GREEN COVE SPRINGS - With the return of students to classrooms, sports enthusiasts know that can only mean one thing, the return of high school football under Friday night lights. This year’s …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS - With the return of students to classrooms, sports enthusiasts know that can only mean one thing, the return of high school football under Friday night lights. This year’s preseason classic matched up a young Clay Blue Devils team with only seven returning seniors, hosting the stacked Bishop Kenny Crusaders with 21 returning upper classmen. The Blue Devils had every position except three offensive lineman and two defenders, auditioning for a starting role as the regular season opens next week. The Crusaders, with so much returning talent, looked like a team several weeks into the season as they had no problem using an air attack, picking apart the Blue Devil defensive secondary. With Clay showing flashes of brilliance, it simply was not enough to stand in the ring with Bishop Kenny as the rolled the home team 47-12.
“Growing pains take time,” said Clay Head Coach Kyle Kennard. “You just can’t put young kids who never played and don’t have a lot of reps out there and expect great things to happen. We have a lot of things that we have to get fixed and in a hurry.”
Kennard’s concern is opening the season with the traditional faceoff between the Blue Devils and cross-town rival Fleming Island Golden Eagles. The Blue Devils, practicing against their own teammates, have not had a chance to see other teams at full speed and with such depth as they did tonight. “From an attitude standpoint, just being more physical and tougher. We have a long way to go and it is tough to put into words right now.”
It was not all doom and gloom for the Blue Devils. As the game progressed, the Blue Devil defensive backs started finding their cues and began staying up with the Crusaders receivers, finally breaking up passes, forcing the Crusaders to go more on the ground game.
“It’s going to take time,” said Kennard. “Football is a developmental game. You just can’t snap your fingers and thing be great. It takes, time, takes work, takes effort, takes reps. You just can’t roll out there and expect to be good.”
On offense, the Blue Devils started Merrick Rapoza at quarterback, and he did not disappoint. The sophomore had some early game jitters, as did all the first year varsity players. Rapoza rifled a few early passes that the receivers could not get a handle on. “I had butterflies I had to work out, but I came back out there put two drives together, and held the ball well,” said Rapoza as he analyzed his initial varsity outing. Rapoza had no problem tucking and running, taking on defenders and picking up positive yards when he needed. “I’m not scared of the run. I like to run the ball.”
After several sets of downs, Clay found some magic in the receivers Freshman Jvian Cobbert and Sophomore Antonio Thomas. The two seemed to dial in to Rapoza’s throwing speed and tempo, coming down with several passes.
“They were open all night,” said Rapoza. “Working the outside hitches, it made it easy on me.”
Junior Payton Dykas climbed the ladder for one early 40 plus yard reception, outstretching the Crusader’s Price Watson. The reception led to Clay’s first touchdown as Chandler Thomas, who started as Clay’s go to runner, found a great hole on the left side to find the endzone.
Later in the game, Clay showcased Senior D’wonya (DJ) Williams. Williams showed he had no problem taking on defenders, blowing up the right side of the Crusader defense to punch in the second score.
Rapoza’s one thing to work on as he prepares for the home regular season opener against the Golden Eagles; “This week before Fleming Island, we have to limit three (downs) and outs. We cannot have three and outs. It’s a major part of our offensive and keeping our defense off the field making sure we give them a break.
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