ORANGE PARK - Oakleaf High tailback Keylan Brown may very well have been the unsung hero Friday night in the Knights’ 16-14 district 3-7A win over Atlantic Coast if fans cared to remember the third down run he made for a key first down.
“I saw the ball on the ground after Jordan got hit and lost it,” said Brown. “I knew we needed about three yards for a first down and I had to get the ball and make it happen.”
On third and three from the Stingray 45 yard line with 39 seconds left on the clock and the Atlantic Coast defense playing suffocating pass defense, Knights’ quarterback Jordan Johnson attempted to stay upright under the heavy rush and lost control of the ball. Brown, in to block incoming traffic, scooped the ball in the middle of the field, veered left, broke a tackle, veered right, broke a tackle and finally got gang-tackled at the Atlantic Coast 42 yard line for an Oakleaf first down and a breath of life left for the Knights.
“I just had to make a big play for my team,” said Brown, who has topped the Knights running game with 125 yards against Wayne County and 75 yards on the night against Atlantic Coast with a 6.2 yards per carry average. “I saw the ball and knew I needed five yards.”
From the 22, Jordan missed two passes downfield before Chipoletti set up four receivers; Rontrez Morgan, Cari Coleman, Desmon George and Darius Perry, on the Knights side of the field for one more final shot with 9.9 seconds still on the clock. Johnson again had to dodge tacklers to break free and threw as far and high as he could when he finally found open space at the Oakleaf 45 yard line.
“He made great plays to avoid getting sacked and just heaved it,” said Chipoletti, who stood motionless on the sideline as the ball aimed not to the end zone, but about the 10 yard line. “I don’t think he could have thrown it any further. They chased him around pretty good before he let it go.”
At the Stingray 10, Morgan and Coleman jumped in front of two Stingray defenders; all four with their backs to the end zone, while Perry, who had just one catch in the first three games, stayed on the ground at the 12 yard line.
“I saw them jump and smack the ball; Rontrez and the Atlantic Coast guy, and then the ball floated for what seemed like forever,” said Perry. “It was weird because all of us just sort of watched it before something inside me said, ‘Grab it and run.’ I just grabbed it and ran with Cari behind me.”
Finishing off the play, Perry was swarmed and mauled by his teammates under the Oakleaf scoreboard as time ran out and the Knights became a legitimate contender for a district title run.
“We watched the movie ‘Lone Survivor’ today and connected with the US Navy Seals in the movie who never gave up despite adversity,” said Chipoletti, who has commented numerous times about how a handful of plays has proved costly to the playoff hopes of the Knights in his first two years. “For me, this was one of the bigger regular season wins because of what this team and the school have been through over the years.”
Oakleaf next hosts 5A-Clay (4-0) before traveling to 3-7A’sFleming Island (1-3, 0-1) on October 3.
In the first half, both teams tried to stretch out their offensive arms with passes downfield, but both defenses were stiff until the Stingrays scored first at 5:12 off a four-down series that had a 25 yard run and an Oakleaf offsides flag put the Stingray offense on the Oakleaf six where a handoff finished the drive.
Oakleaf’s offense sputtered with a clip on the ensuing kickoff putting the Knights at their own eight and a fumbled snap ending the drive at the same eight yard line seven plays later.
“We just could not get out of our own way early in the game,” said Chipoletti.
Atlantic Coast would miss a field goal from 40 yards out to end the first quarter up 7-0.
As the second quarter started after the missed field goal, Johnson, who finished with 10 of 18 passes for 122 yards, would begin to find the groove from behind center with a pass to George netting 46 yards to the Atlantic Coast 32. A slant pass to Coleman got a pass interference flag to put Oakleaf at the Stingray 22 where Brown popped off a seven yard run to the 10. A slant to Morgan pushed Oakleaf to the five, but two incompletes got kicker Xavier Lewis in to kick a 22 yard field goal and a 7-3 score with 8:04 left in the half.
Atlantic Coast quarterback Leishaun Ealey would scramble 40 yards to paydirt to put the Stingrays up 14-3 with 3:13 left in the half.
Oakleaf would again drive to within the Atlantic Coast end zone only to fail on a second field goal attempt as the half ran out.
In the third quarter, Oakleaf’s defense answered the call with defensive back Tyrell Brown bashing Atlantic Coast’s punter after a dropped snap at the Stingray 10 yard line. Middle linebacker Shaquille Quarterman would wind up with the loose ball to put Oakleaf in scoring position with 4:13 left in the quarter.
Brown would scamper behind guard Jevionte Nash for a 20 yard scoring run to close the gap to 14-10.
The score would ignite the Oakleaf fan base and defense as Atlantic Coast’s offense got small chunks of yardage, but then pushed back with strong play from Quarterman, Carlos McCracken and a sack from defensive tackle Amari Way that forced a punt from midfield just inside the fourth quarter.
Atlantic Coast spined up and shut down four handoffs to Brown before taking over on offense at their own 40. A 42 yard pass play over center put Atlantic Coast in striking distance at the Oakleaf 15 where a little luck and a yellow flag negated a 15 yard rushing touchdown.
A play later, Oakleaf cornerback Nick Roberts would intercept a pass in the back of the end zone to end the threat.
“We thought they might want to strike back fast after the flag and we backed up a little on the coverage,” said Roberts.
On the ensuing drive from their own 20, Oakleaf could only get to midfield despite plays of 21 yards and nine yards from Brown and wideout Marcus Johnson.
With the clock ticking down to three minutes left in the game, Atlantic Coast bumbled their next drive under heavy pressure on defense from Oakleaf defensive tackle Billy Golden and defensive end Chance Harrell. McCracken would break up a pass attempt and Atlantic Coast punted from their own 23. Marcus Johnson would maintain his balance on some hard hits on the punt return and get Oakleaf to midfield with 1:47 to go. A six yard slant to George would put Oakleaf ‘s offense at the Atlantic Coast 40 to set up the game-winning pass touchdown.