History made: Clay wins 74-73

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 5/6/20

JACKSONVILLE - Bishop Kenny went air, Clay High went ground. Simple math. Whoever has the ball last wins. Strategy? Hold on and keep your hands in the car as you ride the fastest football …

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History made: Clay wins 74-73


JACKSONVILLE - Bishop Kenny went air, Clay High went ground. Simple math. Whoever has the ball last wins. Strategy? Hold on and keep your hands in the car as you ride the fastest football rollercoaster in quite a while as the resurgent Blue Devils’ offensive line; Nick George (U of Central Oklahoma), Brett Edenfield (Rochester Community and Technical College), Tyler Grimsley (U Miami/U South Alabama), Michael Howard (Mississippi) and Zach Baker (Duke), rolled up their collective sleeves and stampeded the Blue Devils to a 74-73 Region 1-5A (You read correct, 74-73) victory over previously unbeaten Bishop Kenny Friday (11-1) night on the banks of the St. Johns River with Everbank Field just a rock-skip away.

“Never in my life did I think we would need 74 points to win a game, let alone a playoff game,” said Clay quarterback Wes Weeks (SJRCC/U North Florida baseball), who fueled the Clay attack with a 62 yard touchdown in the third quarter to get Clay a short-lived lead and a 10 yard scoring sprint with just 17 seconds on the clock that would be the gamewinner. “The defense kept coming to the sideline and saying they kept screwing up and I needed to keep us in the game. The O-line kept saying,’Just follow us.’”

Actually Bishop Kenny had the ball last, after Weeks’ score, but the Clay defense, with magnificent play from linebackers Chris Sakamoto (U West Florida) and Ivan Valenzuela, plus linemen Sean Grayer (U South Alabama) and Marquise Jeffereson, held on for dear life as Bishop Kenny quarterback John Wolford (Wake Forest), who broke the state yardage career record on the night with his 539 yards in the air, refused to go down without a final charge to the end. With nine seconds to go, Wolford got a pass from the Crusader 22 to the 45, then an offsides on Clay moved the ball five yards closer. With just one tick on the clock and all the air in the stadium being held by the standing room only crowd, Wolford got one more pass completion that only got to the Clay 25. Game over, chaos ensued.

“We got five of the most committed high school football players on this offensive line that will die each night to block for this team,” said Clay offensive line coach Frank Garis (Oakleaf High head coach), who after the brutal game was caught holding up 6-foot-4, 280 pound tackle Zach Baker who had expunged enough energy that he was unable to stand during Coach Joshua Hoekstra’s (Bolles offensive coach) post game team meeting in the end zone. “We tell them every week they have to play with a foxhole mentality. We got three great backs and they ask for six inches to run through. We gave them six feet.”

Clay advanced and hosts the Region 1-5A championship game on Friday, Nov. 29 against the unbeaten Crusaders of Pensacola Catholic (12-0), ranked number one on Maxpreps in Class 5A and fourth in Florida, all classes. Big deal. Clay is 17th in those silly rankings with Bishop Kenny 10th. Ooops! Their mascot was also the Crusaders. Pensacola won a boring 26-20 region semifinal against West Florida High (10-2). Pensacola defeated the same West Florida team in their district title game 31-13 two weeks prior. Pensacola Catholic was Class 2B runnerup in 2004. Clay lost to Ponte Vedra in 2011 in region 1-5A opener. In 2009 and 2010, Clay lost to St. Augustine in region semifinals. Clay last made the Final Four in 1967 under coach Harvey Lofton.

The Pensacola Catholic skinny (Big pass team): QB Cody Henry (1994 YDs passing, 25TDs) WR Tylan Purifoy (31 catches, 6TDs), WR Daniel Byrd (24 catches 7TDs).

Against Bishop Kenny, Clay’s two main ballcarriers; Shannon Asbell (Asa College/Clay HS coach) (143 Yds, 5TDs) and Bilal Ally (U Massachusetts) (187 YDs, 2TDs), along with point man Weeks (161 YDs, 2TDs) ran for a collective 489 yards with Weeks passing for 149 yards on the side. Clay scored 30 fourth quarter points. A 10th touchdown was scored by J.T. Turner (USAF Academy), also a running back, but mainly used for passing schemes, who scored Clay’s first touchdown on a nine yard run, but caught five passes for 90 yards.

One key to the Clay win was the “heavy” offense that puts linebacker Tyler Allen as the lead fullback in front of Asbell. Asbell scored five successful two-point conversion that, combined with four missed point after kicks by Bishop Kenny, spelled the difference.

“I leave it up to my O-line to move the people up front,” said Asbell. “We just put our heavy weights, lead with Tyler and pound the line. Simple.”

Another key was to stymie Wolford, according to defensive coach John Stilianou (Clay HS head football coach).

“He’s a great player and very smart,” said Stilianou, who devised a no-frills, chase the quarterback winning strategy a week earlier against Ribault’s D.J. Gillins for the Blue Devils’ region opener. “We knew he would make plays and make our guys make mistakes and he did, but we just kept swimming, keep swimming.”

Stilianou’s swimming reference comes another Clay coach’s wife, who stricken with cancer, had made a sign for the Clay football to keep swimming no matter what.

“No matter how hard, how bad it gets, just keep swimming, she says all the time,” said Stilianou. “If she could get up and walk out of that room, then we can keep playing hard no matter what.”

First quarter: Kenny goes 53 yards to paydirt on first drive. PAT no good 6-0 (9:35), probable height disadvantage with Kenny receivers and Clay defensive backs J.T. Turner and Kenny Burgos.

Clay: Turner gets kickoff return plus facemask to put Blue Devils at Crusader 48. Ally blasts first handoff off left tackle to Crusader 34. Second and six, Ally goes up the middle to Crusader seven. From the nine, after two yard loss on Week’s keep, Turner sprints left side for touchdown. Asbell first two-pointer, Clay up 8-6 (7:33).

“We needed to answer,” said Hoekstra. “We knew the game was going to be who would blink first. We had total trust that the offensive line could move us downfield. That first quarter set the tone.”

Bishop Kenny: Crusaders start at 20 after end zone kickoff from Quirino Esquivel (Webber International baseball). Jefferson stuffs middle run, Grayer tips Wolford pass. Wolford connects for 25 yarder against Turner. Sakamoto catches Wolford from behind on scramble 10 yards downfield. Wolford connects on long pass over safety Trey Cheatham (Alderson Broadus U), flag on play, no score. Ryan Trossevin bats down Wolford pass from Crusader 48 after penalty. Wolford runs through gaping hole with DB Cornelius Richardson (Independence Community College) making tackle at Clay 25. Jefferson and DE Mike Adams (Bethel) crush run for loss of two. Second and eight at Clay 23, Wolford connects in end zone for score in front of Turner. PAT bad snap, Richardson snuffs. 12-8 (3:47)

Clay: First turnover, Weeks scramble, stripped at Crusader 20 (:29)

Bishop Kenny: First down at Crusader 21. Wolford connects, Burgos misses tackle, 89 yard TD, PAT kick good, 19-8 (end of first quarter)

Second quarter

Clay starts on Clay 25. Three runs, nothing, third and eight, Turner takes quick slant to Crusader 43, 25 yards, breaking three tackles and getting big block from wideout Tony Stephenson. Ally for six. Asbell left, facemask, first down at Crusader 11. Crusader flag, first down at six, Ally touchdown. Esquivel kick good, 19-15 (8:25)

Clay onsides kick fails, Bishop Kenny starts at 50. Incomplete pass but Crusader wideout wide open between Turner and Cheatham. Slant right, to Clay 27, cornerback Colin Wilson (Louisville/Fort Scott Community College) makes touchdown-saving tackle. Handoff left, Sakamoto tackle at 15. Grayer quarterback pressure for incompletion. Wolford hits slant in front of Turner, touchdown, PAT kick good, 26-15 (6:00)

Clay: Wilson kickoff return to 30. Stephenson gets screen behind Howard and George, first at Clay 40. Ally drops wide open pass. Weeks fakes sideline pass, throws to Isaac Brinson (U Florida) for 31 yard gain to Crusader 21. Ally scores left side, Asbell behind tight end Zach Phillips for two pointer, 26-22 (3:51).

Bishop Kenny: After 13 yard pass to 20, Jefferson and Sakamoto sack Wolford. Burgos big tackle off handoff. Sack by Valenzuela and Allen at Crusader 34. First key Clay mistake, on Crusader punt from 25, Clay defender Tony Stephenson gets flagged for hitting punter, first down at Crusader 41.

Wolford seizes the moment after two two incomplete passes. From Crusader 41, Wolford blasts through huge hole in middle to Clay 30 with Allen chasing downfield and making tackle. Wolford goes off tackle with Weeks making tackle at Clay five. Bishop Kenny runs up middle, scores 33-22, PAT good (:26).

“Even though the score was always close, that quarterback was not about to play it safe, he’s a competitor,” said Stilianou. “We just had to keep getting after him.”

Third quarter

Clay receivers kickoff, Turner stopped at midfield with sideline sprint. Asbell goes eight on first down followed by Weeks going 13 with a facemask. Asbell blasts through the middle for 27 yard score. Esquivel kick good 33-29 (10:50)

Bishop Kenny: Wolford’s first pass picked off by Sakamoto, tipped Grayer at the line of scrimmage.

Clay: Asbell again, zig-sagging goes from Bishop Kenny 22 to 13 before finishing off with five yard score two plays later, 37-33 Clay up, Asbell with two-point conversion rush.

“We told him to just keep his legs moving,” said Zach Baker, Clay offensive tackle. “We were going to move the line, no matter what.”

Bishop Kenny: A slanted kickoff puts Crusaders at 42, Wolford hits slant to midfield. Sakamoto disrupts a handoff for near fumble. A slant pass puts pall at Clay 43 with Richardson missing a pickoff and Wilson making the tackle. Wolford keeps through giant hole in middle of Clay line for score from 30. Bishop Kenny up 40-37 (8:14).

Clay: Wilson returns ensuing kickoff to Clay 38. Asbell goes nowhere on first down, Weeks blasts through gigantic hole and glides 62 yards untouched to end zone. Equivel’s kick is good, Clay up 44-40 (7:21).

“I almost tripped on the 10 yard line I was so excited to see the end zone,” said Weeks.

Bishop Kenny: Questionable call on personal foul against Clay with block in back on kickoff? Crusaders have first down at Clay 44. Slant left, missed tackle by Turner to Clay 16, Burgos catches ballcarrier. Slant left again in front of Turner to nine. Pass right in front of Wilson for score. PAT kick missed, Bishop Kenny up 46-44 (6:24).

Clay: Near-disaster snap from George over Weeks ahead gets picked up by Weeks at Clay 13. First punt by Clay.

Bishop Kenny: Equivel punts to Crusader five yard line. Sack by Grayer and Valenzuela keeps ball inside 10. Slant left gets to 25. Slant left gets to Clay 35, Sakamoto misses key tackle, Turner catches ballcarrier. Grayer forces Wolford out of pocket, desperation pass complete to Clay 24. Flag against Kenny puts ball on 34. Wolford hits touchdown pass with Burgos and Trossevin on the chase, Kenny up 53-44 with PAT kick (2:48).

Clay: Nothing, Esquivel punts from eight.

Bishop Kenny: Punt puts ball at 50, Wolford touchdown run negated by flag. Ball at Clay 19. Slant left wide open, PAT good, Kenny up 60-44 (:37).

Clay: Brinson returns onside kick attempt to Clay 40. Slant to Turner gets to Crusader 44. Turner hauls in great pass and catch from Weeks for first down at Crusader five.

Fourth quarter

Asbell bashes in for TD. Asbell converts two-pointer. 60-52, Bishop Kenny (11:53, fourth).

Bishop Kenny stuck at 20 after Esquivel kickoff into end zone. Crusaders run up middle, veer right, Burgos makes diving tackle at Crusader 37. Jefferson, Allen stuff run play. Wolford bobbles snap, Jefferson, Allen there a hair late. Third and eight at 39, Grayer forces Wolford to throw bad, Wilson intercepts.

Clay: Four handoffs to Asbell from Clay 29 puts ball at Bishop Kenny 43. Ally crushes left side for touchdown, Asbell two-pointer 60-60 (7:34).

Bishop Kenny: At 20 with another end zone kickoff, Wolford rushes twice to put ball at 41. Slant left gets to Clay 18. Wolford run up middle for touchdown 67-60 (6:20).

Clay: Onsides kickoff recovered, ball at Clay 33, double Ally, double Asbell crunches ball to Crusader 27 in four plays. Weeks goes seven, Asbell finishes scoring drive plus two pointer for 68-67 Clay lead (4:25).

Bishop Kenny: Kickoff returner caught at five yard line by Valenzuela and Hunter Thompson. Wolford right for five and then 60 puts Bishop Kenny at Clay four. Wilson and Weeks knocked down one pass in end zone. Wilson tackles receiver on second slant at one yard line. Wolford plunges in, two-pointer stuffed 73-68 (1:53).

Clay: Turner kickoff return to 15. Weeks for four, Turner slant to 41, Weeks to 50. Ally three carries; eight, 15 and two puts ball on Crusader 13 with 23 seconds. Asbell gets three before Weeks takes shotgun snap, wheels right and slices between two tacklers into end zone, 74-73, two-pointer fails (:10).

Wolford heroics stopped at midfield, game over. Whew!


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