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Blue Devils get a near-miss on Toros

By Ray Dimonda Correspondent
Posted 9/28/22

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - A second quarter stripped ball out of the hands of Clay High wide receiver Payton Dykas was the lone costly glitch for the Blue Devils on a night when the Clay 2022 Blue Devils …

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Blue Devils get a near-miss on Toros


GREEN COVE SPRINGS - A second quarter stripped ball out of the hands of Clay High wide receiver Payton Dykas was the lone costly glitch for the Blue Devils on a night when the Clay 2022 Blue Devils showed a bit of muster in a hard-fought 26-21 loss to visiting Tocoi Creek High out of St. Augustine who traveled over the Shands Bridge with a 3-1 record.

“We don’t make any excuses. A loss is a loss, but I’m proud of these kids,” said Clay coach Kyle Kennard, noting the youth of his now 2-3 team has improved more and more each week. “They battled. I couldn’t be more proud.”

With Tocoi Creek featuring a rugged ground in their three wins; one a 60-10 smackdown over Ridgeview High in the downpour, Clay held the Toros scoreless in the first quarter to boost some confidence in Kennard’s game plan.

With quarterback Merrick Rapoza and Dykas pitching and catching with frequency all night, the second quarter steal off a quick out to Dykas that led to a runaway fumble touchdown for Tocoi Creek was to be the test of mettle for the Blue Devils.

“There was no doubts in our minds we were coming back and could win this game,” said Rapoza, who got a 21-20 leads with 8:06 left in the game. “The boys came out hyped and ready for whatever they were going to throw at us.”

The Toros came in with their only loss to Bishop Kenny, who now sport a 5-0 slate, and three wins all by double digits. The newest St. John’s county school from World Golf Parkway is only in their sophomore season which makes their dominance such a surprise.

After the Blue Devils held the Toros scoreless through the first quarter, you could feel the self-confidence building. It looked like Clay was on the move again when the catch by Dykas was robbed by Tocoi’s Parker Webster who made a 26 yard bolt to the endzone to go up 7-0.

After trading punts and under two minutes until the half, Tocoi Creek used their running quarterback, Cade Fourman, to get a huge 30 yard gain, followed by tailback Wendell Dean with back-to-back runs to get the first Toro offensive touchdown with 1:03 left until the break. The point after kick went wide to keep the score 13-0 at the half.

Out of the break, Clay needed to change momentum quickly and found gold with an intentional worm-burning ground kick from Ethan Bellamore. The kick bounced off a Toro player and was recovered by John Johnson.

“We practice that, but we were only looking for good field position,” said Kennard. “With all the ball handling issues they had, we took the chance and changed the game.”

Still stunned, the Toros defense came onto the field to get tested deep on the first play. Rapoza dropped back and found Dykas in the corner of the endzone to go 31 yards in the air, getting the Blue Devils on the board, 13-7.

On the return drive, the Toros used four and a half minutes to drive 70 yards, scoring on a Ryan Killmer pass into the endzone to go ahead 20-7.

Going back to work on offense, the Blue Devil’s passes to Antonio Thomas, Dykas, and the running of the hottest back Clay had tonight; Merrick Rapoza. Whenever the Blue Devils needed three or four yards, Rapoza would either drop back and take off, or use the rugby scrum to pick up four yards, and several times break away for double digit gains. After taking a sack with 2:06 left in the third quarter, Rapoza shook off the lost yards, and came right back

“If that’s what it takes to win, I’m willing to do that every game. Every game,” said Rapoza. “This was a tough loss, but we come away learning a lot this week. With the bye week, we’ll go back to work and keep everybody’s heads up. We have Middleburg up next, we go to their place and I think the week off will really help us get prepared for it.”

Rapoza would find Dykas with a 15 yard laser to Dykas for another touchdown, 20-14. The Toros went three downs and out with a punt to close out the third quarter.

The fourth quarter started with the Blue Devils on offense and Rapoza finding multiple opportunities to make huge gains on the run, with one for 19 yards. Not knowing if they had to respect the run more than watching the deep pass, Clay struck again from 24 yards out with another Rapoza-Dykas connection to tie at 20-20. The Bellamore kick put the Blue Devils up 21-20 with 8:06 left to play.

Clay attempted another pinball dribbler trying to get lucky again, but this time after the pile was pulled away, Tocoi Creek had the ball. The Toros only needed a tick over two minutes to showcase Wendall Dean again, driving the 60 yards, scoring with 5:50 left to play.

“They just kept rotating running backs which kept them fresh,” said Kennard. “Eventually they were going to pop one. We have several kids going both ways (on offense and defense) so it is hard to get those kids coached up in between plays and trying to make adjustments.”

Lining up for a two point conversion, the Toros were called for holding, and tried again from 14 yards out, getting stopped short with a sack.

The Toros attempted a short pop-up kick that Clay fair caught and went to work at their own 46 yard line and over five minutes to play. The drive of passes and runs ate up the clock right to plan. That was until faced with a third down and four yards to go, the Blue Devils ran the ball to get to fourth down, and one yard to go. With only :36 seconds to play, Rapoza’s pass to Dykas went incomplete turning the ball back to the Toros on downs.


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