GAINESVILLE – Oakleaf High football got stunned on the first play of their first game of the season; at Citizen's Field in Gainesville against Buchholz High, with a 50 yard pass play to a one yard scoring plunge putting the Knights on their heels right off the bus.
Quick response was the Knights' answer with senior quarterback Walter Simmons III punching up a 32 yard scoring run of his own to knot the game.
From there, the Knights settled into their strong run game and lightning fast air game under Simmons' direction to rumble to a 35-14 win. The Knights got two interceptions from senior defensive back Trey Thomas, who returned one for a touchdown to add to the scoring for Oakleaf.
After two stops and a second punt, the Knights fought quickly again to take the lead on a Simmons pass to wideout Terrance Anthony, the first of the duo’s connections in the end zone of the night.
“We felt comfortable with our plan. We needed to execute better. We calmed down at half time and got that taken care,” Oakleaf coach Frank Garis said after the win.
Garis will travel again this week with a trip to nationally-ranked Lowndes County High School in Valdosta Georgia. Lowndes, 2-0 with wins over Archer (35-21) and Griffin (45-6), is ranked number one in Georgia after a state 7A runnerup finish to Marietta High last year and ranked number nine nationally by Maxpreps. Oakleaf also has Camden County (1-1), a semifinalist 7A finisher last year (lost to Marietta) coming to Oakleaf in two weeks.
Both teams were determined to keep each other in check in the first half with back-to-back interception scoring runs amping the sidelines on both sides.
The first of two pick-sixes on the night between both teams took place in the first quarter when Buchholz linebacker Eric Alvarez picked off Simmons’ pass at the Oakleaf 48 returning it to the endzone for six to tie the game up 14-14 with 4:07 left in the first quarter.
Oakleaf defensive back Trey Thomas answered for Oakleaf with an interception midway through the second quarter in what was mostly uneventful quarter both teams that saw mostly punts or turnover on downs ending drives along with a missed field goal by Buchholz in the final second of the first half.
The second of the pick-sixes of the night for Thomas came in the third he picked off a Hevesy pass around the Buchholz 40 taking it in untouched to put the Knights up 21-14 with 8:31 left in the quarter.
On top of Thomas’ pick-six in the third quarter, the Knights picked up two more scores during the third and fourth quarters. That was all the while the Knights worked to keep the Bobcats off the scoreboard in the second half thanks to their stingy defense that got fired up by the coaches at half time.
The second to final touchdown of the night came on another five-yard pass from Simmons to Anthony to cap off the duo’s scoring for the night with 3:10 left to go in the third quarter.
The scoring for Oakleaf would be capped off officially with a 52-yard touchdown run from running back Mike Mitchell with 2:50 left to go in the game that would give Oakleaf a 35-14 advantage.
Mitchell finished the night with just two carries for 53 yards with the lone touchdown score
“Our seniors, two of the guys are our captains. They are on our leadership council. They are great program guys. They buy into what we are selling, they buy in to what the program is about. They radiate it to the young players, which is what we really, really appreciate,” Garis said.
Simmons finished the night 19-of-31 passing for 159 yards through the air with two touchdowns. For good measure he also had 19 total net yards rushing along with his lone rushing touchdown.
Thomas finished the night with two interceptions and six tackles while Anthony officially had seven receptions for 80 yards to go along with two touchdowns.
Oakleaf will travel Friday night to Valdosta, Ga. where they will take on the nationally-ranked Lowndes Vikings with the tilt slated to kickoff 8 p.m.