ORANGE PARK– Fleming Island High senior running back Aaron “Azie” Ramirez made his final game in a Fleming Island uniform a memorable one, rushing for 121 yards and a touchdown in the second half as the Golden Eagles rallied to down host Orange Park 24-19 on Fri., Nov. 2.
Ramirez, who finished with a game-high 157 rushing yards on 24 carries, willed the Golden Eagles to victory in the season finale for both teams. The senior carried on all four plays of a 37 yard drive that culminated with his touchdown run from seven yards out, giving Fleming Island a 24-13 lead with 3:30 remaining.
When Orange Park closed to within 24-19 on a 32 yard pass from Vinney Walker to Terrance Johnson, Ramirez lunged in front of the Raiders’ Stewart Udell to secure the ensuing onside kick for the Golden Eagles. Taking possession with 1:30 on the clock, Ramirez then ran the ball three consecutive times to give Fleming clinching first down.
“I just had to do my job,” said Ramirez. “I love my teammates.”
For most of three quarters, the outlook was not good for the green and gold. Orange Park outgained their guests 194-85 in the first half, shutting out the Fleming Island offense. Despite the disparity, the score was tied 7-7 at the intermission because of a critical turnover. On the game’s first play from scrimmage, a shotgun snap sailed over the head of Orange Park quarterback Vinnie Walker and rolled all the way to the end zone. The Golden Eagles’ Glenn Rodgers overtook Walker in his chase for the ball, and recovered it for a touchdown.
“If you look at the game mathematically, those were seven points in a five-point game, so obviously it was huge,” said Orange Park coach Tom MacPherson.
Still, the Raiders took a 13-7 lead in the third quarter on Alex Collier’s second touchdown of the night. After Zykeim Sermons moved the ball to the Fleming Island one yard line with a 24 yard scamper, the junior darted untouched off of left tackle for an easy score. Collier led Orange Park with 104 yards on 19 rushes, while Sermons gained 96 yards on 17 carries.
The turning point came late in the third quarter. With the Golden Eagles facing a third down and three yards to go, running back Dewayne McBride fumbled forward as he crossed the line of scrimmage. The ball bounced up to him, but slipped through his hands again before he prevailed in a furious race to the pigskin, cradling it at the Raiders’ 10 yard line. Instead of a turnover, the result was a 19 yard gain. Two plays later, McBride plowed into the end zone, and Avery Coussens’ PAT as the quarter ended gave the Eagles a lead they would never relinquish.
Fleming Island scored the next ten points of the game, shutting down the Raiders offense until less than two minutes remained.
“We pride ourselves on winning the game in the fourth quarter,” said Fleming Island coach Damenyum Springs. Our defensive line started pounding them, and JJ [Jeremiah Jackson] did his thing in the fourth quarter.”-
Jackson, a junior defensive tackle, had two tackles for loss and a sack in the final frame. Rodgers had two and a half sacks as the Golden Eagles harassed Walker into 11 incompletions and an interception on 17 throws.
Each team was left mostly with their running games on a soggy night, and the Golden Eagles’ ground attack seemed to improve, largely due to Ramirez, as the game wore on. McBride chipped in with 83 yards on 15 carries.
The Golden Eagles also had a decided edge on special teams. Dean Hyams punted twice for a 49.5 yard average, both times pinning the Raiders down inside their five yard line, while Orange Park averaged only 30.0 yards on five punts. Fleming Island was successful on a fake punt when Avery Coussens broke two tackles to gain 11 yards and a first down. The Raiders failed on a fake punt when Jacob Ashe tackled Orange Park punter Dennis Mitchell for a loss, a turnover on downs that Coussens converted into points with a 36 yard field goal. Fleming Island had 118 return yards, while the Raiders had only 41.
Each team finishes the season with a 6-4 record. Orange Park’s mark is a substantial improvement from 2017’s 1-9 campaign.
“We are going to tie for the most wins in the county,” said MacPherson. “The hard part will be to turn from a 6-4 team into a consistent contender.”
The Golden Eagles entered the season with high expectations, but Springs showed no disappointment with the results.
“We talk about relationships, scholarships and championships,” said Springs. “With this win, we have got a chance to win the Clay County championship, so the season is not a bust.”