Eagles look to title-tilt against Leon in Tally after tough loss at home.

Friday night, the Niceville Eagles boys lacrosse team took on the year’s most formidable opponent, Georgia’s #10 ranked Fellowship Christian Paladins from Roswell, Ga. 

While the Eagles ended up on the losing side of the score, the loss is likely to propel them to success in the upcoming District playoffs.

The first quarter saw the Paladins score three times and place defensive pressure on the Eagles, unlike anything they have seen this season. Eagle attempts to clear the ball from its own defensive zone was frequently turned away, and unforced turnovers kept the Eagles from getting its first shot on goal until 2 minutes remained in the quarter. The first quarter ended with the Paladins up 3-0. Paladin Noah Falcon had two goals in the quarter.

Eagle midfielder Corbin Mountain got Niceville on the scoreboard early in the second quarter with a close-in score from the Paladin crease. The Paladins would answer with 4 goals in the quarter before Niceville’s Gavin Gifford scored the first of his two goals. Niceville would go into halftime down 2-7.

The third quarter would see the Paladin’s super sophomore, Elias McLaughlin score three of his five goals. Niceville’s Jackson Kane would score to make it 10-3 Fellowship Christian at the end of the third quarter. 

Given the Paladins talented display through three quarters, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Eagles get discouraged. Still, they played the entire game like a team that never expected to lose. It was a great display of character by the Eagles players and coaches. 

The fourth quarter saw a fired-up Niceville team get a goal from Gavin Gifford and Jacob Ryan, but the Paladins matched it with two scores. In the end, the Paladins prevailed 12-5.

Something worthy of mentioning was the sportsmanship displayed by both teams. In the first half, Niceville’s Gavin Gifford was knocked into the Paladin goalie on a scoring attempt. It’s not uncommon to see the goalie’s defensemen rough up anyone who seemingly abuses their goalie, but in this case, Gifford was pushed into the goalie by a Paladin defenseman. Nevertheless, Gifford let the goalie know the contact was unintentional, and the Paladin players responded with the appropriate decorum. In the fourth quarter, Gifford would go down from leg cramps and the first player to assist him was the Paladin goalie! Even better was that the Paladin fans, who had traveled from Roswell, Ga were as much a class act as were their players on the field.

The experience Niceville gained, and lessons learned by playing an incredibly talented and well-coached team will serve the Eagles well in their last two regular-season games and the district playoffs. The old saying that “sometimes you have to loose in order to get better” surely applies to this game for the Eagles.

Niceville now stands at 10-2 for the season, with both losses coming against teams from Georgia. On Monday night, the Eagles take on Leon High School in Tallahassee. The result of that game will determine the seedings for the District playoffs and “bragging rights” as the best team in the Florida panhandle. Niceville’s last regular season game will be against Destin High School on Wednesday, April 5.

Going into Saturday’s games, state rankings had Leon at #24, Pensacola Catholic at #25, and Niceville at #35. However, some shuffling may occur at the top. Both Pensacola Catholic and Leon lost last weekend – meaning Niceville could have a chance to move up – despite their loss. 

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Box Score

Box Score    
Fellowship Christian3442
#9 Jake Ryan123 
#19 Gavin Gifford202 
#2 Jackson Kane112 
#14 Corbin Mountain101 
#4 Elias McLaughlin505 
#14 Noah Falcon202 
#3 Graham Ferraro101 
#5 Ryan Marsh101 
#15 Patrick Fischer101 
#37 Will Jaroszewski101
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