GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay High football had a new face on the sideline in a new position with former defensive coordinator Jay Stilianou taking over for departed head coach Joshua Hoekstra in the Blue Devils’ spring football game Thursday against Creekside.
“I just think of the whole deal is being with those kids for 20 days,” said Stilianou, long-time the Clay defensive coordinator and most recently athletic director while coaching his daughter Alexis in basketball and flag football where the Blue Devils got to a second Final Four appearance last week. “They’ve dealt with the adversity of a new coach and a long-time coach leaving. Getting through spring was tough and I give them credit for showing up every day for practice.”
The result was very similar as Clay fought to a 17-13 score after a half and third quarter in the game where substitutions were installed midway through the third quarter, according to coaches agreeance.
What Blue Devil fans saw was typical Clay; wear and tear, explode, getting after ballcarriers with fervor and, a bonus, a field goal kicker with leg.
“Extremely good first half,” said Stilianou. “Tuck felt good about the first field goal and I just said let it go, we’ll give it shot.”
Wear and tear, led by senior center Joseph Grelli, who up front commanded the line with returners Jordan Bell and John Haymore to give monster running back Al’Querious Ray enough room to bludgeon tacklers and get some tread on the tires.
“On the sideline was a bunch of Clay High football grads who set the standard here,” said Stilianou.
In the first stanza, Creekside was somewhat up to the task of stopping the historic Clay run game, but first time of the field uncertainty and a new quarterback could be one reason as Ray and backfield mate Brandon Combs were still punching out 6-10 yard gains on most carries.
In the second quarter, Clay kept the pounding moving forward though one move on the line was to put Bell at center and shift Grelli to a right guard slot with Haymore manning the backside tackle. Adding to the firepower were new faces in Isaiah Butler, a junior; Jordan McGill, a junior, and Desiron Gannt, a sophomore.
As the first half waned down with Clay holding a slim 3-0 lead on Reape’s field goal, Ray found his seam and exploded off the right side; zipping 75 yards to paydirt. Ray would continue his rampage with the second drive of the third quarter bringing more power running and a second score on the ensuing possession.
“That first half was as much Clay football as anything; patience, find the creases and then go after it,” said Stilianou.
From the quarterback slot, junior returner Bruce Griner, Tre, was efficient at the least, but seemingly hesitant with his passes downfield. Griner was good at rolling out left or right and finding either Will Kendrick or Alec Holt as targets, but for small gains off the sidelines with Holt snaring a sideline catch for 25 yards as the halftime buzzer sounded. Reid Waugh, a junior, did take a quick out pattern and add some yards to it with a stomp of his left foot and a surge.
On the defensive side, Creekside kept going into the heart of the Clay defense, but inside linebacker Bryan Chapman, a junior; inside tackle Derek Mosley, a sophomore, and outside end Valdez Seymour, a junior, were more than creating havoc and chasing down the Knights’ quarterback forcing either hurried passes or tackles for losses. Add to the mix arguably the best returner up front, senior Ty Summerford, and Clay offered a solid inside seven led by junior linebacker Joe Reed that made the middle of the field hard to trek. Outside end Alex Maier, a junior, made some chase off the weakside defensive end slot.
“That front seven has been in a few ball games from last year and they get the tradition,” said Stilianou. “The secondary was a lot of freshman and sophomores. We’ll fix that. We knew that tight end was going to be good.”
In the second half, though, the Knights found openings in the Clay secondary with quick hitters downfield; including a wide open post that went for a score against Jonathan Rouw. Jayden Bryan, on the opposite side, was having his fits with Creekside’s top receiver who was finding space at about 10-12 yards downfield pretty efficiently.
As for the kicking game, senior Tucker Reape was good to go deep on the opening kickoff then precise in a targeted blooper for about 35 yards toward the sideline that got one Knight returned smashed by two Clay chasers right in front of Stilianou who looked to want to jump into the fray as it was happening.
“It was awesome to see them flying after the ball,” said Stilianou. “It was fun. I don’t know how to change from being energetic like that. I think the guys know that nothing great comes without enthusiasm.”
Reape also punched in two PAT kicks with his field goal to add a solid scoring threat inside the 40.