GREEN COVE SPRINGS - In a second half bludgeoning up front, the Clay High Blue Devils football team looked like the Clay High Blue Devils’ football team that most people have gotten used to seeing in the past decade as the resurgent Blue Devils blasted West Nassau 50-22 Friday night in Green Cove Springs.
“I say it all the time, these kids just want to win so badly,” said first year Clay head coach Kyle Kennard who remains the county’s only unbeaten team after Oakleaf toppled Fleming Island in overtime. “We give them enough scheme that we match with their athletic abilities and they just get after it. It’s fun to watch.”
Junior running back Al’Querious Ray spearheaded the full frontal assaut with 250 yards on the ground with three scores most of them with an ending of blatant velocity on West Nassau tackler wanna-bes.
“When Q (Ray) is on, it opens up a lot of things for us on offense and it also cranks up the defense because he runs tough,” said Kennard. “Guys trying to tackle him in the fourth quarter are going to get hit hard.”
In the first half, it was quarterback Tre Griner going coast to coast via foot and via air with a 50 yard midfield scamper in the first quarter to answer a defensive shutdown of West Nassau’s first offensive series; led by a smothering sack by linebacker Ramsey McCloud on a quarterback scamper.
Griner called his own number on a quarterback draw on first down at the 50, hurdled one tackler in a gaping hole and sprinted to paydirt.
“We take what they give,” said Griner. “They tested us the first half and stopped the run. Coach Kyle always stresses adversity, adversity. Adjust and execute.”
A second massive defensive effort put Griner a tad off the 50 yard mark; the Clay 36, but the wily field general lofted a dimed pass to tailback D’Maurion Frazier on a wheel route in front of the Clay bench who finished off the final 30 yards on his own to paste a 14-0 lead with 7:11 still on the first quarter clock.
“It’s getting fun,” said Griner. “D’Maurion has been my favorite target since last year.”
Defense struck again in Clay fashion after West Nassau drove to the Blue Devils 22 on a series of quick flick passes, but the Warriors got greedy and quarterback Brady Wright instead found defensive back Jarvis Lee at the 11 to thwart the drive.
“He’s just a sophomore, but he makes big time plays,” said Kennard. “We expect those plays from him.”
The Lee steal yielded no points and West Nassau regrouped to score off a similar quick out attack on the Blue Devil secondary that got a one yard scoring plunge from Wright to 14-7.
Clay was beheaded by two holding penalties on their ensuing drive to give West Nassau the ball, but defensive end Josh Jordan held back a bit on his pass rush to nearly hand-swipe one of West Nassau’s quick out passes near midfield.
West Nassau held the ball for almost five minutes on their next drive with fullback and linebacker Jesse Rochay challenging the middle of the Clay defense; Valdez Seymour, Jamal Pierre and Martez Martin to stop him. The 12 play drive yielded a West Nassau field goal; 14-10.
In the final minute of the half, Clay fans got a near miracle finish with Griner trying to hit Frazier for a second score only to be intercepted by West Nassau safety Connor Nobles only to have Noble fumble and Frazier recover the ball at the West Nassau 25.
A Reese Paradise field goal shot was blocked and returned to the end zone for a shocking West Nassau 16-14 finish of the half.
On the PAT kick, Lee blocked West Nassau’s kick, but no return.
“We challenged them in the locker room,” said Kennard. “We talked all summer about winning games in the fourth quarter. They came, fought and finished the game.”
West Nassau added insult to the halftime finish with a scoring pass to open the second half and a 22-14 lead at 8:51.
Kennard’s dilemma? Throw or run. Ray goes 42 yards of piledrive running to get the Blue Devils to 22-20 just a play later. Throw or run? Ray for two-pointer, 22-22.
And then, the Q Ray show began with a touch of Valdez Seymour erupting on the defensive line with two dramatic stuffs behind the line of scrimmage.
Ray? Griner first for 24 yards to the West Nassau 26. Griner to wide out William Kendrick to the five.
Then Ray trucking a dude; 28-22 with 2:52 in the third.
Defense; Josh Jordan pounds a sack. Pierre smashes a sack. Fumbled center snap; Tristan Keith smothers quarterback.
“Hey man, it’s homecoming,” said Seymour. “We don’t want to disappoint the Clay fans that keep following this program. We want to be a part of that tradition.”
Twenty two seconds left in the period. Ray behind Brady Warren (small, but stout offensive guard) puts Clay on the Warrior 32.
“He’s the youngest guy and smallest guy up there, but the meanest,” said Ray. “I listen when he says follow me, I’ll make a hole. He does exactly what he says he is going to do. He’s my guy.”
First blip; Ray mishandles a wide open swing pass on fourth down.
West Nassau punts after another McCloud assault and what happens next?
Ray gets in behind Warren a second time and goes 50 yard earthquake run to the West Nassau seven with a stiff arm disengaging an improbable tackler.
“After a couple of runs like that, I feel untouchable,’ said Ray.
Next play; Ray and Warren for six; 34-22.
“I know he will run up my back if I don’t clear the way,” said Warren, a sophomre. “I’ve been talking to the great players that were once here as linemen. I read the old articles in the Clay Today magazine about Clay’s offensive lines.”
From the six minute point to the finish, Clay got excellent defensive plays from Jordan, Martin on the ground; Jayden Bryant and Jonathan Rouw in the air.
Linebacker Tristan Keith was top stopper with 17 tackles on the night.
Clay’s final score came as special teamer Gavin Rossow scooped up a free kickoff pooch kick, then finished the effort with a five yard score at 1:38.
“He’s a smart kid,” said Kennard. “We were just trying to keep the kickoff from their number one and not give up a big return. Our kicker actually hit it wrong, but Gavin got the bounce.”