ORLANDO – Fleming Island High senior linebacker Ryan Smenda broke open a defensive slugfest with Edgewater High in the region 1-7A semifinal on Nov. 17 by shredding a 54 yard touchdown run down the …
ORLANDO – Fleming Island High senior linebacker Ryan Smenda broke open a defensive slugfest with Edgewater High in the region 1-7A semifinal on Nov. 17 by shredding a 54 yard touchdown run down the middle of the Edgewater High School turf and a nifty fake field goal run by Max Michaels both fueled a Golden Eagle 23-7 win. Fleming Island now heads to the region championship in a showdown rematch at Bartram Trail High School the day after Thanksgiving.
“It was pure adrenalin, not fear, on that run,” said Smenda, who broke up a 9-0 halftime lead with his blast up the middle. “I fear just one man and that’s God. I do all in his Glory.”
Smenda, heading to Wake Forest University next fall, put on a show of force combined with his defensive compadres with linebacker Jackson Bull and defensive ends Josh Hughes and Jake Libretto time and time again coming up with big plays to thwart the highly-volatile Edgewater attack.
“Jake was just plain beating his guy on the line and getting in the backfield,” said Fleming Island coach Damenyum Springs. “Smenda is unstoppable and Bull is such a competitor. Defense wins championships.”
Bartram Trail, who beat Fleming Island 32-16 in regular season play, won their two region playoff warmups with decisive wins over East Ridge 56-14 and Tallahassee Lincoln 49-21 behind the two-pronged quarterback play of seniors Riley Smith and Joey Gatewood who combined for five touchdowns against East Ridge; three passes from Smith, two rush scores from Gatewood. Against Lincoln, Smith scored a rush touchdown while Gatewood added two scores on the ground with tailback Devin Ellison scoring three times. Fleming Island has had to reach into their dark zone to pull out a 31-26 win over Robert E. Lee High with a 70 yard fumble recovery score from linebacker Jack Surgeoner and a 75 yard pick-6 interception score from Eugene Oglethorpe before winning 23-7 over No. 2-ranked Edgewater. Edgewater beat Buchholz in their region opener 31-21.
In the first half against Edgewater, Fleming Island, playing without tailback Dewayne McBride, who broke a bone in his forearm against Lee and is out for the remainder of the season, threw burly Chauncey Garrison and speedy Anfernee McCaskill at the Eagles defense.
In Fleming Island’s second series of the first quarter, with Smenda in the backfield with safety Isaiah Walker, quarterback Brian Brown faked to Smenda and gave Walker the ball behind the right side of the Fleming Island offensive line; namely Sam Snyder, and Walker nearly broke down the sideline save for an ankle trip that put him out of bounds after 20 yards near midfield. A 15 yard flag squelched the effort.
For Edgewater, not only were Bull, Jalyn Robinson and Hughes creating havoc in the backfield, but their punter was launching disastrous punts to give Fleming Island opportunities with field position.
Just as the second period started, Edgewater felt the brunt of the Golden Eagle defensive attack with Smenda, Bull and Surgeoner all three combining for three tackles for losses to punch out any Edgewater offense.
Fleming Island’s first deep offensive surge came off two quick passes to McCaskill and tight end Nick Ferendo that put kicker Noah Hamlett in for a 15 yard field goal with 5:20 left in the half.
Edgewater’s offense was off-kilter on their ensuing possession with the Fleming Island defense now exerting its prowess and causing two penalty flags for false starts before Libretto chased down a sack to force a punt from the six yard line that Bull and Libretto nearly snuffed in the end zone.
Starting at the Edgewater 36 after the second terrible punt, Fleming Island sent McCaskill left for 16 yards, passed for two to Aaron Ramirez, hit McCaskill off left tackle for another 12 before Garrison crashed in for the score at 2:22.
Hamlett’s PAT kick was blocked to put the game at a precarious 9-0.
A Hughes sack after Edgewater hit a 24 yard run stopped the Eagles at their own 44 and put another incredibly bad punt on the field that Fleming Island got possession at the 37.
Brown misfired on two passes and forced a punt, but Walker was attentive on coverage and recovered the muffed kick to give Fleming Island possession on the Edgewater 15. Hamlett’s second kick of the night was stuffed to end the half.
“We made some adjustments at halftime to free up Jake (Libretto) and Josh (Hughes) because we thought they could control the line of scrimmage,” said Fleming Island defensive coordinator Steve Creech. “We knew they were explosive and we had to keep them bottled up in the second half.”
As the third started, Creech’s premonition rang true as Edgewater tried two trick plays to try and counter the Golden Eagle defense with a double pass play getting crushed by Surgeoner and an illegal chop block on Walker getting minus yards for Edgewater and forcing a punt from their own five yard line.
“We are just trying to keep the lights on so we can play another week,” said Creech.
Fleming Island’s offense got passes to Ferendo and Logan Motes, but was forced to punt from the Edgewater 40.
Forced to pass, Edgewater found the going rough with Eugene Oglesthorpe nearly picking off a slant pass and Bull “bull-rushing” for two sacks to force another punt from the Edgewater 10.
With first down near midfield, Smenda broke through a gaping hole off right guard and sprinted untouched to paydirt to put Fleming Island up 15-0 very dramatically. Hamlett’s third kick was blocked.
Edgewater got three long runs on their next possession to score their lone touchdown with the Eagles taking advantage of the outside pass rush of the Fleming Island defense.
The score stood precariously at 15-7 as the fourth quarter started with both sides anticipating a big play to break the game.
The big play came first from a 50 yard bruising run from Garrison to the Edgewater 10 yard line and an apparent touchdown from Smenda, but an illegal formation pulled the score off the scoreboard.
On the ensuing Edgewater offensive series after the fourth down stop of Smenda, Fleming Island got smashing defense from Libretto and Smenda to try and keep Edgewater bottled up as the clock kept ticking. Bull led an entourage of defenders on a fourth and one try at the Edgewater 29 to put Fleming Island’s offense back on the field.
Nothing happened for Fleming Island’s offense and Hamlett came in for another kick attempt.
“We talked about the fact that they found a way to get in and block our kicks and I told coach I wanted to run it,” said kick holder Max Michaels before he snatched the ball and ran to the Edgewater 11 for a Fleming Island first down.
From there, Smenda bashed in to put Fleming Island up 23-7 after Smenda doubled down on the two-point conversion.
Edgewater had one final gasp with tailback Isiah Connolly outrunning the Fleming Island defense for 74 yards to the Fleming Island 26, but defensive back Bobby Brown twice knocked down end zone passes to smash the threat.
Garrison piledrived three straight handoffs for Fleming Island with the final one a 43 yarder to midfield that Garrison was flagged for targeting after demolishing the Edgewater tackler.
McCaskills finished off the game with two handoffs to the Edgewater red zone before Springs let the clock run out.