OAKLEAF – Oakleaf High running back Keshawn King held his own in a battle of running backs headed for the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the rest of the Knights came up short as Oakleaf was overwhelmed by Trinity Christian 51-22 on Thursday, October 5.
King, a Virginia Tech commitment, ran for 183 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against a star-studded defense focused on stopping him.
“Keshawn was a champ. He ran as hard as he could all night, and he never wavered,” said Oakleaf head coach Frank Garis. “I was extremely proud of his effort.”
Conquerors running back Marcus Crowley, who is headed to the University of Miami next fall, matched King’s two scores and eclipsed him with an eye-popping 282 yards on 19 rushes. The pair treated an overflow crowd to a display of power, speed and agility not often seen on a high school gridiron. Rarely did either back go down upon first contact.
King raised the hopes of black-and-gold-clad partisans by staking Oakleaf to an 8-0 lead on a 24 yard run followed by a successful dive for a two-point conversion. But after having forced a turnover on downs on the Conquerors first possession, the Knights lost their handle on the Trinity offense. The visitors scored on six consecutive possessions to turn the much-anticipated contest into a laugher. Crowley scored twice during the run on almost identical runs of 71 and 62 yards. Each time, the senior took a handoff over left guard, broke left upon crossing the line of scrimmage and outran the Oakleaf secondary up the sideline. After losing a yard on his first carry, Crowley averaged 15.7 yards on his next 18 rushes.
When the Oakleaf safeties crept up toward the line of scrimmage to try to stop Crowley, the Conquerors’ Jacory Jordan and Isaiah Washington made them pay. Two plays after King gave Oakleaf its early lead, Jordan hit Washington in stride at midfield. The 192-pound senior broke the grasp of 160-pound sophomore cornerback K.J. Henry-Duncan at the 20 yard line and sped the rest of the way to complete a 72 yard score. Washington bested Knights cornerback Donovan Thomas in the second quarter for touchdowns of 64 and 42 yards. Washington finished with 211 receiving yards on five catches.
“When we saw man coverage on Washington, we knew that if we could protect and get a good throw, we could connect,” said Trinity Christian head coach Verlon Dorminey.
Trinity Christian amassed 461 yards of total offense in the first half, 236 on the ground and 225 through the air, taking a 42-15 lead at the intermission. Crowley had 212 of those rushing yards, while Jordan completed seven of nine throws and threw for three touchdowns in the first two quarters.
While Jordan was dissecting the Knights secondary from a mostly comfortable pocket, the Trinity front seven constantly harassed his counterpart, Knights quarterback Walter “Tre” Simmons III. The Conquerors brought Simmons down eight times, led by linebacker Jonathan Ealey’s three sacks.
“We knew we had to stop number four [King] and then put pressure on the quarterback,” said Trinity Christian head coach Verlon Dorminey.
The Conquerors blitzed at least one linebacker in most passing situations, and the Knights could not block the extra rushers in their spread formation. When Simmons was not sacked, he threw on the run or was hit while he threw. The sophomore, who entered the game averaging 225 yards passing per game, was limited to 95 yards while completing eight of 21 attempts.
“They like to bring pressure. We knew that,” said Garis. “There were some situations where we knew Walter would have to stand in the pocket and take a hit, but make the throw.”
Safety Stephen Williams made the play that turned the momentum firmly in the Conquerors’ favor. Having led the Knights to the Trinity 16 yard line late in the first quarter, Simmons moved up in the pocket and threw a pass over the middle. Williams stepped in front of intended receiver Sean Washington, intercepted the ball at the goal line, and returned the theft 21 yards. Two plays later, Crowley took off on his 71 yard run to give the Conquerors a 20-8 advantage. The lead grew from there.
The game was the first meeting between Trinity Christian, an undefeated ruling Class 4A champion, against a Class 7A Oakleaf unit that had averaged 47 points per game while winning four of five games. The crowd was treated to a full game’s worth of explosive plays in the first half as both teams ran no-huddle offenses and pushed the pace. Knights split end Terrance Anthony reached over a defender’s back to snare a pass from Simmons in the end zone to breathe life back into the home side, cutting Oakleaf’s deficit to 28-14 early in the second quarter.
“The atmosphere was incredible,” said Dorminey. “Oakleaf is close by, and they are a good football team. They would make for a great rival.”
The second half was played at a slower pace. The Conquerors huddled between plays in order to milk the clock. Trinity defensive end Trevon McClain and tackle Latrell Wade sandwiched Simmons in the end zone for the Conquerors’ fourth safety of the season. King fought his way into the end zone off of right tackle for the first offensive points of the half with 0:26 left in the third quarter to make the score 44-22. Jordan threw a touchdown pass to leaping Malik Myers in the final stanza to close the scoring.
Jordan, a sophomore, finished with 11 completions on 20 attempts, throwing for 293 yards and four touchdowns. The Conquerors, now 7-0, entertain Westside in a District 4-5A game on October 12.
Oakleaf’s Anthony had a team-high 64 receiving yards, while Sean Washington, coming off of a nine-catch, 192 yard performance on September 28 at Fleming Island, was limited to 13 yards on two receptions.
The Knights, who drop to 4-2, face another defending state champion next week when they travel to Class 4A Jacksonville Raines.
“We are only going to become better by playing games like this,” said Garis. “It is another opportunity to find a way to excel and try to win.”