, using a 27-yard touchdown catch from senior Ezra Saffold — who finished with eight catches for 111 yards and two scores — to tie the game at seven with 4:57 remaining in the first quarter.

The back-and-forth trend continued, when Eagles running back Tayjon Culley scored on a 1-yard rushing touchdown to end a nine-play drive. The score gave Niceville a 14-7 lead, matching its total from its 42-14 loss to Dwyer in the 2009 state title game.

In the second quarter, Smith earned a touchdown of his own on a 5-yard run. But a missed extra point left it 14-13 Niceville . Culley’s second rushing touchdown stretched the Eagles’ lead to 21-13.

After Saffold’s second 27-yard touchdown reception pulled Dwyer within 21-19, the Panthers had the chance to take the lead, but Parr fumbled at Niceville’s 1-yard line just before landing in the end zone with 13 seconds left in the half.

For a team that features nine seniors on offense and 10 seniors on defense, the state title was the only ending to the season that Dwyer would have accepted.

“It feels well-deserved,” Parr said. “It has been a long time coming for this group of guys. Some of these guys have played four years and gone through some heart-breaking losses. That pushed us to different limits that we had never been pushed before, and luckily it got us here.”


DWYER'S PERFECT SEASON

REGULAR SEASON

Listed with date, opponent and score

Aug. 30 at Glades Central  35-0

Sept. 6  Jupiter  51-7

Sept. 12 at Palm Beach Gardens  33-0

Sept. 20  Palm Beach Lakes  50-6

Sept. 27  at Olympic Heights  41-7

Oct. 3  at Royal Palm Beach  40-14

Oct. 11  Forest Hill  49-0

Oct. 18  at Lake Worth  54-3

Oct. 25  Atlantic  42-6

Nov. 1  West Boca Raton  41-17

PLAYOFFS

Nov. 15  Lauderdale Lakes-Boyd Anderson  35-8

Nov. 22  Pompano Beach-Ely 49-7

Nov.29  Fort Lauerdale-St. Thomas Aquinas  35-28

Dec. 6  at Tarpon Springs-East Lake  31-24 (OT)

Dec. 13  Niceville  55-39

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