FLEMING ISLAND – Lightning strikes ended Fleming Island High’s night with the score at 17-6 and five minutes still on the clock, but it was lightning in the form of senior linebacker Ryan Smenda …
FLEMING ISLAND – Lightning strikes ended Fleming Island High’s night with the score at 17-6 and five minutes still on the clock, but it was lightning in the form of senior linebacker Ryan Smenda that torched the visiting Sandalwood High football team who could not put a lid on the defensive theatrics of the Golden Eagle standout.
Smenda not only executed his linebacker tasks with efficiency with 13 tackles, a few for losses as the Golden Eagles shut down a high-powered Saints offense who battled, but lost, a tough 14-13 opener against Jacksonville Ribault in their season opener.
“I think the defensive staff had a good game plan going in,” said Fleming Island coach Damenyum Springs, now 2-0. “They were switching in the D-line with the speed guys. They did beat us deep on one, but we switched the coverage up and we got the interception next time they tried us.”
After a no-action series by both teams opened the contest, Fleming Island’s linebacker-strong defense, Smenda, Jackson Bull and Jack Surgeoner, started gelling to contain Sandalwood’s quarterback, a shifty Jeffrey Simms, who led the Saints to a district 1-8A runner-up spot and a region playoff quarterfinal loss to Seminole High School last year. Seminole lost in the 8A state semifinals.
On the Saints’ second drive, Fleming Island defensive tackle Jalyn Robinson recovered a strip-sacked ball putting Fleming Island on the 15-yard line. Sandalwood came back on the next play and took the ball back when Golden Eagle running back Ozzie Ramirez lost the handle on it.
Back on offense, Sandalwood came back looking to pass, only to find Surgeoner staring down Simms and getting his first of four sacks. As a team, Fleming Island would end the night with six sacks. As the Saints lined up to punt on fourth and 12 from the 39, Smenda’s first bolt of lightning occurred as he made a beeline for the ball and blocked the punt. The ball bounced perfectly and Smenda never broke stride on his way into the end zone. With the good point after, the Golden Eagles on the board 7-0.
“I got lucky on the bounce,” said Smenda. “We wanted to make the statement down there after they got the fumble from us.”
With both teams battling hard in the trenches, Smenda’s second lightning strike would happen in the second quarter with the Saints stuffing Fleming Island’s run game for a fourth and one yard near midfield.
“They stacked a lot of people on the line of scrimmage, but somehow I got through,” said Smenda, who rambled 51 yards to the Saints nine yard line. “When I saw all that green grass, I got excited, but I didn’t get the touchdown.”
Smenda’s effort went for naught as the Saints defense forced a missed field goal at the 25.
After a Saints’ punt, the Golden Eagles began work on the 46. After a few runs, a pass to tailback Anfernee McCaskill got the ball to the 25. After two runs and an incomplete pass, the Eagles put another three points on the board with kicker Avery Coussens hitting a 37-yard field goal.
After the kickoff, Surgeoner would get two more of his sacks before the teams went into the locker rooms for the half.
On their first drive after halftime,
Sandalwood would buckle in and score off a lob pass into the end zone after a fumbled punt snap put the Saints at the Fleming Island 18 yard line.
McCaskill would pop off a long kickoff return to position Fleming Island near midfield before tailback Dewayne McBride blasted to paydirt from 41 yards out to up the score to 17-6.
“Dewayne is going to run hard every play,” said Springs. “We just have to know the right time to put him in.”
The game progressed as dooming storms loomed in the Keystone Heights area where the Indians were up 14-0 but sitting in the locker room as the half for nearly an hour.
Fleming Island defensive back Bobby Brown snagged an interception as Simms tried to close the scoring gap on one play.
In the fourth quarter, with rain coming down, Springs stuck to a run game with McBride and Ramirez.
“Ozzie has good vision, good speed; he’s another switch up back that we have,” said Springs. “It’s time for him to come and you’ll see him put up big numbers.”
In the final five minutes, Coussens would miss a field goal, but senior safety Isaiah Walker would snag an interception that eventually would be the final play of the night.
Next up for the Golden Eagles are the visiting Middleburg Broncos (0-2) who are still looking for that first win of the 2017 season. Fleming Island walked away with a hard-fought 3-0 win over Middleburg last year. Middleburg lost 48-0 to Clay High.