ORANGE PARK – The Orange Park High Raider football team watched as Atlantic Coast High marched straight down the field to a game-opening score, but the Raiders turned the tables on the visiting …
ORANGE PARK – The Orange Park High Raider football team watched as Atlantic Coast High marched straight down the field to a game-opening score, but the Raiders turned the tables on the visiting Stingrays behind a guy weighing about 125 pounds and sitting at about 5’-4” tall that got the Raiders a 35-20 win Sept. 7.
“I’ve been throwing the ball to Diego since seventh grade,“ said Raider junior quarterback Vinny Walker, who finished with 192 passing yards with three scores; two to Soto; one a screen to running back Zykiem Sermons. “He’s been my guy since my freshman year on the junior varsity. I can trust him to get open when I need him to. They were not paying attention to him.”
Soto finished with two touchdown on four catches with 106 yards.
The Raiders, who opened with a 45-14 thrashing by Oakleaf High School, have rebounded from that loss with resounding wins over 6A-Nease and now 7A-Atlantic Coast and, according to coach Tom Macpherson, the removal of some discipline problems and the instillation of some focus and believing has made the Raider sideline fun to coach on.
“When you win after taking steps like we did to clean up our program, it makes it easier for the kids to buy in,” said Macpherson.
The Raiders must now head to Green Cove Springs for one of the biggest showdowns in the recent history of the Macpherson era with the Raiders bringing their 2-1 won/loss record to Clay High; who sits at 1-2 with losses to7A-Fleming Island and 7A-Bartram Trail; both high-octane playoff teams from last year.
“I’m excited to bring our game to Clay next week,” said Walker, one of the youngest county quarterbacks with just three varsity games under his belt with shares of snaps with senior wideout Terrance Johnson. “Coach Macpherson has our offense able to utilize our tools. I know Clay is going to come with their best game and we will bring our best games. My guys trust in me knowing I’m all in for them.”
Atlantic Coast, though, came into Hoyt B. Cotney Stadium at 1-1 with a win over 5A-Bishop Kenny and a 39-7 loss against 8A-Mandarin and made short work of stamping their style of run and gun on the Raider defense with a 11 play scoring drive that featured a 40 yard pass play and just two third downs to take an early lead with just four minutes off the clock.
Orange Park had little as far as an answer in their ensuing possession and Atlantic Coast got a second shot after a punt with a start at the Orange Park 44.
From there, the Stingrays went straight to their air but just missed a wide open receiver behind the Raider defense on first down. A 12 yard jet sweep set up an 18 yard scoring pass in front of Raider defender Jeremy Barber that put the Raiders down 14-0 with another four minutes clicked off the clock.
Orange Park got on the board with Johnson taking the kickoff to midfield and tailback Alex Collier, who ran for 192 yards in 23 carries, bouncing off the left side of the Raider offensive line; Silas Little and Cedric Flanders to hit the jets on the sideline for a rapid response 50 yard scoring run that took just 18 seconds off the clock.
Raider linebacker Robbie Reynolds snared an errant Atlantic Coast pass to set the Raiders up at the Stingray 28 yard line with Walker took just 41 seconds to run four plays ending with senior tailback Zykiem Sermons blasting to the end zone on a screen pass to tie the game at 14-14 with kicker Jean Breville’s second point afte kick.
“We know we have to stop the Clay run game first, but if they pass, our defensive backs are good enough to lock them down,” said Reynolds. “This is a good momentum game for Clay.”
The Raider defense, with defensive linemen Kendy Charles, Jacob Moore and Alex Moore creating havoc with their mad rushes to Atlantic Coast quarterback Bobby Wohlgemuth forced a turnover on downs with a fourth down stuff of 220 pound fullback Joshua Coffey.
Quickly again, Walker got the Raiders to the Stingray four where Johnson followed Charles, in as a blocking fullback, into the end zone to put the Raiders up 21-14 with 11:11 left to the half.
Both teams exchanged strong defensive stands until Atlantic Coast hit a 30 yard field goal at 3:38 to score the game 21-17.
From the 42 after a Johnson kickoff return, Walker again made short work of the short field with Johnson taking a screen pass 23 yards to Stingray 45 before Walker hit Soto on a short post that Soto wheeled around toward the sideline to avoid the tackle and made a beeline to the end zone to put Orange Park up 28-17.
“I’m an underdog,” said Soto. “Everybody looks down on me. I’m just a back up that tries to be ready when my number comes up.”
In the second half, Orange Park stumbled on their first possession with two Walker missed passes and Atlantic Coast picked up a 38 yard field goal to get the game to28-20 with 9:48 in the third.
After the field goal, Walker took over at the Orange Park 25 and opened with an eight yard pass to wideout Sean Dixon and a 12 yard run from Collier who followed Johnson downfield.
Soto snagged his second pass of the night between two Stingray defenders for 22 yards to the Atlantic Coast 38 where Collier again exploded for a 12 yarder to the 34.
From there, Reynolds came in as a fullback and smashed the middle of the Stingray defense for nine yards to set up a second Walker to Soto touchdown; this one an over the head grab behind the Stingray secondary that put Orange Park up 35-20.
Macpherson went for a blooper onsides kick on the ensuing kickoff and got a bounce to coverman Dennis Mitchell that got scooped and carried into the end zone, but officials called the play dead at the Stingray 26 yard line where, three plays later, Walker threw an interception in the end zone.
In the fourth quarter, Orange Park got as close as the Stingray five yard line, but lost possession on a fumbled snap on fourth down.
For the Raider defense, Alex Moore got a monster 16 yard loss on a one on one sack of Wohlgemuth that pushed a first down at the Orange Park 18 to the 34 yard line and a second turnover on downs on fourth down for Atlantic Coast. Moore would strike again two series’ later with another sack that lost 10 yards for the Stingrays and forced a punt from the Stingray end zone.
After the punt, Orange Park again drove the length of the field behind Collier blasts and another pass catch by Soto that got an extra 15 yards added to the play for pass interference that traveled the Raider offense from the Raider 45 to the Stingray 13 yard line. Orange Park would move to the eight, but missed a pass to Johnson on fourth down.
Forced to throw, Atlantic Coast misfired three times and then Wohlgemuth got the ball punched out of his hands by Jacob Moore at the Stingray 26, but Reynolds couldn’t scoop and go with it before Moore finally covered the ball.
Orange Park ended the game with handoffs to Arlo Wilson at running back.