Say it isn’t so!
Note: With COVID-19 altering all
athletics, the historic Fleming Island vs. Clay football game may be nixed in 2020.
FLEMING ISLAND - Clay High field goal kicker Lane Delapp got iced by Fleming Island High’s coaching staff, but the extra time to think about his first foray into big-time football was not deterred.
“It was just like any kick in practice,” said Delapp, a junior. “Honestly, I didn’t even think about it.”
Not only was Delapp in his first-ever varsity football game, he was about to dabble historically with a 30 yard field goal attempt that would forever be remembered in Clay County football folklore.
After a classic throwdown of a high school football game, complete with turnovers, bad penalties and imminent lead changes in the final moments, Delapp calmly completed the Blue Devils epic journey of redemption, with yet more end-of-game heroics by junior quarterback J.T. Turner. Turner, walking gingerly between snaps from leg cramps near the Blue Devil 20 yard line, wiggled around Fleming Island linebacker Austin Smenda on the left side of the Clay offensive line, found a gap and galloped 73 yards to the Fleming Island five yard line to quell the Fleming Island fan base just moments after the Golden Eagles had battled back to tie the game 22-22 with 3:39 remaining.
“All game the coaches kept telling me if I didn’t see anything over top to just take off downfield,” said Turner. “I finally listened to them, didn’t see anything and just took off. I saw the kid chasing me (Smenda) on the edge and saw the field behind him. I had to get around him and then I took off.”
After the run, where Turner was caught by Fleming Island cornerback David Butler before the end zone, Clay tried three times to get into the end zone, but to no prevail, thus setting up Delapp with three seconds.
“It was back and forth the whole game,” said Clay High coach Joshua Hoekstra, who had a 2013 state playoff run chock full of exciting, last-second endings. “For us to win the game, it was special teams play on our side. To win on a field goal was awesome.”
After establishing a 15-7 halftime lead at the half, the Blue Devils had to withstand a formidable Fleming Island run game led by sophomore quarterback Travis Einarsson and sophomore tailback DaeQuantae Showers. Einarsson was thrust into the starter’s role after an injury to projected starter Trey Sneed in the Golden Eagles preseason game last week against Westside High.
“I thought about my position all week,” said Einarsson. “Their front four was tough and we could not run as much as we wanted to. We just kept running the ball at them.”
In the first half, Clay scored first off an 80-yard drive and a one yard plunge from sophomore tailback Colin Wilson. The key play of the drive, which chunked out nearly three minutes of game clock, was a 52 yard run by Turner to the Fleming Island 25 yard line. Turner was top rusher for the game with 203 yards on 13 carries. After the score, Hoekstra elected to go for the two-point conversion and got a quick slant to wideout Jeremy Peters and an 8-0 score.
“That two points was the difference in the end strategy of the game.” said Hoekstra.
Fleming Island would score next in the second quarter with a Showers touchdown from five yards out after Clay punted for just four yards after being stopped at the Fleming Island 36 yard line. The key play of the drive was a 51 yard pass play from Einarsson to sophomore Derrick Smith that landed at the Clay 36 yard line.
“Derrick is only a sophomore and he will be a great player when he matures out there,” said Fleming Island Frank Hall.
A double reverse to Showers, a hard-charging 12 yard up-the-middle run from tailback Joel Mock and a nifty slant pass to senior wideout David Butler set up Showers’ scoring run and an 8-7 Clay lead.
Clay, behind an onslaught of short power runs from Turner, Wilson and Ally with the longest just 11 yards, would hold the ball for the rest of the second quarter with a 20-play scoring drive that ended with a 12 yard scoring pass to wideout Isaac Brinson with 30 seconds to the first half intermission.
“We thought our offensive line could control the line of scrimmage,” said Hoekstra.
In the second half though, Fleming Island was determined to at least make the final score interesting with a quick strike on their opening drive with Showers blasting in from 26 yards out. Showers, with 125 yards for the night, jumpstarted the scoring drive with a first down 26 yard run to the Clay 44.
On the ensuing kickoff, Wilson would lose the ball to Fleming Island linebacker Nick Walker and put the Golden Eagles at the Clay 25 yard line. Clay would answer with their own fumble recovery, this time from cornerback Andre Colson. Fleming Island would retaliate a second time with Smith snaring an interception over the middle at the Fleming Island 27 yard line. A play later, Clay defensive end Sean Grayer would pick up a fumble to reverse the field a fourth time in less than three minutes.
“It was a bend and don’t break game in the second half,” said Hall. “Our guys fought their butts off.”
After a Clay punt to the Fleming Island two yard line, Clay’s defense stuffed Einarsson and Showers behind Grayer and defensive tackle Marquise Jefferson to force a punt from the five. The 20 yard punt put Clay in prime scoring position and Wilson made quick work of the opportunity with a 20 yard rumble to paydirt and a 22-14 Clay lead with 1:23 left in the third quarter.
Both teams would exchange offensive series and punts before Einarsson took control at the Fleming Island 28 with 10:48 to go and moved the offense as close as the Clay 40 before Clay safety Cornelius Jefferson outleaped Butler at the goal line and stymied the drive.
The interception was negated by defensive efforts from Mock and Walker forcing a punt from the Clay 11.
Starting at the Clay 44 after a punt, Fleming Island would get a pass interception call against Jefferson that put the ball on the Clay 30 where Mock and Showers powered up the middle to the Clay seven. Mock would finish off the drive with Showers pounding the two-pointer tying the score at 22-22 with 3:39 left and the Fleming Island stadium in a frenzy.
Turner faced a third and eight prior to his 73 yard breakout run that led to the eventual game-winning kick. Clay would finish with 315 yards rushing with Fleming Island gaining 219. Fleming Island had three fumbles; losing two. Mock finished with 72 yards with Wilson finishing with 75.
Clay next has 7A-Gainesville Buchholz on Friday. Buchholz defeated Gainesville Eastside 31-21 Saturday afternoon after a rain delay on Friday. Fleming Island heads to 6A-Bartram Trail High School, who lost 23-20 to 5A-Bishop Kenny.