ORANGE PARK - With two major players standing on the sidelines with injuries, the Oakleaf High football team had to find a way to counter the speed on offense of the Orange Park High Raiders in the season opener for both teams Friday night at Orange Park High School. Orange Park had short glimpses of a major upset in the first half, but eventually succumbed to the Knights' depth 42-21.
On the first possession of the game, the Knights struggled on early downs with Orange Park defensive end Kendy Charles and the defensive line penetrating into the Oakleaf backfield. However, the Knights were able to convert a third down pass to wide receiver Terrance Anthony, then later in the drive quarterback Walter Simmons would find Anthony again on a fourth down and seven to the Orange Park 25 yard line. Simmons would again hook up with his wide receiver for a first down at the Orange Park 15 yard line.
"These guys have played together here for three years and they have really good chemistry" said Oakleaf coach Frank Garis.
Later in the drive, Simmons would find a wide open Adrian Grey on a four yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead. The drive included a third and fourth down conversion and took six minutes off the game clock.
The Raiders would put together a solid drive of their own led by two 20 plus yard passes to wide receiver CJ Kemp. Even more impressive than the throws was the elusiveness of Raider quarterback Vinny Walker who regularly escaped the Oakleaf rush on multiple occasions. The Raiders then called upon tailback Alex Collier as he finished the drive with an eight yard touchdown run to tie the game 7-7 with two minutes left in the first quarter.
The Knights would again convert a third down and 11 with a pass from their own 35 yard line to the Orange Park 34 by running back Adrian Grey. Simmons would then call his own number for a 31 yard gain to the three yard line ready to give the Knights another touchdown. Charles and his defensive teammates stiffened up and forced a field goal to hold the Knights lead at 10-7 with 9:30 left in the first half.
The Raiders continued to be aggressive on offense as a short pass to Collier turned into a 42 yard gain to the Oakleaf 49 yard line. Walker would then run 13 yards to the Oakleaf 36 yard line for another first down. Oakleaf linebacker Korei Sheppard got a sack on Walker for a 13 yard loss but Walker would find Udell Stewart on a pass to the 14 yard line with the ball spotted at the 29 yard line after an unsportsmanlike penalty. Udell would then make a diving catch at the six yard line for a first down. Two plays later Walker would find wideout Diego Soto and suddenly Orange Park had a 14-10 lead over Oakleaf with just 3:30 until halftime. The packed stadium was loud and smelling a possible big time upset in this heated rivalry.
Simmons calmly orchestrated a masterful drive with a 53 yard pass to Terrance Anthony to immediately setup the Knights for the go ahead score inside the Raider 20 yard line. Later in the drive, Simmons again found his favorite target on an eight yard touchdown pass in the front corner of the end zone to take a 17-14 halftime lead.
"That drive was a huge turning point in the game. It gave us some wind in our sails heading into halftime," said Garis.
In the opening drive of the third quarter, the Raiders got themselves behind the chains as the Oakleaf defensive line started to take control of the game seemingly starting to wear down an undersized and lack of depth Raider offensive line. They would force just the second punt of the game and start their drive at the Orange Park 37 yard line. The Raider defense would force a fourth and six but a pass interference call would set up Oakleaf at the Orange Park 24 yard line. Simmons would use his speed and score on a 24 yard run to give Oakleaf a 23-14 lead with 7:11 left in the third quarter.
Things then got a little chippy on the next drive as Raider wide receiver Diego Soto was hit hard near the Oakleaf sideline and would not return to the game. When some of the Orange Park coaching staff crossed the field to assist Soto several heated words were exchanged between both head coaches and some assistant coaches.
"Unfortunately there was some stuff posted on both sides that kind of lit the rivalry even more," said Garis.
Oakleaf would then recover a Walker fumble at the Orange Park 35 yard line then score two plays later with a 33 yard touchdown pass to Sean Washington for a 30-14 lead midway through the third period. Still, for all the adversity the Raiders faced they were still within two possessions of the Knights and getting the ball back. The Raiders would drive to midfield but on third down and three sophomore linebacker Johnathan Goddard would sack Walker and force a punt.
Simmons would find Antonio Marshall for a 52 yard gain to the Orange Park 18 yard line. Later in the drive, freshman running back Devin Outlaw would score on a three yard run with 1:05 left in the quarter for a 36-14 lead.
In the fourth quarter both teams would add scores. Oakleaf on a 44 yard run by Terrance Anthony and Orange Park would score on a 21 yard touchdown pass to Hunter Moore for a final score of 42-21.
Oakleaf has a monster home match up with Lake City Friday while Orange Park travels for another rivalry game against the Middleburg Broncos.