Blue Devil defense punches up district win

By Mike Zima Correspondent
Posted 10/6/21

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Carried by a new offensive philosophy and an opportunistic defense, Clay opened District 4-5A play with a 32-26 win over visiting Palatka on October 1.

The Panthers were in …

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Blue Devil defense punches up district win

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Carried by a new offensive philosophy and an opportunistic defense, Clay opened District 4-5A play with a 32-26 win over visiting Palatka on October 1.

The Panthers were in Clay territory on their final two possessions with a chance to tie or go ahead, but the Blue Devils hung on for the victory by forcing turnovers on each occasion.

“It is not easy to win district games,” said Clay head coach Kyle Kennard. “We just made a play down the stretch.”

Aided greatly by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting on a third and 16 and an interference penalty on a fourth down, Palatka drove 76 yards for a first down at the Clay nine yard line with three minutes remaining. At that point, Clay inside linebacker Dominic Martin tipped a Matthew Lands pass intended for Roderis Passmore. The ball fluttered into the end zone, where safety Jonathan Rouw went to his knees to cradle it just before it hit the ground.

“After two penalties, he did make up for it with the interception,” Kennard said of Rouw.

Clay was unable to gain a first down after Rouw’s interception, however, and the Panthers got the ball back at midfield after a Jered Mosley punt with 1:30 remaining. A completion to Lane Sheffield earned a first down at the 27 yard line. On the next play, Clay linemen Zack Fordham and Hunter Huckleberry caught Lands as he tried to roll right, bringing him down and forcing a fumble that Fordham recovered at the 36.

“We had to stop them,” said Huckleberry. “I tried to come from underneath to hit his [Land’s] arm.”

Blue Devils quarterback Billy Mobley took a knee to run the final 0:14 off of the clock.

Clay got off to a fast start, marching 55 yards for a touchdown on their first possession. Running back Brandon Combs capped the drive with a three yard run off right tackle. Five different players carried the ball on the seven-play drive.

On the next play from scrimmage, Clay defensive tackle Blake Thompson’s fumble recovery at the Panthers’ 15 yard line allowed the Blue Devils to seize control. The hosts scored three plays later on a one yard run by sophomore Jaydan Jenkins. A successful trick play on the point after attempt put Clay ahead 15-0 six minutes into the game.

Palatka, now 1-3 with none of the losses by more than seven points, climbed back into the game behind backup quarterback Jamarrie McKinnon, who entered the game after the fumble. McKinnon had a short touchdown run and connected with Tyran Bush for an 11 yard score just before halftime to bring the Panthers within 22-19.

Clay dominated the third quarter, opening it with a six-play, 63 yard drive. Chris Goldstein, who carried the ball on four of the six plays, bulled his way into the end zone to cover the final five yards. Tristan Haack’s 42 yard field goal on Clay’s next possession increased the Blue Devils’ advantage to 32-19.

The Clay offense was vastly different than the one fans of the Green Cove Springs school are accustomed to seeing. Typically, Clay bludgeons opponents with a power running game featuring big running backs plowing up the middle behind a dominant offensive line. Without star running back Al’Querious Ray for the second straight week, the Blue Devils combined a short passing game with wide runs to move the ball. Quarterbacks Mobley and Jenkins combined to complete 13 of 15 throws, most of them screens and flares out to the flat. Receivers D’Maurion Frazier and Jarvis Lee were effective on jet sweeps from their receiver positions.

“We were trying to find different ways to get the ball to our playmakers,” said Kennard. “Get these guys in open space.”

Wingback Brandon Peavy led the Blue Devils in receiving with four catches for 35 yards, including a touchdown catch from Mobley in the second quarter.

Palatka finished with a 298-221 edge in total offense, but the Blue Devils prevailed by winning the turnover battle 3-0.

“We definitely did not play great, but they came out and found a way to win,” said Kennard. “That is what we ask them to do.”

Clay, now 3-2, hosts Gainesville Eastside (0-5, 0-2 in District 4-5A) on October 8 in another district contest.

Lands scored on an 11 yard run in the fourth quarter, while Leetrez Smith scored from 12 yards out in the first quarter for Palatka, which travels to West Nassau on October 8

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