ST JOHNS – An explosive 75 yard kickoff return by senior Caleb Plyler put the deciding points on the board Friday night for the Ridgeview High football team who beat Creekside 24-14 in a non-district game at Creekside High School.
“I dropped it first and kind of froze,” said Plyler, who sprinted untouched in front of the Creekside sideline to paydirt after finding a seam in his third quarter jaunt that put the score at 24-14 as the third quarter expired. “We needed big play.”
With the Panthers traveling to Creekside after a tough 30-27 win over Nature Coast Tech in their season opener,
Ridgeview coach Cameron Porch is liking his team’s ability to bend, but not break.
“We’ re learning to grind for the wins so far,” said Porch, who lost wide out Brian Jackson to a vicious hit in the second period that fueled some fire for the second half Panthers. “He’s okay, he’ll be back. Caleb’s run was huge.”
In the first quarter, Ridgeview High quarterback Tyler Huff orchestrated a time consuming 14-play offensive series that had six second downs that moved the Panthers from their own two yard line after Creekside punt from midfield back to midfield. The drive, with Jackson snagging passes of 23 and 10 yards was hampered by some passing misfires from Huff and two penalties that ended with a Tyler Duggan punt from the 50 yard line.
Creekside went with quick sideline throws from quarterback Tai Lavatai to wide out Quinn Sieger that kept pressure on Panther defensive back Matt Dye who was blocked on the edge by 6’-3”, 210 lbs. tight end Shane Calhoun.
Ridgeview’s defense adjusted quickly with linebacker Mike Green quickly getting to the area a handful of times to get Sieger from behind as Dye held off Calhoun.
On the next Panther series, a pass interference call against Creekside kept the ball moving with Huff finding tight end Grayson Edwards for a key nine yard pass for a first down at the Creekside 19, but the drive stalled with a Duggan punt from the 47.
Ridgeview’s defense had their first best stand with Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Odijuan Whitfield dominating the line of scrimmage to force a three downs and punt.
Starting at the Ridgeview 40, Huff missed to Jackson, but got running back Rey Gonzalez on a post pattern to the Creekside 19. Huff missed on two passes to bring in kicker Matt Koziolek for a 21 yard field goal.
After the kickoff, with Creekside starting at the Knights’ 31, defensive back Parris Taylor nearly had a sideline pass interception off Lavatai with Green and Whitfield getting consecutive stops behind the line of scrimmage to thwart any downfield shots for Lavatai.
Lavatai struck big on a fake punt pass play to Calhoun that gained 23 yards and put the Knights at the Ridgeview 32. A short post pattern behind Taylor to Sieger put Creekside up 7-3 with 5:52 left to the half.
After the kickoff, Huff got no yards on a Plyler dive, but hoisted a floater downfield that Jackson gathered in at the Creekside 40 and ran to paydirt for a 75 yard touchdown that put Ridgeview up 10-7.
Lavatai stuck with his quick sideline passes and moved to the Ridgeview 30 before two incompletes stopped the drive.
A 12 yard pass from Huff to Spencer Calise opened the drive and put the Panthers at the 42 yard line with 42 seconds to halftime as Ridgeview wanted to squeeze one more score in before the break.
Out patterns to Calise and Isaac Chaffin kept the ball moving and clock stopping before Huff went over the middle to Jackson on a post pattern that created a collision with safety Ian Willey that knocked Jackson unconscious. After a delay, Jackson was removed via ambulance and Willey was ejected.
Huff quickly quelled the Creekside fans, who disagreed loudly to Willey’s ejection, with a swift touchdown toss to Gonzalez in the end zone that put the Panthers up 17-7 as the half ended.
“Our big guys wanted that one after the hit,” said Huff. “We stayed focus and got one for our brother Buddha (Jackson).”
In the third, both teams exchanged non-scoring series until Huff put together another long drive; 12 plays with Edwards again with a key catch-a 14 yarder. The drive stalled at the Creekside two yard line after a nine yard pass to Jordan Hardaway put the Panthers near the goal on fourth down. Huff went to the back of the end zone to Chaffin who tapped the slant pass up, but could only get control as he fell out of bounds.
Creekside took over and Lavatai wanted to get out of the red zone quickly as he let go with a long post pattern pass that saw Calhoun get tangled up with Osborn and a flag on the turf. With an expected defensive pass interference call imminent, Ridgeview got a break with Calhoun being flagged for offensive pass interference, moving the ball two yards closer to the goal line and not 25 yards downfield.
From the 11, Lavatai found his third wide receiver, Jack Goodrich, a step ahead of Osborn for a 72 yard gain to the Panther 12. From there, Lavatai needed two plays to put the game at 17-14 with 28 seconds until the fourth quarter.
With the :28 on the clock, Plyler took just 17 seconds to get the ball into the end zone on the ensuing kickoff to put the Panthers up 24-14.
In the fourth, Ridgeview showed some grit with Huff converting a fourth and one at the Panthers six yard line that extended a drive that would end with Duggan from inside the end zone to the Creekside 45 yard line.
“We had no hesitation on the offensive line about going for the fourth and inches,” said Duggan, the Panther’s starting center. “That was a big mental challenge for us, but the drive went sour. I knew I needed a good punt.”
Duggan’s 55 yard kick fired up the Panther defense with Whitfield chasing Lavatai for a loss and linebacker Austin Childers getting a block in the back flag on yet another sideline pass.
Creekside would punt away, but Huff would fumble the ball back on the next drive putting Creekside at their own 35 yard line with five minutes still to go.
Ridgeview seemed destined to pull Creekside toward their own end zone with a roughing the pass flag putting the Knights at midfield, but junior safety Wesley Morris ended the effort with a nifty snare of a deflected pass off a Sieger post pattern.
“We made the plays when we most needed them,” said linebacker Dominic Stanfield. “They were staying away from my side, but those other guys like Wesley and Mike Green stepped up big.”
A sack on Huff gave Creekside one more possession from midfield but Whitfield came up with a Lavatai fumble at the Creekside 36 that ended the game.
Ridgeview next goes ont e road again to take on winless Westside High on Friday.