Deja Vu! Clay wins football in final seconds ...Flag football?GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Football at Clay High School has a bit of a hometown aura, a hometown advantage or a 12th man if you want, but …
Deja Vu! Clay wins football in final seconds ...Flag football?
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Football at Clay High School has a bit of a hometown aura, a hometown advantage or a 12th man if you want, but the Lady Blue Devils’ flag football team earned the right to be a part of that long-time tradition with a 14-13 region championship over the number one team in the state; Choctawhatchee High, with just 13 seconds left on the clock.
“I told the girls before the game that this field has a bit of magic in it with some our last second football wins that have put us into the football Final Fours,” said Clay flags coach John Stilianou, a long-time defensive coordinator for the Blue Devil boys football team, now the defensive guru for his daughter Alexis’ girls flag football team that is now headed to Boca Raton High School to be in the Final Four tournament with a shot at a first-ever state Class 1A title. Clay will first play defending Class 1 champion Tampa Robinson, who defeated Brandon 33-0 in their region final. Glades Central beat Daytona Beach Seabreeze 27-6 in their region final and will face 1A runnerup Miami Edison, who beat Monsignor Pace 13-0 in their region final.”We made a lot of adjustments in the game because they are a great team and made their own adjustments. This team just never quit and they believed in themselves.”
Clay, still unbeaten at 11-0, with a recent 27-0 region semifinal win over Terry Parker, did not push their vaunted Ciara Zino to Lea Plante passing game against the much-taller Choctawhatchee defense, but instead, offensive coordinator Jared Moses, chipped away at the corners to move the ball downfield.
“When they wouldn’t give us downfield passing, we had to figure a way to get around the center of their defense,” said Moses, also a former offensive coach for the Clay High football team. “Ciara has become a great read quarterback for us.”
In the final minutes of the fourth quarter, with Choctaw tying the game behind senior quarterback Kassandra Fairly’s flying plunge into the end zone with 3:23 left in the fourth quarter that put Choctaw up 13-7. An incomplete pass on the point after play would be prophetic.
“We lost to them by a point last year and it was a missed extra point,” said wideout Alexis Stilianou, who caught a 25 yard post pattern pass play to set up the winning scores for Clay. “We have thought about that night for a year wanting to come back here and change the score.”
After Choctaw’s go-ahead score, Zino took control under Moses’ playcalling to move the ball quickly downfield with passes to Abby Hawkins and Skye Paradise getting the ball past midfield as the clock ticked into the two minute mark.
“We knew and they knew we had to go downfield to get the ball close enough to score, so we kept the passes toward the sideline to stop the clock,” said Moses.
A flag on Zino for throwing a pass over the line of scrimmage and a sack left the Blue Devils with a precarious fourth down play about three yards from a first down.
Trigger wideout Lea Plante, who has carried the Blue Devil offense with her catch and run plays throughout the season. Plante caught a crossing pattern just over three yards to give Zino another set of downs to paydirt.
“That’s what seniors do,” said Stilianou. “Knowing where the line was to keep the drive going was big.”
From there, Zino went big to Stilianou who knifed between three Choctaw defenders to snatch a post pattern pass and find green grass toward the Choctaw bench before a defensive crowd corraled her. Stilianou, also a senior, deftly lateraled to Hawkins for an additional six yards to put the Clay offense at the six yard line.
“We are coached to keep looking for opportunity and to always try to create opportunity,” said Stilianou, who, with punt cover teammate Lynette Quinones, pinned a Plante punt two yards from the Choctaw goal line to set up the short field for Clay’s final drive.’
“A little thing like covering a punt correctly turns into a huge play,” said Stilianou, who cited Quinones and Hannah Agee, both defensive rushers, with pressuring Choctaw’s offense, mainly Fairly, to hurry their play selection and execution. Agee, on the previous Choctaw offensive series, was nearly knocked out on a skull-clunking collision with Fairly on a key play deep inside the Choctaw side of the field and left the field to ensure concussion safety.
From the six, with 14.6 seconds on the clock, Zino swept right, looking for an end zone pass, but finding a seam to dive into the end zone for the tying score.
“I felt the presence of many great plays on that field,” said Zino. “It was surreal.”
On the ensuing PAT play, the decider for overtime or a bus trip, Zino rolled left, again looked for an end zone pass, but buried between two defenders for the gamewinning point.
Stilianou’s final stroke of defensive wizardry was installing speedy Ariana Bellamy in at defensive rusher instead of the woozy Agee with Bellamy rifling in and slashing Fairly for the final play of the night.
Region 1-6A baseball
Faulkner catch fuels Blue
Devils to region final
PONTE VEDRA BEACH – Clay High 6’-foot-2” left fielder Dylan Faulkner may very well have been a relief pitcher in the seventh inning, but a decision to pull Andy Yarbrough in from first base first proved prophetic for the Blue Devils.
“Connor (starting pitcher Connor Solomon) was getting into the seventh inning and we needed to make a change,” said Clay coach Josh Persinger, who now heads to the Tues., May 22 region final a second year in a row against Mosley High of Lynn Haven. “We went with Andy, our senior, because he has good moving pitches that are harder to hit. Andy has been our best reliever all season.”
In the prophetic seventh inning, with the score locked at 2-2, Ponte Vedra opened with Tony Roca coming to bat to try and sway the game to the Sharks after Ponte Vedra had nullified a 2-0 Clay lead in the third inning.
Roca nailed the first pitch, with Solomon on the mound, and launched a missile shot toward the left field fence where Faulkner was retreating with his back to the infield in similar fashion to a double to the same fence in the sixth inning.
“That first one I lost in the light and didn’t see it until it hit the bottom of the fence,” said Faulkner. “The second one, I followed it right from the bat and knew I had to get to the fence fast.”
Fast it was, as Faulkner got to the fence, braced, leaped and snatched the ball wrist-high on the top of the fence to send the Clay dugout into a frenzy.
“If Nick (Nick Barrie, 5’-8” outfielder that would have replace Faulkner) was there, I don’t know if he could have jumped that high for that one,” said Persinger with a coy smile. “I’ll take it.”
Class 2A Weightlifting
Baker is back!
Nguyen sets state record
OAKLEAF– With a state record lift from Fleming Island’s Tyler Nguyen and a strong comeback from Oakleaf High’s Jakobie Baker, area weightlifters in one of the strongest districts in Florida showed off their power Friday morning at the District 4-2A weightlifting championships won by Bartram Trail High School over Oakleaf.
For Baker, who suffered a leg-shattering injury over the summer at a contact football camp, the return to the weightlifting scene comes after sitting out his entire football season. Baker, fourth last year at 183 pounds, upped his competition weight to the 199 pound weight class.
“There was some hesitation at first and I had some trouble with split-jerking (lifting and separating both feet on the jerk segment of the clean and jerk),” said Baker. a football running back. “I went to power jerking which keeps my feet parallel and my legs straighter.”
Baker dominated the weight class with a 675 total off a 360 bench press and a 315 clean and jerk.
Last year, Baker totaled 635 to finish fourth at 183.
“The 199 pound guys are bigger, but my technique, I think, is a little better,” said Baker. “I think I can go 320-325 clean and jerk and near 375 for bench.”
Baker advanced and eventually won the state title.
District 2-8A softball
Lady Knights survive Eagles; pound Atlantic Coast
OAKLEAF – Oakleaf High’s reputation of power softball nearly got halted by Fleming Island High’s freshman pitcher Morgan Kendrick who refused to buckle under the Lady Knight firepower, but in the end, after seven innings of grueling heavyweight punching that looked eerily similar to Chuck Wepner vs. Muhammad Ali, Oakleaf emerged with an eighth-inning squeeze bunt play to score a 3-2 district 2-8A semifinal win over Fleming Island that could very well be scored the game of the year for both teams.
In the second inning and down 1-0, Fleming Island punched back with Tiara Peters singling off Davis and Morgan Grimm walking to set up a near-catastrophic deep fly ball from Halle Corless that looked like it would make the Oakleaf High School parking lot. Instead of a three run homer, Corless home plated Peters and Grimm and squelched the Knights’ faithful who found themselves down 2-1.
From there, the match became a slugfest with Kendrick taking the best batters in the state to task with her versatility on the mound.
Oakleaf could not get any air off Kendrick’s pitches, but, in the sixth, Angela Agurkis, one of the Knights’ top power hitters put down a squeeze bunt that got Rebecca Koskey across home plate for a 2-2 score.
“When coach gave me the sign, I thought I have to get this done. I haven’t been producing hitting so if I need to bunt, I need to bunt and lay it down; there is no stopping me on that one. As soon as I put it down, the energy came up and we knew there was no stopping us now” said catcher Angela Agurkis. “We’re going to come back and win this thing.”
In the seventh, with the score still knotted at 2-2, Koskey bunted in Kistler for the winning run. Oakleaf wound up as Class 8A runnerups to Hagerty High School.
Ridgeview’s Bratt gets ‘tested’ out of tennis final
RIDGEVIEW – Ridgeview High tennis ace James Bratt had an eventful series of Class 2A tournament matches, but his ability to drive safely was more the best tennis play of the year.
Bratt had entered the Class 2A tournament as one of the top 16 players of the day and had pounded his way to a wins of 6-2, 6-4 in his quarterfinals and 6-0, 6-0 in his semifinal to advance to the final.
Bratt’s play on the court was competitive, but his ability to drive back and forth to the Thrasher Horne center for his IB testing in between rounds of tennis were more impressive.
In the end, Bratt had traveled back and forth to Lake Mary in between his preliminary rounds, warmed up successfully and then won all the while squeezing in some study for his testing.
For the final, against top seed John Sakellarides; Bratt being second seed, Bratt was forced by schedule to stay at Thrasher Horne for his testing thus giving up his shot at a state title.
FHSAA had no comment.
Class 4A track
Johnson nails title on first jump
JACKSONVILLE - Oakleaf High jump tandem of Melvin Briley and Loren Johnson did what was expected at the FHSAA track and field state championships held Friday and Saturday at the University of North Florida while the Fleming Island boys 4 x 800 squad came up big in what of the biggest surprises of the day.
“This is Loren’s turn and also it will show all around that Melvin Briley is one of the best jumpers in Florida,” said Oakleaf High jump coach John Carter, prior to both jumpers getting gold medals in Class 4A; Johnson in the long jump and Briley, repeating as the triple jump champion.
For Johnson, with two previous state championship invites with high expectations, but unexpected finishes, the gold medal was landed on her very first jump of the day, at 18’-10”.
“I worked a lot harder in the off season with beach workouts to get my legs stronger on the jumps, “ said Johnson, a junior. “I felt more confidence in my overall performance.”
Johnson continued her dominance with four more jumps over 18 feet with St. Thomas Aqinas freshman Eddiyah Frye and Alonso High’s Shaniyah Benjamin both hitting a marks of 18’-5.25” in the chase for second.
“She was first in long jump and second in triple,” said Henderson. “She was more focused and ready to take her turn as one of the top jumpers here. She hit five great jumps in the long jump and missed by just six inches for the triple jump.”