JACKSONVILLE – Typically the final regular season week (week 11) of high school football can be described as a “dud” with playoffs matchups already decided with the end of district play the …
JACKSONVILLE – Typically the final regular season week (week 11) of high school football can be described as a “dud” with playoffs matchups already decided with the end of district play the week before.
In 2017, however, with a new points system that rewards all wins and also rewards teams for their strength of schedule week 11 means “win and you’re in” for the Clay High Blue Devils facing two-time defending 2A
University Christian Fighting Christians. The Blue Devils responded by spoiling Senior Night for University with a 45-13 drubbing that wasn’t even as close as the score indicated.
The win gives the Blue Devils the sixth seed in the new playoff system of eight teams. The Blue Devils will head south past Ocala to Hernando County to the face the Hernando High Leopards (7-2) in the region quarterfinals on Fri., Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Hernando last won an opening round playoff game in 1997 with 12 playoff appearances dating back to 1967. Their most recent appearance was in 2012; a loss to Gainesville in 6A.
“Anytime you have an opportunity to play a nine time state champion and two time defending state champion it’s a big deal, especially with playoff implications,” said Clay head coach Josh Hoekstra, “It certainly motivates you to play at a high level. We also realize being in the playoffs at Clay High is a really big deal.”
The Blue Devils took less than three minutes to score on their opening possession led by the rushing attack of bruising running back Aundre Carter, who finished with 308 yards and one touchdownon the night. Carter, now with 1,613 yards and 16 scores for the season, took the first two plays from scrimmage 28 yards to the University 32 yard line. Clay quarterback Caleb Eason then found wide receiver Spencer Lesage for a 32 yard touchdown pass to give the Blue Devils a quick 7-0 lead over the Fighting Christians. Eason finished with five of 12 passes going for 110 yards and three scores. Eason has 1,418 yards and 24 touchdowns for the season with just one interception. Lesage is tops with 38 catches with six scores.
After a quick three plays and punt, Carter would run 60 yards to the University 12 yard line. After another Lesage catch to the one yard line, tailback Cedrick Brown would rush for the touchdown to give Clay a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
University would answer with a quick score on two quarterback runs to cut the lead in half at 14-7 two minutes later. That would be the last quality offensive drive for University until late in the game.
“Our offensive line was phenomenal tonight,” said Hoekstra. “They are young with only one senior and they really responded to the coaches this week.”
Carter would run 70 yards on his own in three plays including another 60 yard run to give Clay a 21-7 lead with four seconds left in the first quarter. The Clay defense continued their dominance forcing an incomplete pass on fourth down to an obviously frustrated two time defending state champion.
The Blue Devils would mix the pass and run on their next drive that would end in a perfectly placed fade pass by Eason in the corner of the end zone to Ajay Belanger for a 28-7 lead with five minutes remaining until halftime. Belanger has 35 catches with 11 scores for the season.
University would drive to the Clay nine yard line with the help of some timely penalties on the Blue Devils. But on fourth and goal from the 11 yard line, defensive back Jordan Copeland would pick off the pass in the end zone with less than a minute until halftime.
Carter would later eclipse 200 yards rushing in the half with an 84 yard run to the University six yard line. The Blue Devils would settle for a Liz Fogarty field goal to take a 31-7 halftime lead.
The second half was more of the same: Clay defensive stop, University punt, and a healthy dose of Aundre Carter on the ground.
Carter would record yet another 40 plus yard run on the first play of the third quarter that led to a 20 yard Eason touchdown pass to tight end Denaud Valmyr to push the lead to 38-7 with 6:48 remaining in the third quarter.
Valmyr also got his coach’s attention when he recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff to give Clay a short field at the University 33 yard line.
“He could have taken that kickoff play off and not given maximum effort after a couple of tough blocks and catching the touchdown pass the play before. It’s that type of championship effort that got us in the playoffs and hopefully keeps us winning” said Hoekstra in his post game address to the team.
Clay would add one more score with :11 remaining in the third quarter on a three yard run by Tymious Goodman to finish off their offensive night with 45 points.
Alec Holy would add another Clay interception in the fourth quarter before University would finally find the end zone midway through the fourth quarter of the mandatory running clock.
The win gave Clay High another playoff berth now seeded sixth in the eight team Region 2 bracket and traveling to Brooksville to play Hernando High November 10th at 7:30pm. Luckily for the Blue Devils, the new playoff system was simple for them unlike some teams who needed to bring the advanced Calculus teacher to assist in figuring out the points system format.
“We were able to early in the week figure out the formula for us to make the playoffs instead of having to scoreboard watch and add up points” said a relieved Hoekstra.