ORANGE PARK – Ridgeview High quarterback Tyler Huff’s three touchdown passes were not enough to keep up with Palatka’s big play offense as host Ridgeview suffered a 39-25 defeat in a …
ORANGE PARK – Ridgeview High quarterback Tyler Huff’s three touchdown passes were not enough to keep up with Palatka’s big play offense as host Ridgeview suffered a 39-25 defeat in a District 5-5A opener marred by an officiating controversy at the end of the first half.
The game started promisingly enough for Ridgeview. Tackle Stanley Jean-Baptiste sacked McKinnon to force a three-and-out on the game’s opening series. Huff then directed the Ridgeview offense on a 55-yard march, converting a third and 18 with a 21 yard scramble along the way. Sophomore Spencer Calise capped the drive with a 10 yard touchdown reception. Matt Koziolek’s kick made the score 7-0 half way through the first quarter.
But as the game wore on, Ridgeview could not contain the Palatka trio of Mitchell McKinnon, Jaylyn Sessions and receiver Treyvon Williams. McKinnon completed 11 or 17 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 83 yards and a third score. Sessions ran for 147 yards and a score on 20 carries. Williams averaged a glittering 28.6 yards per catch on five receptions. His 38 yard catch and run got Palatka on the scoreboard late in the first quarter. Each time Palatka needed a big play from one of its stars, they came through as the Panthers amassed 474 yards of total offense without turning the ball over.
Ridgeview was without four skill position players, and it showed. The hosts were not able to run their high-speed, no huddle offense at its usual pace, and never established a running game outside of Huff’s occasional scrambles. Huff led the hosts with 70 yards rushing on 10 carries.
“We could not get a rhythm,” said Ridgeview coach Cameron Porch afterwards. “It was uncharacteristic of our offense.”
The controversy came in the closing moments of the first half. With 20 seconds until halftime, Palatka had the ball with a first and goal at the Ridgeview four yard line. Sessions lost a yard on a run up the middle. With the clock running, McKinnon lofted a fade towards Williams that fell incomplete with three seconds left, stopping the clock. Before the next play, Palatka was called for illegal motion. After the ball was set back five yards for the penalty, the referee blew his whistle and wound his arm, mistakenly signaling to the clock operator to start the clock, which ran down to 0:00 before the ball was snapped. On the play which ensued, McKinnon threw incomplete on a pass broken up by Ridgeview linebacker Dominic Stanfield. Ridgeview headed toward their locker room, only to be called back to the field. According to Porch, the referee told him that the side judge had blown a whistle as the clock struck 0:00, thinking that the half was over as the third down play was occurring. According to the referee, some players stopped playing, or might have stopped playing, when they heard the whistle. The decision was made to repeat third down. McKinnon took the snap and fired a slant pass intended for receiver Abrie Williams. The pass was incomplete, but interference was called against Ridgeview. The ball was moved half way to the goal line, and since a half cannot end on a defensive penalty, Palatka was given one additional untimed down. McKinnon took advantage of this chance by connecting with Abrie Williams, who landed in the field of play but was able to lunge into the end zone with a Panthers cornerback draped over him. Thus, Palatka went into halftime with a 12-7 lead.
“That was a complete hose job,” said Porch after the game. “I did not expect the referees to dictate the outcome of the game.”
As the referees exited the field after the Palatka touchdown, Ridgeview Athletic Director John Sgromolo, III, got into a heated discussion with them and drew two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. For the game, Ridgeview was penalized 13 times for 130 yards. Palatka was penalized nine times for 70 yards.
Ridgeview had only total 138 yards in the first half, well below their average. Receiving the third quarter kickoff, Porch decided to speed up the pace of play. The strategy appeared to be working, as Jaiden Turner gained 10 yards on the Panthers’ first play, but ultimately led to two turnovers. Two plays after Turner’s run, he and Huff botched an exchange and the ball fell to the turf, where it was recovered by Palatka’s Terrenza Wiggins at the Ridgeview 46.
On Ridgeview’s next possession, Huff was looking for Spencer Calise on a post pattern, but his overthrow was picked off by Palatka safety D’Shawn Shaw, who followed a convoy of blockers 46 yards into the end zone for a 19-7 Palatka lead.
The turning point came on the next Palatka possession, after Ridgeview’s Brian Jackson had scored on a crossing pattern from six yards out to cut the deficit to 19-13. Needing 16 yards for a first down, McKinnon gained 22 on a third down scramble. On the next play, he bobbled the snap, preventing him from executing an intended hand-off to Sessions. The senior ran left, broke the hold of Ridgeview’s defensive end behind the line of scrimmage, and sprinted down the left sideline to give Palatka a 25-13 lead with 11:13 remaining.
Palatka’s Willie Fells coached aggressively. He went for it on a fourth and one in the first quarter, and his decision to fake a punt from his own 14 yard line sealed the outcome. After sending the Ridgeview offense off the field with no points after a first and goal at the two yard line, Palatka faced fourth and two after a running into the kicker had brought the ball five yards closer to the first down marker. Fells had noticed on Palatka’s only other punt of the game that if he sent a man in motion from one side of the formation to the other, a Ridgeview defender shadowed him, opening up a gap in the line. Upback Key’shawn Russell took the snap and bowled straight ahead for three yards and a first down at the 16. On the next play, Sessions ran right, was hemmed in, cut left across the field and outran everyone 84 yards to the end zone to give Palatka an insurmountable 32-13 lead.
“It’s the districts,” said Fells of his decisions. “We had no fear.”
Sessions converted the fourth down in the first quarter with a short run, and McKinnon made the move pay off with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Treyvon Williams.
Ridgeview’s Jackson had two touchdown receptions on the night, while Rolando Grey pitched in with a rushing touchdown. Ridgeview goes on the road to face Clay County rival Fleming Island in its next game on Friday, September 21.
Palatka, now 3-1, 1-0 in District 5-5A, hosts Flagler Palm Coast in a non-district game Friday.