HERNANDO – Clay High running back Aundre Carter nearly equalled his 308 yards last year against University Christian with a 283 yard effort Friday night in the Blue Devils’ 41-37 region 1-5A …
HERNANDO – Clay High running back Aundre Carter nearly equalled his 308 yards last year against University Christian with a 283 yard effort Friday night in the Blue Devils’ 41-37 region 1-5A quarterfinal win against Hernando High in Brooksville. Clay needed all 283 yards of Carter’s legs, plus three first half touchdowns to slot back Spencer LeSage and a game-winning interception from Jordan Copeland to hold off the Leopards who briefly held the lead late in the fourth quarter.
“Survive and advance, that’s what we have preached all week in practice,” said Clay coach Joshua Hoekstra. “It isn’t pretty, but we’ll take it. We were expecting a tough game against them; they were the district champs down here.”
Copeland’s interception; with 2:26 left in the game and Clay holding on to a
precarious lead, came against Hernando’s wide out, Ygenio Booker, who has college offers from East Carolina, Georgia Southern and Tulane. Booker made three spectacular catches; one for a touchdown against Augustin who executed near perfect defensive position each time.
“That was Copeland stepping up for his brother; his teammate, who was battling all night against a great wideout,” said Hoekstra.
Clay advances to the region semifinal against Hernando High, a 35-31 winner over River Ridge in a 21 point second half comeback. Hernando is 10-1 and undefeated at home. River Ridge finishes their season at 7-4. The Bulldogs of Hernando are led by quarterback Charles Harrison III, who orchestrated the second half comeback with his five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) coming from a 337 yard passing night and 80 yards rushing.
Against River Ridge, Hernando opened the scoring with an 81 yard blast from senior running back Elijah Thomas, but River Ridge answered with a 78 yard touchdown on the ensuing kickoff. Both teams were scoring on big plays throughout the night with Harrison hitting an 86 yard scoring pass and a 65 yard scoring pass to put Hernando up 35-25 late in the third quarter. Harrison would top the game with two rushing scores; a 44 yarder and a 23 yarder.
For Clay, Carter opened the night with a 38 yard run on his second carry that led to one yard scoring plunge as the Blue Devils looked to offset the fast-starting Leopards offense, but Hernando answered just as quickly with a 50 yard scoring run from tailback Ygenio Booker, who was a one-man show for the Leopards all night.
Clay retaliated equally as fast with slot back Spencer LeSage snaring the first of his three touchdowns; this one a 39 yard post pass, to slide ahead 14-7 with only half the first quarter elapsed.
Clay’s first setback was an interception at midfield on a slant pass attempt to wideout Ajay Belanger that carried to the Clay one yard line and got a score for the Leopards to tie the game 14-14 with 1:22 left in the quarter.
Clay got a 25 yard kickoff return from Raequan Williams that had 15 yards tacked on for an illegal hit before Carter bashed twice to the Hernando 26 yard line. Running back Cedric Brown hit the end zone on first down, but a hold penalty negated the score. A Carter run to the 11 put quarterback Caleb Eason in position for another LeSage score and a 21-14 Clay lead with 11:22 left in the half.
Hernando started to neutralize a strong outside pass rush from Clay’s defensive front four; Josh Griffis, John Coleman and Colby Butler with quarterback Boston Tafelski hammering quarterback draws; one for 27 yards to the Clay 20, into the belly of the Blue Devil defense for chunks of yardage. Booker scored from the Clay five to tie the game at 21-21.
“They ran a bunch of different formations in there and I think we got a little confused, but we adjusted and got the job done,” said Hoekstra.
Eason continued to look downfield for passes with his offensive line, anchored by senior Jason Brooks, keeping the Leopard defense at bay, but Belanger and LeSage could not find open spaces forcing scrambles out of the backfield.
“They were playing a little off us, but they can’t cover both of us for too long,” said Belanger. “They got some coverage on him in the second half, so Caleb and I went to work.”Eason found Belanger on a scramble for a 12 yard gain to the Hernando 39 that got back-to-back runs from Carter and Brown before Carter bashed in from the five with 3:30 to the half.
Booker’s first of two spectacular leaping catches got Hernando deep into Clay territory, but the Blue Devils held behind a big tackle for loss from defensive tackle Kurt Jackson that set up a punt.
Williams took the punt 22 yards to the Hernando 31 where Belanger snagged a 15 yarder to the 14 to set up a jet sweep from LeSage for his third score of the half and a 34-21 lead.
“We’ve been working on that jet sweep to keep the defenses honest,” said LeSage. “Between myself and Ajay, defenses have to keep an eye on both of us.”
Hernando was not quite set to run the ball into the locker rooms as Booker moved the ball with runs and a second spectacular leaping catch to set up a Leopard field goal with one second before halftime.
Down 34-24 as the third period began, Hernando was set to continue the toe-to-toe battle with Clay with a 13 play driving scoring the game 34-30 and taking nearly eight minutes off the game clock.
Clay again revved up the Carter truck and the burly back rumbled with a double juke run from the 50 to the Hernando four yard line that looked to be another Blue Devil score, but Hernando stuffed the Clay offense and took over as the fourth quarter started.
Hernando continued with body blows into the middle of the Clay defense, before hitting a 47 yard run play that led to a third spectacular leaping pass catch; this for a score, by Booker as Hernando took the lead 37-34 with 8:48 left in the game.
Starting at the Clay 10 after the kickoff on a unsportsmanlike flag on the kickoff, Clay started to generate a final drive to salvage the game and “survive.”
Two 10 yard runs from Carter, an 11 yard pass to Belanger and a 12 yard run from Brown got the Blue Devils the breathing room they needed before Carter pumped out a 35 yard to the eight yard line. Carter finished off the drive from two yards out to give Clay back the lead before Copeland got the gamewinner against Booker.
“That wasn’t a two minute drill, just Clay football,” said Hoekstra. “You know we are going to run the rock until they stop it.”