OAKLEAF - With two returning defensive standouts; Chantz Williams and Jordan Randall, returning to the field after injuries, the Oakleaf High Knights football team nearly knocked out the top-ranked …
OAKLEAF - With two returning defensive standouts; Chantz Williams and Jordan Randall, returning to the field after injuries, the Oakleaf High Knights football team nearly knocked out the top-ranked 6A Columbia High Tigers (8th in Florida) in a slugfest of power football that ended with Columbia sneaking away with a 21-19 win Friday night at Oakleaf High School. Columbia had destroyed 13th-ranked in Florida Trinity Christian last week in their opener 38-7 with an offensive explosion on one of the state's best defenses.
"Great players make great plays," said Oakleaf coach Frank Garis, who saw his defensive end (Williams) and linebacker (Randall) return to gritty form in the hard-hitting affair with Williams showing off his athleticism with a first quarter interception of a Columbia screen pass that led to an Adrian Grey touchdown. "It's tough to keep guys like that on the sidelines."
Garis' third expected marquis returnee, offensive tackle Jalen Rivers, a recent University of Miami commit with Williams, was on the sidelines nursing his own leg injury with expectations to return soon.
With Columbia holstering a bevy of offensive weapons led by the trio of quarterback Jordan Smith, wideout Marquez Bell and running back Kylen Callum, Garis's and defensive coach Kyle Bradburn's strategy was simple. Make Columbia run into Chantz Williams.
"We were going to spy the quarterback with Chantz as a linebacker to take away their quarterback's ability to run and throw on the run," said Garis. "We strengthened our left side rush to force him right and make him run into Chantz. Josh Murrell had an outstanding game in the mix as well."
Garis also cited sophomore nosetackle Deon Briggs with a big game in the middle of the Oakleaf defense.
Oakleaf opened the scoring with Grey's six yard scoring run coming after a fourth and five pass of 15 yards from quarterback Walter Simmons to wideout Antonio Marshall kept the stalled drive alive.
From there, the showdown between Columbia's inside-outside attack and Oakleaf's newly-bolstered ground game led by freshman Devin Outlaw started revving up with a pads-bashing display of unabashed football crunch.
Outlaw, who showed off some promise last week with a 70 yard scoring scamper in the Knights' win over Orange Park High, pounded his way to 132 yards and two scores as Oakleaf fans used to the slash and dash of departed speedster Keshawn King got a glimpse of the future with Outlaw's pads-pounding runs.
"We want to run downhill with power and we were getting some double teams with Seger McKisick leading up front," said Garis. "With Devin, it's good to have good players."
After Grey's initial score, Williams and Murrell punched out Columbia's second drive with a hurry and sack of Smith netting a Tiger punt.
Oakleaf looked to be heading to a two score lead, but Simmons got hit with an interception on a run and throw play that put the ball back in Columbia's huddle.
"We have to win situations like that," said Garis.
A 36 yard pass play to Bell ignited the Tiger sideline that cashed in with Callum rumbling off right tackle for a 28 yard score and a tie game.
A dropped ball on the kickoff from Oakleaf returner Omahr Tolliver put Oakleaf on their own six, but Simmons calmly orchestrated a masterful drive of 14 plays; a 22 yard pass play to Kevin Davis being the driving play, with just two third downs that ended with Outlaw pounding in from three yards out to put Oakleaf up 13-7. Damian Rogers' PAT kick was blocked.
Davis struck again on the ensuing Oakleaf kickoff by punching out the ball from returner Shyheim Brown with C.J. Kemp scooping up the ball in a midfield scrum that put the Knights in control at the Tiger 23 yard line.
Simmons, sacked on second down, could not find the sweet spot as Oakleaf lost the ball on downs at the Columbia 20.
"The secret sauce is we didn't win enough of those situations given to us," said Garis.
The missed opportunity proved costly as Columbia drove 80 yards in 11 plays and converted their PAT kick to take a 14-13 lead with 4:59 left in the half.
In the drive, Oakleaf showed some secondary vulnerability with wideout Lanadrick Bradley finding himself 'quarantine' wide open down the left sideline, but Smith unable to get a solid pass to him because of pressure from Williams.
On the flip side, Oakleaf defensive back Darrell Livingston showed some Knights' moxey with two bone-jarring tackles after catches on Tiger receivers.
Oakleaf again show themselves in the foot with a three down series after the kickoff netting just five yards and a fumble punt snap getting the Tigers a first down at the Oakleaf 10 yard line.
In back-to-back defensive efforts, the Knights defense rose up to stop Smith and friends with Williams and Murrell combining for a 17 yard sack of Smith in the Columbia takeover after the fumbled punt with Murrell snagging Smith on fourth and 18 at the Knight 18 yard line.
Oakleaf took over on downs, but failed to produce any forward motion to force another punt from the end zone.
"With a defense like theirs, the windows get smaller and we have to really execute in small space to be successful," said Garis. "We have to run great routes and make great throws against this level of play. There were a couple we wish we had back."
Starting at the Oakleaf 36, Columbia pounced on the situation with Bradley again wide open on the left side for a 26 yard pass to the Oakleaf 10 to set up a dramatic finish of the half with 46 seconds remaining.
With a stop from linebacker Korei Sheppard on second down, Livingston again chased down Smith to end the half with a sack on a scramble.
"Our kids played their tails off all night with a couple of busts for big plays," said Garis. "Told them at the half to empty the tank because it won't get easier."
In the second half, Oakleaf got a start at their own nine yard line and stayed with Outlaw grinding through the middle of the Tiger defense with a 28 yard breakout run putting Oakleaf at the Tiger 42, but, again, Simmons misfiring on two passes to Marshall giving Columbia possession at their own 22.
Columbia stayed away from Livingston on the passing lanes and directed Smith passes toward the size advantage of the 6'-1" Bell versus the 5'-9" Tolliver that landed Columbia on the Oakleaf goal line, but was nullified with Bell's jawboning with Tolliver proving a costly unsportsmanlike flag against Columbia.
From the Oakleaf 32, Smith again went toward Tolliver with six-footer Tray Tolliver, but a facemask on the play put Columbia back out at the Oakleaf 37 yard line.
The Knights' defense got a thunderous sack from defensive tackle Gerjuan Brown that created a fourth and 14 for Columbia with Smith finding Bradley against Donovan Thomas for a first down at the 15.
On second down, Williams crushed Smith with a ground-shaking sack to put Columbia back at the 20 where the Tigers ended the fiasco with a missed field goal; wide right, with Sheppard getting high above to distract the kicker.
Oakleaf answered the defensive effort with two Outlaw runs for a net yard and an incompletion and a punt that Bell caught in full stride and landed at the Oakleaf 25 with a minute left in the third.
Two plays later, after a pass to Callum to the 10, Callum crashed in for an apparent touchdown, but the score was nullified. Three plays later, Callum repeated his run from two yards out to put Columbia up 21-13 as the third period ended.
With an entire quarter to play, Oakleaf executed a nearly seven minute drive that ended with wideout Sean Washington latching on to a slant pass as the game got closed to 21-19 with 6:27 to go. Outlaw was stopped on a second failed point after attempt to leave the score at 21-19.
In Columbia's ensuing drive, Sheppard nearly turned the game upsided down on a fumbled center snap to Smith, but was a step away from finding the loose ball. Another Williams/Murrell sack forced a punt and gave Oakleaf another life to end the game.
Simmons missed Terrance Anthony with an out pass and Grey got clobbered on two runs to set up a fourth and three at midfield as Oakleaf's final stab at the win.
"Their scheme was six guys in the box," said Garis. "We had six for us plus the ball carrier up front and that math is good for us, but we have to execute."
Outlaw was upended by Columbia linebacker Marlon Pollock to end the opportunity for a late-game win and Smith knelt four times to end the game with Oakleaf having no time outs.