FLEMING ISLAND – Fleming Island High safety Isiah Blair returned a punt 40 yards for a touchdown and set up a field goal with another long return while anchoring a Fleming Island secondary that stymied college-bound quarterback Devon Lingle of Fletcher High as the host Golden Eagles defeated Fletcher 23-13 in an early District 2-7A showdown. Fleming Island runs its record to 3-0, 1-0 in district play. The Senators fall to 1-2, 0-1.
“I told my brothers I would take it to the house,” said Blair of his score, which gave Fleming Island a 10-7 second quarter lead after Garrett Godfrey’s PAT. “I told them if they blocked, I would take it to the house. They did, and I did.”
A 25 yard punt return by Blair just two minutes earlier led to a 33 yard field goal by Godfrey without the Golden Eagles offense even getting a first down.
Fleming Island head coach Damenyum Springs knew that in a game decided by 10 points, the 10 points provided by Blair were critical.
“The punt returns were very important,” said Springs. “They gave us the upper hand to come out with the victory.”
Blair not only changed the game with his play on special teams, but also anchored a Golden Eagles secondary that bottled up Lingle. Along with cornerbacks Courtney Williams and Darius Harris and fellow safeties Shaquille Magwood and Devin Grind, Blair blanketed Fletcher’s speedy receiving trio of Ta’jon Heath, Demetrius Pettis and Javon Heggs. Lingle completed only six of 17 attempts for 74 yards.
Time and again, Fleming Island defensive backs made plays to keep the Senators from scoring. Grind batted away a pass in the end zone in the second quarter, and when the ensuing field goal attempt by the Senators’ James Hawks sailed wide, Fletcher came away empty on the drive. Williams made a huge play, running stride for stride with Pettis and knocking down a fourth down pass deep in Golden Eagles territory with 3:01 remaining. Harris had two pass break-ups, including one on Fletcher’s final drive.
“All summer, we worked really hard together, so we have great chemistry,” said Blair. “We have the best receivers, so covering them in practice helps us a lot.”
The Golden Eagles defensive line played its part in controlling Lingle. End Zach Little had two sacks, and tackle Tyler Cross sealed the game by sacking Lingle on the Senators’ final possession, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Golden Eagles’ linebacker Bryan Maddox at the Fletcher seven yard line with 1:29 left in the game.
Even with the stellar pass defense, the Golden Eagles still needed a dose of offense to secure the win after Fletcher running back Miles Montgomery sprinted 60 yards for a touchdown that pushed Fletcher ahead 13-10 late in the third quarter. Fleming Island responded with a 70 yard drive, capped by a one yard run off of left tackle by T.K. Kocak out of the wildcat formation. Kocak’s score came on fourth down, one play after quarterback Dean Hyams had been stuffed for no gain on a quarterback sneak.
The Fleming Island defense made the lead stand up, making big play after big play to thwart the Senators. Fletcher drove to the Golden Eagles 22 yard line early in the fourth quarter, but on a fourth and two, Maddox met Montgomery in the hole and stood him up a yard short of the first down. On the next Fletcher possession, Williams made his huge pass break-up to give the ball back to Fleming Island. And finally, Cross’ sack and Maddox’s fumble recovery sealed the game.
Kocak removed any doubt as to the outcome by converting the turnover into six points with a five yard run in the final minute.
Montgomery, who Springs called the best running back in North Florida after the game, finished with 220 yards on 24 carries. The junior set up Fletcher’s other touchdown, a dive from one yard out by Jabari Williams, with a 63 yard run in the first quarter.
The Fleming Island offense, which averaged 32.5 points per game coming into the contest, struggled to find a consistent rhythm. The Golden Eagles held the ball for 10 plays on their opening possession, but turned the ball over on downs at the Senators 31 yard line when Hyams came up short on a keeper on a fourth and two. In the second quarter, Fleming Island moved inside the Fletcher 20, but the snap for a field goal attempt was high, and holder Will Stephens had trouble placing it down. Godfrey’s abbreviated attempt at a kick never got off the ground, and Fletcher’s Joshua Davis smothered it.
Hyams finished with seven completions in 13 attempts for 86 yards. Tim Thomas led the Golden Eagles in rushing with 71 yards on 16 carries before he left the game late in the third quarter with an injury. Freshman back-up Sam Singleton gained 49 yards on 12 rushes.
“It was a really big win,” said Springs of the victory over one of the teams expected to compete for a playoff spot in the very competitive District 2-7A. “We feel like we took down one of the giants in the district tonight.”