It was the blue-water version of David vs. Goliath. A group of high school buddies competing aboard a loaner boat topped 90 other professional teams by landing the largest blue marlin in the 2018 Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic. Angler Will Beard boated the 699.2-pound blue marlin after a nearly two-hour fight. Beard, of Fairhope, Alabama, and Todd Terreson, Mac Waller, Ritchie Prince and Pete VanLingen comprised the rest of the crew aboard Can’t Deny It, run by Capt. Bo Keough. Doug Terreson owns the 48-foot Viking based on Ono Island, Alabama. Beard was named top angler and the team is splitting $131,040 in prize money for its efforts. The backstory is even more incredible.

Beard, Terreson and the rest of the team wanted to fish the Classic after graduating from high school this spring. Doug Terreson agreed to loan his boat with fuel and gear, provided the teenagers paid the $6,000 base entry fee. Todd Terreson would act as mate and veteran skipper Keough was a late addition. The team managed to scrap together the entry fee but couldn’t afford any of the optional jackpots that would have boosted their overall winnings considerably.

Trolling a weed line 120 miles south of Destin, Can’t Deny It hooked the winning fish on a chugger lure, the only blue boated on a lure during the 2018 contest. The other four weighed fish were taken on live bait. The team also released another blue and a white marlin and boated qualifying tuna, dolphin and wahoo during the trip.

“Nobody slept much last night,” Beard said before Sunday’s awards ceremony. “It’s finally sinking in what we accomplished. I’m very grateful to Mr. Terreson for giving us this opportunity.”

“I asked them if they knew they had gone up against the best pro crews in the Gulf and won and they all looked at me with wide open eyes,” Keough added with a laugh. “Doug and I stayed up on the bridge and the boys did it all from the cockpit. It really was something.”

The field of 91 boats, with an average size of nearly 60 feet, was vying for $2,040,200 in overall prize money. In addition to the tournament cash awards, teams could enter optional jackpots at various levels up to $10,000 in the blue marlin and release categories. This scenario contributed to the other historic news of the 2018 contest.

Owner/angler Dana Foster, Capt. Myles Colley and the rest of the team aboard Born2Run, a 72 Viking based in Pensacola, Florida, was named the Top Release Team and Crew after releasing four blue marlin. Born2Run won the biggest check of the tournament, $328,885, demonstrating the skill required in catching multiple billfish and the intrinsic value in releasing them unharmed. Born2Run’s payout is the largest ever in the Gulf of Mexico for an all-release score. The other team members included mates Robert Bonifay and Tyler Maxwell, plus anglers Doug Franklin, Lisa Foster and Bryan Paul, all of Pensacola. The prize money included first place in every release division jackpot. Dana Foster was also awarded the Top Release Angler trophy.

Reel Fire, owned by Chris Ferrara was a late arrival to the scales Saturday night. Angler Connor Ferrara whipped a 665.2-pound blue marlin to capture second-place honors. Capt. Chris Blanchet was at the helm of the dark blue 70-foot Viking convertible. Reel Fire won $308,124 for their fish.

Sydney Turner-Bankston, fishing aboard her father’s 72 F&S, You Never Know!, captured the third-largest blue marlin of the week at 640.8 pounds. Thomas Turner, Sydney, Capt. Joey Birbeck and the team earned a payout of $264,407 for that fish and two blue marlin releases. Sydney was named the Top Lady Angler for 2018 and You Never Know! was the second-place Release Team.

Breathe Easy (Capt. Patrick Ivie and owner Matt McDonald) and angler Rick Olsen didn’t go home empty-handed after catching a 518-pound blue on a live tuna. The Orange Beach-based team won $201,375 in jackpots. Chef Emeril Lagasse, Capt. Brad Benton and the crew aboard Aldente, a 70 Viking based at the Baytowne Marina in Sandestin, weighed the fifth blue marlin of the tournament. Lagasse’s blue tipped the scales at 475.7 po