JACKSONVILLE – Oakleaf High got a second taste of state champion football after succumbing to Class 4A defending champion Raines High 40-27 Friday night in a non-district match played in Jacksonville.
“We try to play at a higher level and rise to the challenge” said Oakleaf Head Coach Frank Garis, who lost a thriller last week to multiple times 3A champion Trinity Christian Academy, now in Class 5A. “Playing out of conference teams like this is what makes us better.”
Oakleaf continues this week on the Knights’ trek to a possible district title with an away game at Gainesville Buchholz, the defending district 3-7A champion and a region quarterfinalist last year. Oakleaf, with a 2-8 record last year, has turned around abruptly under Garis, but still faces Buchholz and a much-improved Creekside High team to finish district play. The Knights finish the season with unbeaten and top-ranked Class 6A Ocala Vanguard, who beat Gainesville High 49-28 last week with 532 yards of offense.
Against Raines, the Knights drew first blood as they took the opening drive 50 yards and put the first points on the board. Despite the early attack, Raines would counter early and keep up the attack with deep aerial assaults that Oakleaf had no answer for. The Knights would drive late in the fourth quarter, that if scored, would make it a one score game. But back to back Viking sacks by Dayvon Pinkney would kill the final Knight drive that ended in a fourth and long situation that Oakleaf couldn’t convert.
“That team is a well coached team,” said Garis. “They didn’t win the state championship by luck last year.”
Oakleaf’s opening drive started with a pooch kick by Raines that provided outstanding field position at the 50 yard line. Oakleaf High running back Keshawn King, a Virginia Tech commit with 1174 total yards in seven games, finished with just 76 yards on the ground with two scores.
As Raines tried to shut down the run game, Knight quarterback Walter Simmons III, with two interceptions, found wideout Terrance Anthony for a key first down before avoiding a sack and hitting Michael Williams uncovered in the endzone for the game-opening score. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful.
On the ensuing Raines drive, Oakleaf stuffed the Vikings in three downs for a punt, but Raines got the ball back on a interception at midfield.
Raines powerhouse running back Brandon Marshall, who finished with 260 rush yards, punched the ball in from five yards out, tying the game at 6-6 with a failed point after.
Oakleaf defensive end Chantz Williams erupted on a Raines reverse try, but the Vikings responded with a touchdown bomb to go up 12-6.
A misplayed punt coverage got Raines a 57 yard score as returner Daivarus Thomas took a one-bounce punt to the house in front of a stunned Oakleaf sideline with 3:31 left until halftime.
“Fundamentals; on the one punt, we lost focus; attention to detail,” said Garis. “They caught our players flat footed and they cashed it in.”
On the ensuing drive, Oakleaf surprised the Raines defense with a fake punt that upback Alexander Warner hustled 20 yards for a Knight first down. Warner caught a pass to put the Knights on the goal line where King punched in with 21 seconds still in the half, but the score now at 18-13.
Raines went air as the third quarter opened and got a 55 yard strike to the goal line that Marshall finished to put Raines up 26-13 in a heartbeat.
Oakleaf punted on their next drive with Raines grabbing a 33-13 lead off another Marshall blast coming after a 30 yard play action pass to Knights’ 10 yard line.
Another interception on Simmons, who was throwing into the end zone, squashed a scoring opportunity, but Oakleaf defender Joshua Murrell snagged a screen pass and put the Knights back in scoring position.
Down now 33-19 and with some momentum, the Oakleaf defense forced a Raines punt, but an Oakleaf fumble got another Raines score to push the Vikings’ lead to 40-19 with 11:03 left in the game.
King would sprint 60 yards for the Knights’ final score.
“With both teams losing Wednesday’s practice to the weather, the lack of practice caused both teams to adjust, then readjust,” said Garis. “They just seemed to bring more than we could handle.”