MACCLENNY –- A 17-0 second quarter lead was not enough for the Clay High Blue Devils to stage an upset over defending district 5-5A champion Baker County as the Wildcats clawed back to finish off a …
MACCLENNY –- A 17-0 second quarter lead was not enough for the Clay High Blue Devils to stage an upset over defending district 5-5A champion Baker County as the Wildcats clawed back to finish off a dramatic 70-play scoring drive with 1:41 left to win 27-24 Friday night.
“The effort tonight was amazing against much bigger kids,”said a dejected Clay coach Joshua Hoekstra, who fell to an unfamiliar six losses against two wins and a probable day at home for Thanksgiving dinner. “That felt like OP again (referring to 29-28 district loss to Orange Park earlier in season).”
Clay finishes the 2018 season with Baker County the district champion for a third year. Palatka hosts Clay in a district game on Friday with University Christian coming to Green Cove Springs to end the season. Orange Park, a winner over Palatka on Friday, has a final district game at Menendez on Fri., Oct. 26 which could be the final game to put the Raiders into the region playoffs instead of the Blue Devils.
“District losses of one, two and three points,” said Hoekstra. “It was not meant to be fore whatever reason.”
From the opening kickoff, the Blue Devil historic edge in big playoff ramification games seemed to be slowly building up on the Clay sideline as the offense, fueled by a 20 yard pass play from quarterback Turner Erstad to Cedrick Brown put Clay on the Wildcat side of the field amidst a stunned Baker County sideline.
From there, Clay’s offensive strategy of running around the huge Baker County defensive front became apparent as Brown slanted left for seven more yards and slot back Spencer Lesage caught a pass for another 10 to put the Blue Devils on the Wildcat doorstep; 19 yard line.
Lesage would strike again off a swing pass right that he carried to the nine before the Wildcat defense swelled up and stopped the momentum to get a Tucker Reape field goal.
Next coaching strategy move; against a gigantic Baker County offensive line that averaged nearly 315 pounds, was a bob-and-weave attack led by wrestler-at-noseguard Abbott Taylor putting up a fearless front against the Wildcat girth while linebacker stunts in the gaps from Joe Reed and Bryan Chapman and squeezes from the outside from defensive ends Cory Devore and Kenneth Johnson seemed to befuddle the Wildcat attack.
On the Wildcats’ first series, two penalty flags and a near interception from Clay linebacker Cain Creery thwarted a fast retaliatory strike by the powerful Wildcats attack of running backs Scooby Graham and John Green as the Blue Devils got a punt from near midfield as the clock ran down to near four minutes from the rugged ground attack of both teams.
Erstad came right back out and combined with Lesage and Alec Holt for pass gains of 21 and 11 yards to put Clay back inside the 50. Another rollout pass to Lesage got 12 to the 30 with another two plays later for seven to the 20 as the Blue Devil attack had Baker County reeling in pursuit from one sideline to the other.
Holt snagged a hook pass with two defenders draping him to put the ball at the 11 where Brown took two snaps to the three and freshman Al-Querius Ray finished the drive for a 10-0 lead with 9:36 left in the half.
Clay’s defense again went on the offensive on the line of scrimmage with Baker County again trying to shake Green loose for his infamous long breaks downfield, but being unsuccessful with Abbott and Chapman both creating havoc in the backfield. A quarterback sack from Abbott on third and three put quarterback/punter Alex Bowen eight yards back for his second punt of the day.
Starting at the 40 and with anticipation of the rise of the Wildcat defense up front, Erstad went deep to Holt across the middle from the 40 between two defenders that finished with Holt snatching a tip ball and racing to the end zone to send the Clay sideline into a frenzy with their lead now at 17-0 with Reape’s third PAT kick.
The score ignited the energy level of the Clay defense to a Purple People Eater level (reference legendary Minnesota Vikings’ defense) as Reed and Ty Summerford nailed Green on one play behind the line of scrimmage and Chapman and Creery grabbed Graham for a loss of one with the officials putting a sideline warning flag on the turf as nearly the entire Blue Devil sideline was frothing at the mouth to get a piece of the action.
Taylor nailed Bowen twice on rollouts with Baker County punting again with nearly no offensive momentum for the entire half.
With the punt landing at the Clay eight and with 2:36 to halftime, Hoekstra was looking to get out of the half unscathed and up 17-0.
Unfortunately for Hoekstra, the Wildcats defense woke up.
Three plunges on handoffs resulted in a punt lineup from the six that the Wildcat defense smothered and recovered the loose ball for a touchdown and a 17-6 lead.
More decisively, the intended momentum into the locker room was stolen.
“That punt (block) gave them life,” said Hoekstra. “That was the game.”
After a lengthy homecoming event, Baker County stormed ot of the lockers and immediately stamped their desire to turn the game around with the Wildcat running game measuring out successive gains to midfield from the 20 before Bowen hit a pass just over Clay defender Jayden Bryan’s fingertips from the 36 that put the game quickly at 17-14 with a two point conversion.
Erstad was harassed for two of three plays in the Blue Devils’ ensuing drive with a sack losing 14 yards to force a punt to midfield.
Baker County, again, reverted to their power run game and moved quickly to the Clay two yard line behind Graham who finished off the drive for a 21-17 Wildcat lead at 2:24 of the third.
“We needed a takeaway and didn’t get one,” said Hoekstra. “The effort was amazing against the bigger kids.”
Clay hunkered in behind Ray attacking the tackles on the next drive with the burly ballcarrier nailing two runs to the 45 to set up a thrilling scoring pass play to Holt that ignite Clay, but finished with a penalty flag on the turf.
Ray struck back with a 33 yard run back into Wildcat territory; 32 yard line, before Lesage took a sweep handoff left on fourth and three from the 27 and zigzagged around a handful of defenders before finishing in the end zone in full horizontal dive to put Clay up against 24-21 with 10:52 to go.
Baker County would net just 25 yards on their next drive with Taylor stopping Graham on third and eight to force a punt at midfield.
Clay, stopped in three downs and forced to punt from the Blue Devil 20, nearly got a game-saving turnover when Baker County punt returner Chris Smith bobbled the punt and got smashed by cover man Eric Predmore. Baker County recovered.
From there, the Wildcats strong-armed the now-fatigued Clay defensive front with straight power football between the tackles to the ball 70 yards in 12 plays to set up a dramatic goal line confrontation that put Baker County up 27-24 with 1:42 still on the clock.
Clay football being Clay football, Hoekstra strategized yet another would be dramatic finish with Brown returning the lineup after severe dehydration cramps and delivering a 25 yard pass play to the Baker County 41 then Lesage adding two catches that put Clay at the 30 before Erstad went for Lesage streaking into the end zone two steps ahead of the safety, but throwing short for an interception that ended the game.
“Too many mistakes in the second half,” said Hoekstra.