Thrill of Victory; Agony of Defeat

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 10/27/21

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - In a classic come-from-behind storybook finish, the Middleburg High Broncos took the best punches from the storied Clay High football program and answered with a scintillating …

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Thrill of Victory; Agony of Defeat


GREEN COVE SPRINGS - In a classic come-from-behind storybook finish, the Middleburg High Broncos took the best punches from the storied Clay High football program and answered with a scintillating fourth quarter rally that fell excruciatingly short in a 23-21 non-district win for the Blue Devils at Clay High School.

“We got beat up tonight,” said Clay coach Kyle Kennard. “We knew it was going to be a war. Coach Wolfe did a good job. These games are a little too close for me.”

With Clay (6-2) playing this week for a district 4-5A championship at North Marion (5-3) on Friday; a second in a row for coach Kyle Kennard, the Blue Devils came out storming in the first half to build a 23-7 lead that including three scores from “Hammer” running back Chris Goldstein and a 42 yard field goal by Tristan Haack as the game looked to be in full Blue Devil control from the outset.

“He’s stepped up to bring his personality to the field; he’s a tough downhill runner and that fits well with our scheme,” said Kennard. “He got banged up and we hope he can get healed up for next week.”

Middleburg, with the spirited play of quarterback Luke Padgett and his wide receiver turned Jet Sweep flip guy Caleb Freytag, made the second half a game and a half worth of tense moments.

“It looked like Luke was going to walk in when the play started, but they did a good job to stop it,” said Middleburg High coach Ryan Wolfe. “They adjusted quickly to stop him about three inches from the goal line.”

Clay, not willing to give Freytag any chance of blasting a third gamechanger kickoff return; Freytag has two 90-plus yard touchdown runs off kickoffs in recent games, got kicker Jered Mosley to bloop kick throughout the game.

One weapon that Middleburg had in its arsenal was running back Mike Mitchell, but the Clay 11-hats to the ball defensive strategy proved a bit too much for the elusive ball carrier who was hit twice in two plays with unsportsmanlike flags in the early going to set a tone that left Mitchell slightly off his game.

“Our offense is not good at getting stuck behind the sticks with a second and long situation,” said Wolfe. “This is a big game in this place and it got chippy in the beginning. The officials kept it under control.”

On the Clay first offensive series, after a Bronco punt to midfield, quarterback Billy Mobley started to execute a quick-hitting, roll out pass game with D’Maurion Frazier, Jarvis Lee and Payton Dykas, that moved the ball quickly downfield with a 40 yard pass play to the seven yard line of Middleburg. Goldstein would power in from two yards out behind the right side of the Clay offensive line.

“They tried to throw stunts at us to shut the gaps down, but we just kept runnning it,” said Clay offensive line Desiron Gantt, who combined with guard Brad Warren to open holes at the line of scrimmage. “I would have never thought my senior year would go like this; playing for a district title.”

From the Bronco 25 after Mosley’s kickoff through the end zone, Mitchell ripped a 13 yard run to the 38 with Jonathan Rouw saving a touchdown spurt. Middleburg got two more carries; the second to the 23 yard line of Clay where a fumble created a pile up, but no change of possession.

Mitchell again blasted behind center Tanner Peery and guard Dakota Gober to push to the seven yard line before sweeping left ahead of defensive back David Smith to paydirt with Broncos’ kicker Jared “Hurt” Burt upping the score to 7-6 with 6:12 left in the first quarter.

“Luke had a courageous game and we still got a lot to play for,” said Wolfe. “We have three, four near misses a couple touchdowns from being a one loss team.”

After a water time out and blooper kickoff to the Clay 30, Frazier took a second down quick snap jet sweep 65 yards to the Bronco five yard line to set up Goldstein’s second score at 5:19; 12-7. Haack’s kick scored the game 13-7.

“They just tried to stack the box,” said Warren. “Strength on strength, we win.”

Starting at their own 40, Mitchell got stacked up by Clay linebacker Zack Fordham and got hit with his first personal foul flag to put the Broncos on the 40 to give Padgett a second and 20 scenario.

Mitchell got gang-tackled again, led by Bryan Prince, on the next play with a second flag popping out for arguing with the official that got Middleburg coach Ryan Wolfe to pull Mitchell off the field to settle down.

“It was a good battle all the way to the end,” said Clay defensive tackle Martez Martin. “Coach told me to adjust in the second half and that freed up Bryan to move around and get in the backfield.”

The bad luck continued for Middleburg with Jarvis Lee snagging an interception on a pass attempt to Freytag that put the Blue Devils’ offense back on the field at the 45 at 3:00.

“The receiver coach kept telling me to be ready for the ball,” said Freytag. “It’s special to end the season with games like this.”

On second and 12 from the Clay 34, Mobley lofted a long pass to a “quarantined” Frazier (wide open) at the Bronco five that ended with Frazier getting tripped by a five yard chalk worm to put the Blue Devils again in scoring position.

Who gets the touchdown?, but Goldstein as Clay upped to 20-7 with 1:50 still in the first. Goldstein would leave the game in the second half with a minor shoulder bruise.

The Broncos nearly hit disaster again with a fumble that created a scrum near midfield, but officials weeded through the pile to return possession to Middleburg with Mitchell returning to the backfield with 1:26 on the clock.

Wolfe and offensive coordinator Spencer Johnson looked to keep Freytag’s speed as a weapon on the corners with a jet sweep a down before Mitchell got stacked by Clay noseguard Martez Martin to create a third and two just before the end of the quarter.

After the action packed first stanza, Middleburg resumed offense with Padgett rolling left for seven to the 45 before Mitchell rumbled right for a first down at the 39 with Lee and defensive end Jacob Coulson corraling him for the stop.

With sophomore running back Josh Senear behind Padgett, a bad snap over head got a sack by Prince to push the Broncos back 12 yards for a third and 20.

Clay sent defensive end Blake Thompson on the assault mission and the sacks leader for the Blue Devils’ delivered to force a punt.

“They were moving a lot before the snap and we were making adjustments on the line,” said Middleburg center Tanner Peery. “We wanted this one for Luke to go out with.”

On the punt, Lee caught the punt at the Clay 25, then rolled left then cut across the field to the Bronco 45 for a 30 yard pickup. Middleburg linebacker Austin “Cowboy” Cruce sacked Mobley on first down to push Clay backward, but a quick slant to Frazier in front of Jace Campbell regained the lost yardage to the Bronco 38 with 7:41 to halftime.

Clay stalled to a fourth down and six where Mobley rolled right looking for Frazier, but Middleburg defensive back Omar Holcomb squashed the pass.

Taking over on downs at 7:01, Padgett again threw to Freytag who missed the catch as the ball caromed to Lee again for his second pick to put Clay back on the field at the Bronco 40.

Middleburg’s Tyrone Floyd stuffed Goldstein to create a third and 13 for Clay, but Mobley missed Frazier to go to fourth down. Mosley, from the Clay 35, hit a line drive, grass-skipping punt that rolled to the Bronco eight yard line.

On first down, Middleburg fumbled away to Clay defensive end Blake Thompson with a first and goal now for the Blue Devils. Cruce and Malachi Flowers stuffed Goldstein on a dive with Goldstein leaving with an apparent injury. Brandon Combs jumped into the backfield with Cruce again capturing Mobley on a roll out.

Third and goal at the 14, a series of time outs and penalties pre-empted a Middleburg interception by Holcomb to put the Broncos on the field.

With second and five at the Bronco 25, Thompson and “Lumberjack” Zack Fordham against ganged up on Mitchell to make a stop with a quarterback draw to Padgett getting a first down at the 29. Fordham sliced in for a tackle behind the line of scrimmage to create a second and 15 where Freytag and Lee collided on a pass attempt.

Freytag punted away just in front of a near block from Colson to put Clay back on the field.

With 1:06 to halftime, Mobley hit Dykas and Brandon Peavy with passes for second and three inside the Middleburg 30. Pass plays to David Ford and Frazier put Clay inside the 20 with three seconds left to the half. Haack calmly entered the game for his field goal shot from 42 yards away amidst “ICE” timeouts. GOOD! 23-7 at halftime.

With Clay holding the ball for nearly all of the third quarter, Middleburg finally got possession in the fourth quarter with a turnover on downs ending the third quarter.

Padgett worked with a sense of urgency with the offense with Hunter Huckleberry getting a 10-yard sack to finish the third quarter.

A 25 yard reverse jet sweep to Freytag got 25 yards to the Clay 38. Huckleberry against got behind scrimmage with a snuff on Mitchell that lost seven. Padgett got a first down at the Clay 12 with just under 11 minutes to go before Mitchell dove in for a score to 23-15. Padgett hit fullback Waylon Johns for the two-pointer for a 23-15 score at 8:48.

After a Rouw kickoff return to midfield, Clay nearly blasted downfield with Combs finding a garage door open behind guard Bradley Warren and tackle Desiron Gantt for a 38 yard gain to the Bronco 11 with 7:07 to go.

“Those two guys; Des and Warren, are the leaders of our offensive line,” said Clay offensive line coach Jarrod Leeds, a former Blue Devil standout. “They are veteran guys and know what to do. I’ve showed them the technique and they’ve taken it and made it work on the field. That’s all I can ask.”

Mobley attempted a slant pass, but Holcomb stepped in front of the pass and stole the pass to give Middleburg one final shot downfield.

At the Clay 22, Padgett had 80 yards to change the game and create an historic senior season ending and the crafty senior, on third and two with 6:12, Mitchell got a first down at the Bronco 36. A Martin takedown of Mitchell made a second and 14 for Padgett where Luke Padgett found brother Logan Padgett with a quick pass to third and two. Padgett ran a keeper to midfield for a first down at 4:22. Clay nearly ended the game with defensive back Erickk Fryer getting his hands on a Padgett pass, but unable to hold on.

Padgett had his final shot with a fourth down at 3:19 and the cool-as-the-cool-side-of-a-pillow signal caller ran left side to the Clay 39 for a very close first down.

Now with 2:51 left in the game, Padgett missed his first pass on a rollout then Frazier nearly picked off an end zone shot to Freytag to put the Broncos at third and 10. Brian Prince sacked Padgett to go to go fourth down and nine with Freytag snagging a pass for the first down at the Clay 20 at 1:33.

On first down, Senea got two dives to the 10 yard line with 58 seconds and a first and goal.

Second and goal for Middleburg at the eight, Padgett for two at 16 seconds with third and goal at the five where Freytag took the flip from Padgett and jet sweeped right to left to paydirt to 23-21 with nine seconds on the clock.

Padgett set up to go right side with a power formation being stuffed by Thompson and Coulson making first contact and Martin issuing the contact that reversed Padgett’s dive to a foot from the goal line.


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