Holy smokes, daylight football

By Ray Dimonda Correspondent
Posted 9/14/22

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - After inches of rain in the prior two days, the Orange Park Raiders needed to wait an additional 14 hours, allowing the host Clay Blue Devil’s field to be ready for play. With …

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Holy smokes, daylight football


GREEN COVE SPRINGS - After inches of rain in the prior two days, the Orange Park Raiders needed to wait an additional 14 hours, allowing the host Clay Blue Devil’s field to be ready for play. With a Pop Warner kind of vibe going with a 9:30 am Saturday kickoff, the wait proved well worth it for the Raiders. Going down 7-0 early off a Blue Devil Payton Dykas touchdown on the opening drive, the Raiders evened the score on the counter drive when quarterback Elijah Craggette displayed some amazing cutback moves to go 46 yards, to tie the game 7-7 where the game stayed until the second quarter. After another Craggette touchdown for a 14-7 lead, the Raiders used a heavy dose of Kenneth Henderson running to rack up 180 total rushing yards to keep the lead through the final, with Clay coming close, but not enough as the Raiders finally broke through for their first win of the season, 35-30.

“I guess Saturday morning was the key to success,” said Raider Head Coach Marcus Wimberly. “We were glad to find a way to win, but we are still making way too many mistakes execution wise, especially on defense. It’s something we need to fix. The film will show us if it is personnel or effort.” Asked about his one-man wrecking machine in Henderson, Wimberly gave props and was quick to give even more praise to the guys in the trenches. “Henderson is going to run hard and give his all, and the offensive line did a good job today handling the front and doing what the are supposed to and what they are expected to do. It was a good job on their part.”

After the two first touchdowns, both teams traded possession with nothing to show. “The biggest difference from playing Friday night to this morning is the humidity. It’s a lot hotter than people think,” said Clay Head Coach Kyle Kennard. “I don’t want to make any excuses, but all those kids running routes, are playing defensive backs as well. So, they are going both ways, playing special teams and it’s hard on those skill guys and I think they just got worn out in the second half.” With the Clay drive looking to use another punt around mid-field, Kennard dialed up a fake with punter Alex Weiss bolting to the right sideline looking for the far marker but coming up short.

In the second quarter, off of another Clay punt, the Raiders were already inside the Clay end of the field at the 45 yard line. With a one-two combination of Kenneth Henderson steam rolling tacklers, and the arm of Craggette who ending the game with 197 passing yards and zero interceptions, Craggette ran in his second touchdown, 14-7. After a good kickoff return, the Blue Devils were looking to even things up when quarterback Merrick Rapoza, 192 passing yards on the day, misfired and threw his only interception with 7:27 until the half. The Raiders made the mistake sting as a minute later, they found the endzone with Jermel Brown at 6:26 to go ahead 21-7. With 1:30 remaining until the halftime break, a vastly improved Ethan Bellamore came on for a successful 31 yard field goal to give the Blue Devils some momentum before the break, 21-10.

The second half saw a few punt exchanges until Clay powered in close to the endzone and found a new tool in their arsenal with the legs of Rapoza. With first and goal to go from the six yard line, Rapoza took the ball and powered to the one yard line. The next play called his number again where he punched through, 21-17. “That was by design,” said Rapoza when asked about the numerous carries. “I don’t mind tucking and running. I think that may be a part of the game more going forward. I’m looking forward to it.” The Raiders went right back to work, and not to be outdone by Rapoza, Craggette used a keeper of his own on a fourth and nine to find paydirt, 28-17.

With the first drive of the fourth quarter, Clay continued to add to their overall 148 rushing yards to pound and pass their way to the four yard line where Rapoza again crossed the goal line to pull closer, 28-23. Clay’s pop-up kickoff was run back well, handing the Raiders a short field to work with. From the

Clay 34, it took Henderson four carries to punch the ball in for a 35-23 lead. The Blue Devils finished the scoring with a Payton Dykas short side screen which he took 69 yards for Clay’s final score, 35-30. The Raiders, with 3:14 to play, used smart clock management to move the ball all the way to the Clay six yard line where they let the time expire locking in their first victory.


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