OCALA - After turning around a one-win 2019 season, the 9-1 Clay Blue Devils traveled to Ocala Vanguard’s Booster Stadium to take on the also 9-1 Ocala Vanguard Knights to see if first year coach …
OCALA - After turning around a one-win 2019 season, the 9-1 Clay Blue Devils traveled to Ocala Vanguard’s Booster Stadium to take on the also 9-1 Ocala Vanguard Knights to see if first year coach Kyle Kennard’s aggressive turnaround season was going to be epic.
“In the second half we had an opportunity to make it a one possession game,” said Kennard. “You can’t turn the ball over four, five times like we did and expect to beat a good team like that in the playoffs. It wasn’t our night tonight.”
The Blue Devils worked their magic in every corner possible with intercepted passes, recovered fumbled Knights punts, and even a dramatic on-side kick, but 2020 will be the season the Blue Devils had no answers for Knights. Just as they could not get the keys to Oakleaf during the regular season, Vanguard too had weapons that Clay could not find answers for.
After holding to a 17-7 half, Clay succumbed to a 38-7 season ending bruiser.
“Sure we feel good with what we were able to do this year,” said Kennard. “With all the circumstances, I’m proud of our coaching staff, proud of our kids fighting and coming back. I told our seniors they were a big part of turning this thing around and getting Clay High football back on track.”
Clay wanted the ball to start, and the toss went to Vanguard who deferred, working right into the Clay plan. That would be the only thing that worked to plan on the opening drive. As Clay seemed to be set up well with a 26 yard kick return from Jarvis Lee, the Blue Devils made their way out to the 44 by way of Al’querious Ray pounding the inside. On a second down, the issues began as Tre Griner dropped back and lost his footing for a 10 yard loss. On third and long, Griner was picked off. The Knights needed only a single play to go paydirt, 7-0. Both teams would trade a possession to end the quarter 7-0.
With Clay driving at the beginning of the second quarter, Ray punched more holes to get the Knights looking inside, which allowed Griner to bolt around the right end for a 43 yard touchdown run at 10:40 to even the score 7-7.
Trying to keep momentum on their side, Clay attempted an onside kick. The Knights recovered and took advantage using six plays capped by a 30 yard touchdown pass to go up 14-7.
On the return, the Blue Devils drove to the Vanguard 26, facing a fourth down with four yards to go. The incomplete pass allowed the Knights to drive again, but had to punt away after stalling at mid-field.
During the Clay drive, on fourth and five yards to go, a fake punt went wrong.
“I can’t put a kid in a position like that where there is some grey area,” said Kennard, talking about if Jared Mosley should run if it is there, or boot it away. The fake turned the ball over on downs. But one play later, Clay got new life as Vanguard attempted to run a drag route again, but was picked off by Brandon Combs. The euphoria wore off quickly as Clay suffered two intentional grounding calls and faced a fourth and 40. Off the Blue Devil punt, the Knights marched to boot a 40 yard field goal with no time remaining in the half, 17-7.
The third quarter began with a Clay onside kick recovery to bring new life.
Again the bubble burst at 10:01 with another picked off pass. The Knights needed less than two minutes to up the score to 24-7. The next Clay drive, another picked off pass and another Vanguard score, 31-7.
“We struggled in the second half turning the ball over, throwing to the wrong colored jersey,” said Kennard. “It’s not his (Griner) fault, it’s our fault. We have to coach better and put him in better positions to make plays.”
The Devils swapped possessions and on the stalled drive, set up to punt again. With a high snap. Mosley couldn’t get a handle on the ball, and the Knights recovered on the Clay 22. A play later, it was 38-7.
Looking forward, Kennard reflected on the path for Blue Devil football.
“Obviously Q is a big part of that; Bradley Warren and those guys on offense,” said Kennard. “We are going to have to replace a whole lot of pieces, especially on offensive line and our receivers positions. We’ll see- it’s a long year off and a lot of different things will happen. But we have a lot of good young talent coming back and they’ll be ready to go next year.”