Clay nearly upends Bears

Onside kick costly

Randy Lefko
Posted 9/14/17

BARTRAM TRAIL – Clay High answered nearly every challenge put forth by the third-ranked in 7A Bartram Trail Bears in their Thursday clash, but the Blue Devils fell a hair short after an intimely …

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Clay nearly upends Bears

Onside kick costly


BARTRAM TRAIL – Clay High answered nearly every challenge put forth by the third-ranked in 7A Bartram Trail Bears in their Thursday clash, but the Blue Devils fell a hair short after an intimely onsides kick produced two quick touchdowns for the Bears en route to a 49-28 non-district win at Bartram Trail High School. Clay also unveiled a quick-strike passing game with wideouts Ajay Belanger and Spencer LeSage finding big-gain scoring opportunities to counter the Bears’ attack.

“We battled,” said Clay coach Joshua Hoekstra, who had been reading the state predictions of a 30 point loss to the high-scoring Bears. “I am so proud of the way they battled, especially on offense. Now we are ready to get into our district play.”

Clay, now 1-2 overall and ranked 17th in Class 5A, opens district 5-5A play with winless (0-3) Orange Park, a 23-13 loser to Atlantic Coast, hosting the Blue Devils. Bartram Trail, 11th ranked state wide, moves to 2-1 after a Monday 35-24 win over 6A-Daytona Beach Mainland

Clay, with a battery of running backs punishing the Bears front line; started with junior crash-master Aundre Carter who bullied the first snap for a 12 yard gain that put the Bears on notice that the Blue Devils were going to attack the meat of the Bears defense. Clay’s stable shifted from Carter’s power, to Christian Sweat’s corner speed to inside running from Cedrick Brown to slashing runs from Tymious Goodman.

“The game that coach Tobler (ex-Clay QB Ulysses Tobler, assistant coach) was great,” said Hoekstra. “The offensive line did exactly what we asked them to right from the start.”

Clay got to the Bears 30 and stalled on their initial drive and Bartram wound up taking over and benefited from a defensive holding penalty that was aided two plays later by a pass interference call on defensive back Jordan Copeland. Bartram Trail would swing a screen pass around Clay defensive end Josh Griffis to score from the 40 with 4:41 left in the quarter.

Bartram Trail pooched the ensuing kickoff and Clay quarterback Caleb Eason took two plays to find wideout Ajay Belanger on an out pattern that Belanger fought through three tacklers to the end zone and a quick 7-7 retaliatory strike for the Blue Devils.

With Bartram Trail’s two-man quarterback system featuring Auburn-bound Joey Gatewood and Riley Smith, both capable throwers and equally efficient runners out of the pocket, finding seams in the Clay outside rush by Griffis and inside push from Colby Butler and Kenneth Johnson.

From the Clay 40, Bear running back Devin Ellison made short work of swing passes with a slashing scoring run from the Clay 16 just as the second quarter started.

Clay got to near midfield on their next possession with a steady run game and two passes to LeSage, but the drive stalled.

Bartram Trail took over with Gatewood in the shotgun tossing toward Copeland again who was covering wideout Griffin Helm a little too close, according to officials. With the ball moving from the Bartram Trail 11 to midfield, the Bears got squeezed by a holding flag and a sack from Clay outside linebacker Cody Devore and Johnson. Bartram Trail stuck with their quick out pass game, but Copeland struck with a huge tackle on Ellison who coughed up the ball to safety Marcus Dixon the Clay 16 with 6:38 left in the half.

On the second handoff to Brown on the ensuing drive, the powerful left side of Clay’s line cleared and alley that nearly set Brown downfield to paydirt.

From the Bears’ 40, Eason found a wide-open LeSage over the middle with no defenders within 15 yards for a 14-14 score with 2:19 left in the half.

“It was blown coverage and Tobler saw it,” said Hoekstra.

Unfortunately, Bartram Trail put their own punch in the mound with Ellison shredding the right sideline to put Bartram Trail up 21-14 with 31 seconds in the half.

Eason was sacked to end the half after the kickoff.

Clay tried an onsides on the second half kickoff, but no luck, but Griffis and Devore started to track Gatewood to create some backfield chaos and force a midfield punt.

A shanked punt by Clay punter Chris Hancher gave the Bears opportunistic field position that was bolstered by a flag that allowed Smith to scramble in from 22 yards out.

Down 28-14, Clay was looking for a way to slow down the Bears attack and it was Eason to LeSage on the exact same play as the first half from 33 yards out to score the game 28-21 with five minutes left in the third quarter.

“Same play,” said Hoekstra.

Bartram Trail executed a tight end screen to midfield before Butler caught Gatewood behind the line of scrimmage, but Gatewood roared past Devore to the Clay 18. A flag gave the Bears five more yards and Gatewood finished the drive from 13 yards out eluding Johnson on his way to the end zone.

Up 35-21, Bartram Trail coach Darrell Sutherland doubled down with his own onsides kick picked up by the Bears’ Timothy Adams that turned into a 44 yard score from Ellison and a 42-21 Bears lead with 3:19 on the clock.

Hoekstra needed a break from not only the Bears defense, but the strange referee calls against the Blue Devils and Carter responded with a 40 yard blast from midfield to the Bears 15 with a wake of tacklers behind him. Swilley loaded up to the 10 on three carries with Belanger taking another out pass to the two. Carter finished the drive to put Clay within reach at 42-28 with 11:11 left in the fourth quarter.

With Smith at quarterback, Bartram Trail again went to the swing pass with Helm avoiding safety Dylan Taylor for a 24 yard gain to the Clay 36.

Devore would crash down on Gatewood at the Clay 17 before Clay defender Dakari Augustin got hit with a pass interference call on a play in the end zone to set up a three yard score for the Bears.

Eason showed off some pocket coolness with a pump fake left and toss to Belanger that Belanger to to the Bears 19, but Eason misfired three times to end the effort.

A sack by Butler on Smith forced a Bears’ punt with 6:05 to go and Clay pushing for a fourth quarter surge.

This time, Goodman took the running mantle and rumbled from the Bears 45 to inside the 23 on six carries before Eason missed a fourth down pass to Ty Whitaker near the Bears 20 yard line.


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