ORANGE PARK — The star of the Ridgeview vs. Keystone Heights preseason football classic Friday at Ridgeview was almost a player for another team as senior defensive back Chris Baptiste answered …
ORANGE PARK — The star of the Ridgeview vs. Keystone Heights preseason football classic Friday at Ridgeview was almost a player for another team, as senior defensive back Chris Baptiste answered questions about his want to be a Panther by blasting for two defensive touchdowns to lead Ridgeview to a 20-16 halftime score.
“I got a pick six and a fumble recovery for scores, plus a couple of catches tonight because once the dust settles and I’m here, my heart is to play my hardest,” said Baptiste, who had visits to two other schools prior to returning to Ridgeview in a tumultuous summer for Panther coach Bryan Arnette. “In the end, my brothers are here and I wanted to prove to them that my heart is here now.”
For Arnette, who did not see much offense in the first quarter because of Keystone Heights penchant for long, sustained drives, did get to see a bend, but not break attitude for his defense.
“This team is a solid group of 24 or so juniors that took their lumps last year (1-9 finish) and now want to change that,” said Arnette.
Ridgeview’s starters had a 20-16 edge when starters withdrew. Junior varsity lineups entered for the second half and the fourth quarter was played with a running clock. Keystone later edged out a 22-20 victory.
As 7 p.m. beckoned at Ridgeview Friday before a sizable Panther crowd, lightning crackled amid gray clouds, forcing fans into their cars for a lightning delay. Fans were restless waiting and during the game exploded with every Ridgeview success or no-call.
Keystone Heights' ground game did work, usually getting to midfield. Fumbles were their Kryptonite early on, with senior Ridgeview linebacker Chris Baptiste scooping up a loose ball from 60 yards three plays into the game.
“James Laycock and J.J. Moore punched the ball out and I saw it on the floor, picked it up and rolled,” said Baptiste.
Three minutes later, Baptiste struck again when he undercut a play action pass from Keystone quarterback Baylor Ford who was rolling right. The PAT was missed.
The Indians’ third drive to conclude the opening quarter was a familiar story with a muffed punt to give the Panthers sublime positioning within the Indians’ 20-yard line.
New Panther quarterback Jarren Rosier’s 3-yard run was the team’s first offensive play of the game. After a Keystone horse collar tackle penalty moving Ridgeview to the goal-line, it was a short run through the middle from Sheppard Bridges that gave the Panthers a 20-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“Jarren is a smart athlete out there and has been doing things in practice to keep our confidence with him,” said Baptiste. “He made good reads and kept the ball moving downfield.”
Opening on their own 35-yard line, Keystone Heights saw strong runs from a rotation of Bryar Schenck, Landon Hovespian, Trey Jeffries and Sam Ulsch. A personal foul penalty brought the Indians 15 yards closer to the goal-line. But it was junior Cartez Daniels exploited a mismatch and barreled through the Panther defense on a 15-yard carry. Daniels then took a central route for the 2-point conversion.
An Indian punt block put Keystone Heights within an arm’s length of the end zone and Ulsch narrowly found his way in for an Indians quick score.
The Panthers’ final drive of the half, where Rosier landed passes of 15 and 10 yards to Bridges and Baptiste, stalled due to penalties.
Keystone’s junior varsity, and both JV teams fought hard, was able to score in the fourth quarter.
Keystone Heights came to Ridgeview on the back of a 10-2 season and second round 34-6 playoff exit to The Villages Charter School. The Indians did secure a 50-0 first round victory over Umatilla High. However, the county’s southernmost team saw nearly the entire starting rotation graduate after last year’s outstanding season. The Indians’ first game is at Gainesville Eastside Sept. 1.
Ridgeview were smarting after a 1-9 season in 2021. Their lone victory was 17-14 over St. Johns County’s Menendez High, the second game of last season. They open Friday at Menendez in St. Johns County.
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