MACCLENNY - With the memories of running backs like Shane Coleman, Shannon Asbell, J.T. Turner, Bilal Ally and Wes Weeks, Clay High football has centered around a rugged ground game from behind …
MACCLENNY - With the memories of running backs like Shane Coleman, Shannon Asbell, J.T. Turner, Bilal Ally and Wes Weeks, Clay High football has centered around a rugged ground game from behind massive walls of offensive linemen; i.e, Mike Howard, Jacob Conrad, Zach Baker and Will Holden, to the tune of two Final Fours, three district titles and handful of region playoff berths.
2016 would prove simliar in the massive wall of offensive linemen; a.k.a., Road Pavers named Max Moore, Matt Adams, Jarrod Leeds, Devon Vatick and Nathan Fitzgerald and a back named Colin Wilson. The variable that has kept the Blue Devils alive into Friday’s region 2-5A championship game at River Ridge High in New Port Richey has been a razor-sharp gunslinger named Caleb Eason, a junior quarterback, pushed to liven up a stale Clay offense reliant on Wilson’s legs, but not getting offensive production in historical Clay fashion. Eason not only stepped up in game seven to overturn a 21-0 deficit to district 2-5A runnerup hopeful Palatka to salvage an overtime win that kept the Blue Devil heartbeat pumping into yet another late season mini-season for coach Joshua Hoekstra, but orchestrated a symphony of plays in the Blue Devils’ region opener to the tune of a 41-38 win over always-strong North Marion. Eason’s final pass against North Marion was a 48 yard to senior wideout Jaylan Jenkins, Clay’s previous quarterback for the past two years, that led to a Wilson score to seal that game.
“It felt great. It was all about the offensive line,” said Eason. “If I don’t get the time, none of this happens. The receivers made me look good all night.”
On Friday, Eason enhanced his quickly impressive resume with a passing performance long to be seen on a Clay High football field as the shy, but wily youngster with a sweet spiral landed pass after pass for 268 yards and a 35-0 first half barrage on what was considered by many one of the stingiest defenses in north Florida. Eason’s theatrics finished with a second half running clock and a 42-14 region semifinal win for Clay High School. Clay travels to River Ridge in New Port Richey for the region 2-5A championship on Friday.
“Where is River Ridge?, “ said an excited Hoekstra, after his Blue Devils manhandle the once-beaten Baker County High team that had beaten Clay earlier in the season. “I guess we are built for November.”
Clay’s swarming defense was led by yet another new name as junior defensive tackle Angelo Dorsainvil was the main disrupter of the Wildcat offensive attack with three sacks, two caused fumbles and a handful of quarterback hurries.
“We shut them out, in my opinion,” said Hoekstra. “Our defensive line coaches, Hunter Hill and Jim Zanone, have both made that entire defensive line better and better. Tobiah Griffin has stepped it up. Norman “Fletch” Cornwell, defensive lineman, just goes after it with reckless abandoned. I’m proud of the seniors on this squad.”
In Clay’s first quarter against Baker County, Dorsainvil punched in with his first caused fumble that nearly stopped the Wildcat heartbeat after just one snap. Baker County punted after having the ball for less than a minute and Eason went to work.
Starting at the Clay 19, Eason connected with a swing pass to fullback Marcus Jones to the left for eight yards, then the identical pass to the right to wideout Ajay Belanger for six yards. Third wideout Derek Smith snuck out for nine more in a sideline pattern to the Wildcat 41 yard line. Next up was Jenkins, who ran a six yard loop pass behind a Belanger block that set up a 27 yard pass to the left sideline to Smith again that put Clay at the Wildcat 20 yard line. Two bangs off tackle by Wilson to the 16 set up a quick slant to Belanger that scored with Belanger wiggling off a tackler and diving into the end zone from a yard out. The point after from kicker Liz Fogarty scored the game 7-0 with 7:41 left in the first quarter.
“They (Belanger and Smith) went after the passes tonight,” said Hoekstra. “Last game, they didn’t make those plays. Tonight, we made them.”
In their regular season game with Baker County, a 28-14 loss, Clay scored first, but later relinquished the ball in the Wildcat red zone numerous times. The ominous tone was set once again.
“They were bent on stopping Colin Wilson because he’s had 500 yards the past two games and they did,” said Hoekstra. “Coach Ryan Wolfe was calling good stuff to offset them loading the box with eight guys.”
Clay’s defense stormed on the Wildcats’ ensuing drive with a first down sack by defensive end Cody Devore and cornerback Christian Swilley catching Wildcat quarterback Jamon Jones on the run. On second down, linebacker Zach Alvarado registered the next knockout blow as Baker County only saw Clay jerseys in their blocking lanes.
Wilson would catch an Eason pass for 51 yards on the next drive, but Clay stalled on four downs at the Wildcat 24 yard line with two penalty flags and a fumbled snap (See referenced ominour tone in paragraph above).
Dorsainvil popped up and deflected a second down pass by Jones to shut down Baker County’s next drive with Devore storming Jones on third down to force a punt.
A pass to Jones from the Clay 42 put the Blue Devils at midfield where Eason cranked up a moon ball that Jenkins sprinted under and carried to the end zone for a 14-0 Clay lead with 7:51 left in the half.
Clay’s defense would get it’s first fumble recovery of two for the night for senior defensive tackle Tobiah Griffin as Jones mishandled a center snap and put the football on the turf at the Wildcat 26.
“I had to show up,” said Griffin. “Angelo is going to be so good next year. Coach Jay (Stilianou) just told us to do our job and trust the guy next to us is doing his.”
Wilson would break left and outsprint the Wildcat defense to paydirt to up the score to 21-0. (Obvious reversal of said ‘ominous’ tone remark aforementioned).
Baker County had no answers as Dorsainvil again, this time with Cornwell and Matt Adams assisting, burst in to force a hurried pass from Jones and a punt.
“Fletch just runs with reckless abandon,” said Hoekstra. “That defensive line disrupted.”
Belanger would fair catch the punt at the Clay 34 to set up a Wilson jaunt off right tackle to midfield. Eason’s first pass miscue, an overthrow toward Smith on the sideline that was also hit with a penalty flag only delayed a superb 42 yard pass play again to Smith on the next down that put Clay at the Baker County four yard line.
Clay’s “Big Boy” offense came in to finish off the drive, but Wilson, Tyler Lewis and company could could not push the Wildcat defense backward on two shots and Eason calmly returned and slid a quick out pass to Smith in the end zone. Smith snatched the surgically-placed pass with his left hand while the Wildcat defender had Smith’s right hand pinned to his rib cage. Score the game 28-0 with a fourth Fogarty kick.
Don’t stop reading, there’s more even with just 35 seconds to halftime.
Eason put together another pass-friendly scoring drive on the last drive of the half with a 3:44 beauty that featured a 10 yard pass to Jones to the left, an eight yard to Jenkins and a five yarder to Belanger before some fisticuffs got Clay a 15 yard boost to the Wildcat 21 yard line. Eason missed to Smith but found Jones to the seven yard line where sophomore tailback Cedrick Brown pushed the score to 35-0 two plays later.
Baker County’s anxiety with the looks of an imminent blowout about to occur on their home turf, took to some extracurricular activities and created flag after flag on the ensuing drive that culminated with Clay linebacker Rico Schnitzler bashing Jones at the line of scrimmage after a fumbled snap.
“That’s tough for them after their season to see,” said Hoekstra. “We’re fortunate enough to have been in enough of these types of games. Their kids lost their cool.”
From the Wildcat 36 yard line, sophomore tailback Cedrick Brown answered quickly with three straight handoffs getting the running clock in the second half with the score at 35-0 as the half ended.
Another Baker County fumbled snap and an Adams’ sack ended the half.
In the third quarter, Eason got his first costly mistake with an interception off a bad throw putting Baker County in scoring position at the Clay 41. A pass over the middle landed in the end zone and Baker County had their first score of the night with 6:36 still in the third quarter.
Clay was forced to punt at midfield and Baker County took possession at their own 20. On a second first down after a 10 yard pass play, Griffin again emerged with the ball after Jones was stripped by Dorsainvil in the backfield just as the fourth quarter began.
Brown would continue getting the ball to keep the clock moving and eventually scored from 10 yards out with 4:03 to go and the score at 42-7. Baker County scored one more with no time on the clock for the 42-14 final.