GREEN COVE SPRINGS - After watching the storied Clay High football program struggle through a one-win season last year, new head coach Kyle Kennard, a former defensive coordinator for three area high schools including Clay in 2019, opened 2020 with some high-flying shenanigans as he let senior quarterback Tre Griner loose on Class 2A Final Four finisher University Christian to the tune of a lightning-fast first quarter scoring barrage en route to a 33-12 upset Friday night at Clay High School.
"It's just exciting, our players have worked so hard in the off season with the goal to get this program turned in the right direction and it starts tonight " said Kennard, who replaced departed John Stilianou, now at Middleburg High, who replaced Joshua Hoekstra, now at Bolles.
Griner, who has run the show for nearly three years under the coaching changes, showed how much he has improved over the off season on drive number one of 2020. Griner found wide out D'Maurion Frazier twice during a fast-moving first offensive drive including a 68 yard touchdown pass less than three minutes into the game for a quick 6-0 lead over the Christians. University Christian lost in last year's state sectional, lost in region finals in 2018, lost in Class 2A championship in 2017 and won the Class 2A title in 2016.
"This team is learning what it takes to win such as mental preparation, belief and doing the right things," Kennard said. "This win tonight is not about me. It's about our players and how they have worked. I love coming to work each day because we have good kids and they are fantastic to work with each day."
After their initial scoring salvo, Clay's defense locked down the rugged Christian running game and gave Griner shot two at paydirt.
Griner kept the pedal to the medal by mixing the running and passing game to keep the Christians defense off balance. Clay running back Al Querious Ray dominated the second level of the Christians while the Clay high offensive line pushed away the University defensive linemen with ease. Griner would find wide out Jaden Bryan on a pass to the University 39 yard line before finding a slash pattern to Reid Waugh from 12 yards out to push the lead to 12-0.
Again Clay's defense locked down despite a successful fourth down conversion.
Drive three for Griner was equally wicked as the Ray started to grind out on the ground with a 13 yard scoring run pushing the quick lead to 20-0 midway through the second quarter.
A mishandled third down scramble and fumble from Griner led to a University touchdown just before the halftime break.
In the third, University Christian benefited from a late hit call on Bryan on fourth down that turned into a three yard run for the Christians to close the gap to 20-12.
The Blue Devils didn't flinch and, within two minutes, Ray pounded out a 33 yard touchdown run to push the lead to 26-12 with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
As fatigue and heat settled in and both teams slowed their roll a bit, University would answer with a 78 yard pass all the way to the Clay 11 yard line that portended to disaster at home for Clay. With University knocking on a one or two point game, a sack from Brandon Peavy took 10 yards away before cornerback Jarvis Lee snatched an interception off a tipped pass to turn the tide.
In the fourth quarter, Clay would put together a 90 yard drive behind the running combo of Griner and Ray. The drive would end with a three yard touchdown pass to Bryan with seven minutes left in the game for a 33-12 lead the Blue Devils would not relinquish.
After the fourth quarter clock hit 0:00, Kennard got an ice cold powerade bath from two of his Seniors to help celebrate the first of what the Blue Devils hope are many wins.
The Blue Devils hope to keep their winning ways as they host conference rival Orange Park this week at home.