ORANGE PARK- The Orange Park Raiders hope this is the year it all comes together. Two years ago the team had a majority of freshman and sophomores trying to gain experience on the field along with weight and muscle mass off the field. Fast forward to 2019 and that group is now bigger, faster, stronger and full of varsity football experience. Is this the year the Raiders and head coach Tom Macpherson put it all together for playoff run? "We have gotten better (stronger) and more experienced at alot of spots but we still have some positions where we still need more development. Right now our biggest issue is the fall off from the one's (Starters) to our two's (Reserves)" said Macpherson.
The starters on both sides of the ball largely dominated West Nassau in a preseason match on a dreary night in Callahan on what was an extremely wet and slippery field after three straight days of heavy rain. On the first possession of the game the Raider defensive line led by Kendy Charles stuffed the Indians on 4th down near midfield. The offense however, was unable to capitalize after throwing two long incomplete passes ment for wide receiver Diego Soto. On third down quarterback Vinny Walker threw his first interception of the season throwing into double coverage at the West Nassau 15 yard line.
The Raider defense picked up where they left off applying continuous pressure on the West Nassau quarterback each play forcing a punt. Walker and the Raider offense would get back on track with a third down run by running back Alex Collier to the West Nassau 25 yard line. Stuart Udell would add 11 more yards on the ground to the 14 yard line and later in the drive Walker would throw a 19 yard touchdown pass to Diego Soto to give the Raiders their first taste of the endzone and a 6-0 lead with three minutes left in the first quarter.
Defensive lineman Kendy Charles would continue to be a force for the Raiders when he stuffed the West Nassau running back on a third down and two for a loss of two yards forcing another West Nassau punt. The Raider offense would strike on the first play of their drive with a perfectly thrown 51 yard touchdown pass from Walker to Stewart Udell to increase the lead to 12-0.
West Nassau would continue to struggle on offense as they failed to convert a third down pass after a monstrous hit by linebacker Hunter Moore and it looked as if Orange Park would dominate from start to finish as they looked like the far superior team.
Head coach Tom Macpherson started to sub a little earlier than a typical preseason game based on the field conditions and two of his starters dealing with minor injuries. West Nassau took advantage of the second unit and scored two touchdowns late in the second quarter to end the varsity game at 14-12. "It was a tale of two stories. When we had our starters out there its 12-0. We took a few of those guys out and West Nassau does a great job of executing and suddenly its 14-12. In fact, with our starters in the game their offense didn't cross midfield with the exception of a penalty" said Orange Park coach Tom Macpherson.
Offensively there were highs and lows. The highs: Two touchdown passes by quarterback Vinny Walker. The lows: Walker earning a personal foul penalty after having some choice words after one of those touchdown passes. "I get it, our kids are excited and I totally understand that. But players have to understand that if they recieve two of those penalties in the same game it's a six week suspension so we have to know how to be a leader. He has to learn how to celebrate and he should expect to make throws like that on a consistent basis" added Macpherson.
The Raiders will get an opportunity right of out of the gate to knock off what is predicted to be one of the powerhouse teams in Northeast Florida against the Oakleaf Knights. If the first team does their job and the reserves step up and make an impact it should be a great game to open up Clay county football in 2019.