FLEMING ISLAND - Fleming Island High's highly touted defensive secondary, led by junior Dedric Walker's football fumble pickups; one for a 60 yard score, and a a highlight film night from senior …
FLEMING ISLAND - Fleming Island High's highly touted defensive secondary, led by junior Dedric Walker's football fumble pickups; one for a 60 yard score, and a a highlight film night from senior Devin Grind; an explosive punt return to the goal line (was nullified by penalty) and a game-ending interception, turned what looked to be a bummer of a home game into one of the more thrilling finishes of 2020 thus far as Fleming Island defeated Creekside 26-23 in a key district 1-7A contest Friday night.
"We always say 'Embrace the Grind' meaning be ready to have a big fourth quarter," said Fleming Island head coach Damenyum Springs, who stays perfect at 4-0 and 13-0 in regular season play and 15-1 in the past two seasons. The loss was a region semifinal playoff loss last year to Niceville. "We train for a fourth and fifth quarter. Before the fourth quarter, we told them to stay calm and stay the course."
In the first half, it appeared that the Fleming Island offense wasn't ready to play one quartet let alone five after an interception on the goal line of a Grant Travis pass and a roughing the punter penalty on Grind. Fleming Island got the drive started with Walker picking up his first fumble of the night and putting Travis at the Creekside 15 yard line.
"It's all on my teammates and coaches who keep us moving forward to the next play and staying positive," said Travis. "We don't let our heads drop. One guy makes a bad play and we got 56 guys on the sidelines keeping him in the game."
Despite the mishaps, the score stayed even at 0-0 as the Fleming Island defense, led by middle linebacker Alex Maier and a front line of Hunter Williams, Tyler Cross, Ricky Joseph and Jourdan Haynes kept the Knights' strong running game at bay with Creekside finally breaking the stalemate with a scored at 7:30 of the second quarter.
"We just line up and play our game," said Maier. "There's nothing else defense can do, but just give it our all and that's what we did. It's just who is the bigger dog and we were the bigger dog tonight."
A bad punt snap to Fleming Island punter Aaron Montoya got the 145-pound kicker tossed around by Creekside tackler Landen Frazier who snared Montoya at the Fleming Island seven yard line. The bumbled punt set two dives from Creekside running back Preston Strope; one a score for a 14-0 Creekside lead with five minutes to halftime. Stroped rambled for 152 yards on the night.
First big Fleming Island rebound was an 80 yard end around from wide out Darion Domenick who slivered off the right corner, found a clear sideline and rumbled to the score; 14-6 with Wildcat T.K. Kocak getting stuffed on the two-point attempt.
In the second half, Travis got bludgeoned on a sack that forced a punt that turned into a blocked kick and a Creekside touchdown that had a handful of fans drop the hot dog on their laps.
"I talk to the O-Line and they talk to me on the sideline," said Travis. "I get sacked, they know I got their back. I make a bad play, they got my back."
A 32 yard pass play and a pass interference call against Fleming Island defensive back Caleb Jones got Creekside from midfield to the Fleming Island 19 in a quick turnaround of fate.
"Some of the flags, I think, were unnecessary and us defensive backs always have to play aggressive," said Grind. "Receivers can push off and not get flagged so we may as well play the same game."
Creekside added salt to the wound with a field goal from 26 yards out but the inkling of a great fourth quarter defensive effort started to surface as Maier and Bryan Mattox and friends stopped five Creekside shots from inside the five yard line to force the kick.
"We knew they had the good running back that liked to run downhill," said Maier. "We had three linebackers in the box and we challenged them to come to us. I think the three stops we had on him on our goal line beat him up."
Starting at their own 15 after Creekside's kickoff, Travis started to unwind his passing lanes and find targets with Domenick snagging two 10-yarders on a slant and out moving the Eagles quickly to midfield with some momentum.
"They were taking away the long passes, but giving us the short ones so we took them," said Springs.
The drive stalled there forcing a punt, but three plays later Grind, after a quarterback hurry from Williams created a bad pass, got his first pick of the night with a 25 yard return to put Travis back on the field.
Fleming Island offensive coordinator Ryan Wolfe dialed in some more quick hitting passes with Jones getting one for 12 to the Knight 15, then, two plays later, after a drop in the end zone on a first strike in the end zone to Jones, hitting Jones for a score in front of the pylon with 11:09 still in the game and the score at 23-12. Montoya's PAT kick was blocked to make things even more interesting as fans were doing quick math to see what Fleming Island would need to keep their win streak in tact.
Creekside went back to Strope on the ground to try and quicken the clock and steal the upset, but Walker found himself in the middle of a scrum on a dive to Strope near the Fleming Island 36.
"I was juggling the ball after a teammate (Tyler Cross) ripped it," said Walker. "I just ran, looked back because I heard one guy coming near the goal line."
Walker's sprint to the end zone pushed the score to 23-18 with 8:16 to go.
On the ensuing kickoff, Maier and Cross pummeled dive attempts by Strope to force a Creekside punt from the back of the end zone with nearly six minutes still on the clock. Grind made the comeback even more tense with a drop of the punt at the Creekside 22, but a quick recovery gave Fleming Island breath back for a final surge.
First up, senior tailback Tim Thomas pounded for 10 on first at the Creekside 30, then returned for an eight yarder behind Cameron Longmire and Evan Sheets creating a massive hole on the line of scrimmage.
At the 12, Thomas again skinnied off right tackle to the three.
From there, Thomas got the ball stripped out on a dive, but Longmire saved the day by falling on the loose ball. A false start added more drama before Kocak followed Thomas up the middle twice for the score to score the game at 24-23 for Fleming Island, Kocak's two pointer, with a lengthy discussion by officials prior to the signal, scored the game 26-23 with 3:33 left for Creekside to crash the party once more.
A possible disaster ensued after the kickoff with Creekside getting a possible pass interfence call on a long pass defense to the Eagle 20. The flag was waved off.
Two more pass interference calls made the ending more tense, but Grind snagged a fourth and four pass on the Creekside sideline with 1:15 to end the game.
"I saw him turn and head for the corner and knew it was coming," said Grind.
Fleming Island now travels to Oakleaf for a showdown of epic proportions with the Knights' seething from two losses to two Georgia powerhouses; Lowndes and Camden County.