FLEMING ISLAND – Big plays from the offense and the usual stinginess of the Fleming Island defense allowed the Golden Eagles to tune up for the Class 7A playoffs with a 42-11 victory over visiting …
FLEMING ISLAND – Big plays from the offense and the usual stinginess of the Fleming Island defense allowed the Golden Eagles to tune up for the Class 7A playoffs with a 42-11 victory over visiting Orange Park Fri., Nov. 4 at Fleming Island High School.
Fleming Island (8-2) earned a region playoff berth and will travel to Robert E. Lee High (9-1) Fri., Nov. 10 for a 7:30 p.m. start. Lee has a long history of playoffs dating back to 1964 and including 11 straight playoff berths from 1977-1986 under legendary coach Corky Rogers, who recently retired from the Bolles School. Lee coach O.J. Small, who started in 2015, has put the Generals in the playoffs the past two years; with a state semifinal loss to Plant High of Tampa last year. Plant was Class 7A runnerup to St. Thomas Aquinas. Fleming Island last earned a playoff spot in 2013 under coach Frank Hall. The Golden Eagles made the region 1-5A finals in 2007 (Neal Chipoletti), 2009 (Jeff Webb) and 2010 (Jeff Webb).
Against Orange Park, Fleming Island showed off its stout defense; one that will surely tested against the high-scoring Lee offense.
“It all starts in the trenches,” said Fleming Island head coach Damenyum Springs. “Our defensive line played well tonight.”
Defensive linemen Josh Harris, Marquavian Wright, Jake Libretto and Jalyn Robinson dominated the line of scrimmage. Libretto had three of the Golden Eagles eleven tackles for loss as the hosts held the Raiders to a negative rushing total until Alex Collier ran for a 69 yard touchdown on the Raiders’ final drive of the game. Will Hudgens, rotating in to keep the others fresh, notched two tackles for loss himself.
Fleming’s front four accomplished this against an Orange Park offense that had scored 39 points and rushed for 424 yards against Pedro Menendez the week before.
“Their front seven is about a hundred times better than Menendez’s front seven,” said MacPherson. “That’s the best defense we have faced all year.”
The Fleming Island defense made things easier for the Golden Eagles offense, forcing three turnovers and blocking a punt. The punt block, Ryan Smenda’s sixth block of a kick this season, gave the Golden Eagles the ball at the Raiders 12 yard line and led to a scoring run by Dewayne McBride on the next play.
“We do a turnover circuit in practice,” said Springs. “But most of that happens as a product of playing physical.”
Self-inflicted wounds kept the Raiders from making it a competitive game despite an 18 for 32, 178 yard passing effort by sophomore Vinny Walker. On the opening possession of the game, a shotgun snap sailed past Walker, resulting in a 23 yard loss. Forced to punt from their own ten yard line, the Raiders gave Fleming Island great field position when Dennis Mitchell’s punt went only 27 yards. It took only one play for the Golden Eagles to capitalize on a counter play. Quarterback Brian Brown faked a handoff to the left, then handed the ball to Isaiah Walker running right. Walker darted through a hole and then found open space outside, keeping his balance long enough to fall into the end zone as Raiders safety Kadin Elmore cut off his sideline path.
Smenda’s punt block came on Orange Park’s next possession, and was facilitated by a bad snap that Mitchell had to gather in after two bounces. Another punt snap hit one of Orange Park’s up men, giving the ball to Fleming Island at the Raiders 29 yard line.
The Raiders had two long laterals fall to the ground, one causing a twelve yard loss and the other a fumble that was recovered by Golden Eagles outside linebacker Jackson Bull.
The Fleming Island offense, while not sustaining a drive longer than six plays until the fourth quarter, made enough big plays to put the game away. When Chauncey Garrison burst up the middle for a 50 yard touchdown run with 8:10 remaining in the second quarter, the Golden Eagles led 20-0 despite having earned only two first downs.
Brown, making his second straight start at quarterback, found receiver Nick Ferendo in stride up the right seam for a 51 yard score in the third quarter. Walker’s second scoring run, a jet sweep of three yards, was set up by a 23 yard run by Anfernee McCaskill. Dewayne McBride converted Smenda’s punt block into points with a 12 yard run off of left tackle. The Golden Eagles finished with 231 rushing yards and 189 yards through the air.
“We made improvement on offense,” said Springs. “We have to get more consistent, but the blocking and execution were better.”
Back-ups played much of the fourth quarter. Dean Hyams rolled left and capped the Golden Eagles’ most impressive drive of the night with an eight yard scoring toss to Max Micheals, while Collier, a sophomore who had rushed for 194 yards against Menendez, provided Orange Park’s highlight play with under one minute remaining.
Though Orange Park ended its season at 1-9, MacPherson is optimistic about the Raiders’ future.
“We return just about everybody you saw on the field tonight,” said MacPherson. “I will take mine that we have coming back, and we will match up with anyone in the next two years.”
Fleming Island ensured itself a Class 7A playoff berth with the win. The Golden Eagles will be on the road for their first round match-up on November 10.
“We have got to play a perfect game,” said Springs. “Our offense has to keep the defense off of the field by getting first downs, controlling the clock and putting the ball in the end zone.”