GAINESVILLE – The old adage, take something away and see how much you miss could apply to the Clay High Blue Devil football team Thursday night as a voracious defensive unit obviously missed …
GAINESVILLE – The old adage, take something away and see how much you miss could apply to the Clay High Blue Devil football team Thursday night as a voracious defensive unit obviously missed knocking the snot out of opponents in Clay's 41-14 win over Eastside High on Thursday in Gainesville' Citizen Field.
“I really didn’t know what to expect," said Clay High coach Kyle Kennard. "We came out right after school, kind of did a little run through to get the blood flowing and tried to get them back into a little bit of a routine.”
After having to cancel last week’s game against Palatka due to COVID-19 concerns, there was some question if the Clay Blue Devils, which had not practice since going into quarantine on September 23, would be ready to compete.
The convincing win under new coach Kyle Kennard's fiery leadership who has stormed to an unbeaten record and massive points' deficits; 33-12, 47-13, 41-14, under the control of senior quarterback Tre Griner, belies a newly ignited team attitude. Kennard, a long time defensive coach, has the auspicious playcalling of new offensive coordinator Brian Flaherty to thank for the point production.
"Two things at play here, first, coach Flaherty has made the offense as efficient as he can with the personnel on the field and, two, the kids this year have a year under their belt and they don't want to repeat last year," said Kennard. "They (the players) should get all the credit. They want to win."
However, the Eastside win did take a little bit of time for Clay (3-0) to get the blood flowing before finally outlasting Eastside (0-4).
Within the first five minutes of the game, the Rams showed they had come to play early on with the Blue Devils taking the opening kickoff and driving down the field, partly helped by a few Clay penalties in the process as well a 45-yard run by Keonte Macon to get the first points on the board. Those points came from Rams’ quarterback Holden Johnson completing a 30-yard pass to Ernest Walker to take a 7-0 lead with 7:47 left in the first quarter.
On Clay’s first drive of the game, things showed up quickly showing they had not had been practicing for over a week when the Blue Devils got a first down, but penalties once again piled up forcing a punt, which is something Kennard mentioned was an issue after the game.
But once things got clicking for the Blue Devils… things took off.
That take off started with a sack by Valdez Seymour who sacked Johnson as the first quarter ended, forcing an Eastside punt.
That punt, however, might have been one of the worst in the game when it came to punts not going very far putting the ball at the Rams’ 27 giving the Blue Devils some of their best field position of the night.
And it only took two plays from running back Al’querious Ray who took the ball in from two yards out to tie the game up at 7-7 with 11:07 left in the first half.
"Since after the Christmas break, Ray has come in with a totally different attitude," said Kennard. "People forget he was just a sophomore last year in a program that revered running backs. Somewhere along the way, he has matured to become one of those revered running backs."
From there it became the Blue Devils’ night against the Rams, forcing drives to end on punts or interceptions for almost the rest of the game.
As the first half came nearing to a close, the Blue Devils capitalized on opportunities presented to them first driving Eastside backward after the Rams got inside the Clay 15 with a sack and tackle for loss on succeeding plays that effectively took the Rams out of scoring range.
Those plays forced Eastside to punt again, which was partially blocked by Seymour to set the Blue Devils with great field position again at the Eastside 45 with 3:28 left in the second quarter. That drive was capped off when Griner found Jayden Bryan from 16-yards out to take a 14-7 lead with just 47 seconds left before halftime.
After that score, it only took 11 seconds of game clock for the Blue Devils to find themselves on the board again with another touchdown thanks to the Rams fumbling the ball after fumbling at their own three with a swarm of Blue Devils recovering the ball for the score in the end zone to take a 20-7 lead with 36 seconds before halftime.
In the second half, the Blue Devils continued to extend their lead out on the Rams with Ray finding the endzone again for his second of three total touchdowns on the night on a four-yard keeper. A two-point conversion made the score 28-7 with 10:05 left in the third quarter.
Midway through the third quarter, it appeared Eastside was trying to put something together again for another drive, getting down to the Clay 31 before the Blue Devils forced a turnover on downs to get the ball back.
And it did not take too much time for the Blue Devils to 8find end zone again with another Griner pass, this time to Reid Waugh to increase the score to 35-7 with 2:37 left to go in the third quarter.
In the final quarter of the game, it was the Jonathon Rouw show for the Blue Devils who ended two Eastside drives with interceptions, marking his first interceptions of the 2020 season.
The first interception by Rouw resulted in the final points of the night for the Blue Devils when Ray took a 64-yard pass from Griner in the backfield and zigzagging down the field for the touchdown to make it 41-7 with 8:29 left in the game.
Eastside closed off the scoring in the game with a Keonte Macon two-yard touchdown run with 2:01 left to go in the game to make it 41-14, Blue Devils.
As for Kennard, everything that happened leading up to the game had him not knowing what to expect.
As for the issues that have to be cleaned up before next week? Kennard was blunt about what needs to happen.
“We can’t come out like we did tonight and expect to win the football game,” Kennard said in regards to the Blue Devils’ slow start and penalties that piled up in the first quarter.
Ray finished the game with 17 carries for 125 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns plus his lone catch with a touchdown for 64 yards while Griner went 9-of-11 for 142 yards and three touchdowns.
Clay, who enters the week ranked No. 9 in the first FloridaHSFootball.com Class 5A rankings of the 2020 season, returns home Friday night to take on West Nassau who is coming off a 28-21 home loss to First Coast. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at C.B. Bowles Stadium at Clay High School.