GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay High football had one of their more perplexing seasons that ended with a 4-6 overall record and a more perplexing 2-3 district slate, but the Blue Devils’ finished 2018 …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay High football had one of their more perplexing seasons that ended with a 4-6 overall record and a more perplexing 2-3 district slate, but the Blue Devils’ finished 2018 with a 34-31 win over 2A-power University Christian on Friday at Clay High School. Clay’s season ends with no playoff game while University Christian continues into the region playoffs against Rocky Bayou.
“Obviously, a disappointing season for us,” said Clay coach Joshua Hoekstra, who has prided the Blue Devil faithful with a tradition of Thanksgiving Day practices that include the many alumni from past seasons. “We missed by three,two and one point from finishing as district champion and hosting a playoff game (referring to losses to Baker County, 27-24; Menendez, 49-47, and Orange Park 29-28).”
Clay ends their season, as does Ridgeview and Orange Park, in district 5-5A and region 2-5A, just two points or less out of the FHSAA Playoff Points System with Baker County and Menendez both advancing.
Against University Christian, on a rainy, dreary night that included ceremonies to honor seniors on the Blue Devil team, band and cheerleaders, the Blue Devils appeared dazed in the first half as the Christians bolted to a quick 13-0 lead off quick passes on the corners and an untimely encroachment flag on third and five at the Clay 13 yard line. Two plays later, University Christian led 6-0 with Clay blocking the PAT kick.
University scored again after an interception near midfield that led to a 48 yard scoring run as the Clay defense seemed unable to stop the Christian running game.
Clay’s first break came as the second quarter started when University attempted a pooch kick in front of the Clay sideline that Eric Predmore caught on the run and returned 70 yards to the Christians’ three yard line.
“I got it and instead of downing it or fair catching it, I caught and their guys kind of thought the same, so I just ran,” said Predmore.
Tailback Cedrick Brown, who ran for another 200-plus yard game with 206 on 26 carries with four scores, crashed in to give Clay some life at 13-6 with kicker Tucker Reape hitting the upright on the PAT kick.
“We learned a lot about ourselves this year,” said Brown. “We had a lot of young guys and had to find the right guys but if we play teams we played earlier, I think games would be different. We are much better right now as a team.”
University engineered a 12 play drive that had just two third down play and ended with a field goal and a 16-6 lead with 7:12 left to the half.
Freshman running back Al’Querious Ray (11 carries, 72 yards) bombed the Christian secondary with an Earth-shaking run to the 19 yard line that got Brown in position for a touchdown on the next play and Clay within three, 16-13 with 5:01 to the half.
With another nine play drive with just one third down, University looked destined for a score, but tackles for losses from linebacker Cain Creery and noseguard Colin Dumas stymied the attack and forced two incomplete passes; one on fourth down, to put Clay’s offense back on the field at the Clay 22 with 1:07 to half, but quarterback Turner Erstad having no luck connecting with his receivers in six tries as the half ended.
In the second half, a more lively Clay attack started with Brown bashing for 24 yards on first down and Ray blasting runs of five and seven to set up a jet sweep score from Spencer Lesage from 20 yards out to put Clay up 20-16.
“It feels good to get this win,” said Lesage. “We beat them last year, but this one is different because we are done with our season and they are a playoff team.”
Dumas stuffed two plays with defensive back Alec Holt nearly intercepting a pass to force a punt.
Both teams exchanged possessions before Clay went to the Blue Devil bread and butter with Brown and Ray rumbling the ball eight times to the 18; one a 43 yarder from Ray, where Brown finished the drive to put Clay up 27-16.
University was not enjoying the Clay success and put together their own drive via the pass including a 27 yard scoring slant pass that got the score to 27-24 with 6:55 to go.
Disaster nearly struck on the ensuing kickoff when Holt bobbled the ball, but the fleet footed Holt found a seam to get to the 29 yard line where Brown got three handoffs to midfield before Erstad hit Lesage for 28 yards to the University 21 where Brown wiggled through the University defense for his fourth score and a 34-24 lead with 3:23 left in the game.
Clay defensive coordinator Rodney Keller went to a pressure defense sending linebacker Mason Adams on blitzes to disrupt the University pass game, but three incomplete passes preempted a 12 yard slant to the five. One more pass scored to put the game at 34-31 with a minute to go.