GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Oakleaf High quarterback Walter “Tre” Simmons, III, ran for three touchdowns and threw for another as visiting Oakleaf High pulled away from Clay for a 34-20 victory in the season finale for both teams in a season-ending clash of two programs that survived surprising outcomes for 2019.
Despite the two-score final margin, the win over the Class 5A Blue Devils was not easy for the Class 8A Knights. Clay head coach Jay Stilianou, who inherited the storied Blue Devil program abruptly and with the toughest schedule for Clay County Schools, won just one game; over Ridgeview High, and was intent on pulling out all the stops in trying to get a win for his seniors in their final game.
"These kids could have cashed in their chips after game five," said Stilianou, in earlier interviews. "I have to thank them for showing up on Mondays."
For Oakleaf, which finishes with a 7-3 record, head coach Frank Garis, who had two dramatic district losses to Mandarin and Bartram Trail that squelched a second playoff berth in his two years since arriving, was pleased with the win but could not help but think about the three losses. Bartram Trail was top-team in district 1-8A; third-ranked state wide in 8A with Mandarin, the defending 8A champion, finishing as the No. 2 in 1-8A and 19th in Class 8A. Oakleaf finishes at 31st in 8A and third in district 1-8A at 7-3. Bartram Trail, the top seed in the region 1-8A playoff scenario, will host No. 7 Spruce Creek with Mandarin, No. 8, traveling to No. 1 Seminole High. Timber Creek (4th-ranked) hosts Deland (5th ranked) with Flagler (6th-ranked) traveling to Apopka (3rd ranked).
“Three losses by 10 points,” he said. “We are making progress and competing in big games. Now we have to progress to winning the big-time games.”
Even on what, by his high standards, was a mediocre night through the air, Simmons was too much for the Blue Devils. The junior signal caller accounted for 300 total yards, running for 150 yards on just 12 carries and passing for another 150 yards.
To counter Oakleaf’s pre-snap strategy of calling plays only after looking at the alignment of the defense, Clay was moving its outside linebackers around the field before the ball was snapped. The Knights countered by running Simmons more than they had in prior games, allowing Oakleaf running backs Adrian Grey and Devin Outlaw to block the outside linebacker if necessary.
“They were playing some games with their outside linebacker, moving him around, so we felt more comfortable with him [Simmons] being able to run and choose his lanes,” said Oakleaf coach Frank Garis.
All three of Simmons’ rushing touchdowns came on quarterback sweeps, the first of which came on a fourth and two from the Oakleaf 46 yard line and gave the Knights a 12-6 lead. Simmons swept right, gained the sideline thanks to a block by freshman running back Mike Mitchell, cut back inside Clay safety Tristan Keith and sped to the goal line. He powered his way past a tackler with a spin to score from two yards out in the third quarter, and put the game away with a 40 yard run with 7:29 remaining in the game. On the last score, which came just after the Blue Devils had cut their deficit to 27-20, Simmons found a lane before reaching the left sideline, cut through it and outran the Clay secondary.
“His running game is essential to our offense,” said Garis.
Simmons opened the scoring with a perfectly lofted 47 yard bomb that fellow junior Terrance Anthony ran under at the goal line on Oakleaf’s third possession. Simmons overthrew several receivers, but still managed to complete nine of 20 passes.
An onside kick to start the second half was successful when Clay’s Chris Davis recovered the ball after it deflected off of a Knight on the front line. The Blue Devils also gained a first down on a fake punt when upback Ty Summerford took a direct snap and ploughed ahead for four yards early in the third quarter. Clay ran a trick play in the first quarter, though it backfired when Knights safety Omarh Toliver intercepted a pass thrown by slotback Dave Ford, who had taken a handoff on a jet sweep and acted as if he was going to run the ball before heaving the ball towards teammate Jayden Bryan. Anthony’s touchdown catch came on the first play after the interception.
Clay quarterback Bruce Griner kept the Blue Devils in the game, tying the score at 6 on a four yard pass to D’Maurion Frazier, who held the ball over the goal line as he was pushed out of bounds in front of the left pylon. Griner then matched Simmons’ first score with a touchdown run of his own from two yards out. Tucker Reape’s point after touchdown tied the game at 13 leading into halftime.
Two shanked punts by Reape allowed Oakleaf to seize control in the third quarter. First, a 12 yard punt enabled the Knights to take possession at the Clay 45 yard line. On the next play, Grey ran up the middle, angled to his right upon reaching the second level, and ran untouched to the goal line. After a three and out, Reape’s next punt traveled only 19 yards, allowing Oakleaf to take over at the Clay 24. After Antonio Marshall gained 19 yards on a screen pass, Simmons swept right and spun out of a tackle into the end zone. In a matter of moments, a 13-13 deadlock became a 27-13 Knights advantage.
Clay did cut the deficit in half on a four yard run by Al’Querious Ray, a play set up by a 46 yard completion from Griner to Chris Davis. But Simmons put the game away with his final score, leaving the Blue Devils to ponder a 1-9 final record.
Ray led the Blue Devils in rushing with 69 yards on 19 carries, while Griner completed 9 of 17 throws for 128 yards.
Oakleaf’s Toliver had a first quarter fumble recovery at the Knights 30 yard line to go with his interception, the second week in a row he has come up with two turnovers. Anthony led all receivers with seven catches for 103 yards.