GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The Clay High tailback tandem of Al’Querious Ray and Abbott Taylor combined for 271 yards and two touchdowns, but it was not enough to overcome four touchdown passes by Bartram Trail’s Chad Dodson as Clay succumbed to the Bears 34-13 on Fri., Sept. 7 at Clay High.
Taylor, a senior, started the game and scored Clay’s first touchdown on a seven yard run in the second quarter. A pass interference penalty against Bartram cornerback Tre’Vez Johnson set the Blue Devils up with a first down at the Bears 12, and Taylor scored two plays later to bring Clay to within 14-6. Taylor finished with 92 yards on 17 rushes.
Ray, just a freshman, did most of Clay’s ground work, gaining 179 yards on 28 carries despite sitting out most of the second quarter with dizziness. The freshman returned after halftime, and his energy sparked the Blue Devils to a scoring drive on their opening possession of the third quarter, cutting the host’s deficit to 27-13. Ray gained 58 of the 73 yards on the march, finishing it with a 27 yard run up the middle, spinning off of one tackler, breaking an arm tackle and then spinning into the end zone with two Bears grabbing onto his ankles.
“That was a tremendous run,’” said Clay coach Hoekstra of Ray’s touchdown. “He broke a bunch of tackles.”
The Clay ground game kept the Bartram offense off of the field for long stretches, but only delayed the inevitable. Nothing the Blue Devils tried on defense slowed a balanced and very potent Bartram offense led by Dodson. The Bears’ junior masterfully directed a short passing game, completing 18 of 23 passes for 191 yards as the Bears scored touchdowns on their first five possessions.
“He [Dodson] has a very quick release,” said Hoekstra after the game. ”Their quick throws made it hard to defend. We tried to keep them in front of us.”
When the Blue Devils tried to disrupt Dodson by bringing more frequent pressure in the second half, Bartram Trail turned to their own running game. Devin Ellison thwarted Clay’s strategy with a 56 yard scoring burst on the opening play of the third quarter to give the visitors a 27-6 lead after William Greig’s extra point. After passing 15 times and running only six times in a 20-point first half, the Bears ran 17 times for 151 yards while attempting only eight passes in the final two quarters.
Clay, who fell to 1-2, had chances to make it a much more competitive game but hurt themselves with unforced errors. A broken play where quarterback Turner Erstad turned left for a hand-off but the running back ran right resulted in a four yard loss that ended Clay’s opening drive at midfield. Down 27-13 with a chance to pull within a single score in the third quarter, consecutive fumbled shotgun snaps turned a first down at the Bartram 24 yard line into a fourth down at the 35. In the fourth quarter, a third and goal from the two yard line became a fourth and goal from the eight after another fumbled shotgun snap. On the fourth down, a pass intended for Spencer Lesage was broken up in the end zone by Bears cornerback Harry Bowker, sealing the Blue Devils’ fate.
“We were moving the ball up and down the field, and then we would self-destruct,” said Hoekstra. “A bad snap, a fumbled snap. When you get into the red zone, you have got to score points.”
Bartram Trail, the Class 7A state runner-up last season, limited Lesage, who scored four touchdowns a week ago against Middleburg, to one catch for six yards. The Clay passing game as a whole did not click, as Erstad completed just four of eleven passes, with only one completion going for more than six yards.
After a difficult early season non-district schedule, Clay begins District 5-5A play by hosting Orange Park on September 14.
“Our two losses are to two Class 7A teams that should have pretty good seasons,” said Hoekstra. “Now the real season starts.”
Bartram Trail improves to 2-1. The Bears return to Clay County next week, opening their District 3-7A schedule at Oakleaf on September 14.