Clay gets win one; Panther still winless

By Ray Dimonda Correspondent
Posted 9/7/22

ORANGE PARK - In the battle of who earn their first win, the Clay Blue Devils coming off a 49-7 home opening loss, traveled to Ridgeview to take on the Panthers, also coming off a season opening …

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Clay gets win one; Panther still winless


ORANGE PARK - In the battle of who earn their first win, the Clay Blue Devils coming off a 49-7 home opening loss, traveled to Ridgeview to take on the Panthers, also coming off a season opening stinger with a 43-0 shutout on the road at Menendez. With his number called early and often, the Panthers used a heavy dose of running back Sheppard Bridges to burst up the middle as well as cut to the outside to make huge gains. But the game would have seven total turnovers that kept the ball reversing directions just as each team seemed to be at the doorstep of the endzone. Clay found it’s ground game in Jaden Paulk, Dominic Martin, and sideline blast from D’wonya (DJ) Williams to roll up 126 rushing yards and add another 101 from Merrick “Airtime” Rapoza to earn Clay’s first win with a 33-22 topping of the Panthers.

“You know that was sloppy on both sides tonight,” said Clay Head Coach Kyle Kennard. “If they don’t snap the ball over their head a couple of times, deep in their territory, it’s a different game. It’s tough not just to have kids who haven’t played a whole lot, but not able to get on the field much this week due to rain doesn’t help. Practice in the gym non-contact just isn’t the same. Ball security needs to improve, but we’re not going to make excuses. We have to improve.”

After a quick three and out, Clay was forced to use their first punt of the game turning the ball over to the Panthers to begin their first attempt for the endzone. The Panthers seemed to move the ball well with the power of Bridges and some small gain air assaults of Quarterback Richard Lewis who finished with 24 total passing yards. The Panther drive would end too soon as Linebacker DJ Williams recovered the coughed-up ball to begin Clay’s counterattack. Clay was rolling right along getting deep into Panther territory using a heavy dose of Jaden Paulk early. Keeping the Panther defense guessing what kind of attack they’d see next; the Blue Devils went to the arm of Quarterback Merrick Rapoza. Zeroed in on Payton Dykas, Rapoza misfired and was picked off for his only interception of the game. Ridgeview’s Chris Baptiste came down with the ball to reverse the field again. The drive fizzled with a Ridgeview punt, but the suspense was building as both teams showed they had formidable weapons at their disposal.

Finally, Clay broke the ice with a corner pass to Dykas to go ahead 7-0. On the counter drive, the Panther steam roller got up and moving as Bridges saw most of the action as he moved the ball into Clay territory. With the help of a roughing the passer call, Bridges crossed over the goal line to even the score late in the first quarter 7-7.

“We started a Sophomore Quarterback tonight in Richey Lewis who overall did a great job,” said Ridgeview Head Coach Bryan Arnette. “We saw we were one dimensional last week, so we assessed that and thought Jarren Rosier, as great an athlete as he is, can play corner and wide out for us, let’s go ahead and start building that future for Richey. We can still get more aggressive with the pass game.”

In the second quarter, after a Clay turnover, the Panthers drive was stalled after a third down and eight incomplete pass. Enter Panther’s Field Goal Kicker Kaleb Robinson on for a 50 yard field goal attempt.

“This kid nails 55 yarders all week in practice,” said Arnette. “It wasn’t anything he hasn’t done before.”

Clay had a good rush up the middle to get several players to push far enough back to get a hand on the ball to block the kick and take over on their own 40. As Clay was driving, a Rapoza pass was tipped and recovered by Panther’s Defensive Lineman Khalil Combs to give the Panthers a much needed boost. The drive resulted in a Chris Baptiste touchdown reception to put the Panthers up 14-7 with 4:06 until half.

On the return Clay drive, Rapoza would find Antonio Thomas down the sideline for a 50 yard gain, setting up another Dykas corner endzone touchdown with an amazing scoop reception to put Clay right back in the game 14-13.

After the kickoff, the Panthers were back on offense deep in their end of the field when another center-quarterback exchange went awry, sailing the ball over Lewis’ head. The Clay recovery resulted in a two yard Rapoza sneak to put Clay up 20-14 heading into the halftime break.

Starting off the third quarter, the Panthers and Blue devils exchanged fizzled and punt drives. As the Panthers were on offense again, the center-quarterback exchange again went bad with the ball sailing. Clay Defensive Lineman Aaron Stacy recovered the ball in the endzone to put Clay ahead 26-17.

The fourth was looking good for the Panthers with a 19 yard run, followed by a touchdown rush by Bridges at 9:50. The point after had a bad snap, picked up by the holder, Baptiste, who ran it in for a two-point conversion to set the score at 26-22. With 4:52 to play, Ridgeview had a chance to even things up as they recovered a stripped ball as Rapoza tried to tuck and run. The drive resulted in a punt and Clay’s final score as Dominic Martin scored with :25 remaining to close the scoring 33-22.


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