FLEMING ISLAND - Maybe it was the fact that Friday’s Region 1-7A final started a half an hour earlier than what Fleming Island is accustomed to starting their football games. Maybe the onset of the …
FLEMING ISLAND - Maybe it was the fact that Friday’s Region 1-7A final started a half an hour earlier than what Fleming Island is accustomed to starting their football games. Maybe the onset of the holiday season put the Golden Eagles in a giving mood. Whatever the cause, the Golden Eagles were unable to overcome a slew of early miscues in a 35-18 loss that ends the season for Clay County’s last hope for a state title in 2020.
“We didn’t execute,” said Fleming Island head coach Damenyum Springs. “Too many ‘My bads,’ on our sideline,” referencing a popular slang term used to apologize for a mistake, loosely translated as “my fault.” “When you hear a lot of ‘My bads,’ it will kill you every time.”
The mistakes came early and often for the Golden Eagles. Running back Tim Thomas tripped over quarterback T.K. Kocak’s foot on the second play from scrimmage, resulting in a loss that forced Fleming Island into a passing situation. On the next play, Kocak’s screen pass was thrown right into the chest of linebacker Preston Murphy, who made the interception at the Golden Eagles’ 17 yard line. Niceville took advantage of the short field with a seven yard run by senior Shawn Parker, giving the Eagles a 7-0 lead three minutes into the game. It got worse.
Four Golden Eagles stayed in short zones while Niceville receiver Roland Clay ran a fly pattern late in the first quarter, allowing Eagles quarterback Trey Wainwright to connect with his favorite target for an easy 53 yard score that put the visitors ahead 14-0.
In the second quarter, the Golden Eagles were caught with only two defenders to cover three Niceville receivers split wide right. Wainwright recognized it and threw a quick screen to Amareyeh Thomas for an 18 yard gain. Thomas hauled in a touchdown pass later in the quarter on a back shoulder throw to push Niceville’s advantage to 21.
Fleming Island had a chance to make a game of it midway through the second quarter. Tim Thomas woke up the partisan crowd with a 46 yard run that was followed by runs of 13 and 8 yards by Sam Singleton, all part of a 75 yard drive that reached the Eagles’ five yard line. But Niceville linebacker Michael Carruthers stripped Kocak on the next play, causing a fumble that Carruthers recovered to end the threat and preserve the 21 point margin.
Fleming’s Colt Hyams was short on a 47 yard field goal attempt just before halftime, sending the Golden Eagles to the locker room facing a 28-0 deficit.
On the first possession of the second half, Devin Grind failed to make an over the shoulder catch on a punt inside the Golden Eagles ten yard line, and was fortunate to corral the ball at the one. On the first play from scrimmage, Niceville linebacker Keylon Murphy pounced on a second Kocak fumble, setting up a short touchdown run by Dominic Annichiarico that, after Charles Labee’s extra point, gave Niceville a 35-0 lead and started a running clock.
“It hurts,” said Springs. “We had to play a perfect game, just reading our keys. Instead, we blew assignments and got caught with our eyes in the backfield.”
The undefeated Eagles do not need much help. Only two of their 11 opponents this season have avoided a running clock. Wainwright, a Class 7A Mr. Football candidate who had completed 78 percent of his passes entering the game, threw for 164 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. The senior now has 31 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. Parker had 72 of his game-high 74 rushing yards in the first half. Thomas hauled in six passes for 65 yards, including a second touchdown on a perfectly timed fade route to the back corner of the end zone.
The early deficit forced Fleming Island to play an unfamiliar style, one the Golden Eagles did not want to play.
“We thought we could sustain the run game, wear them down, and gash them in the third and fourth quarter,” explained Springs.
Instead, Kocak, who threw only one pass in the Golden Eagles’ previous game, a 42-7 win over Atlantic Coast, threw 19 passes. The senior completed eight throws for 158 yards. Singleton and Tim Thomas had only 16 combined carries, less than half of their usual load.
The Golden Eagles scored the last 18 points of the game. Hyams nailed a 43 yard field goal on the final play of the third quarter, and Alex Maier recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Niceville 48 yard line. Four plays later, Kocak evaded pressure and connected with wideout Will Stephens, who touched his feet down just inside the end zone before falling out of bounds, for a 10 yard score. After a fumble recovery by the Golden Eagles’ Tyler Cross, Singleton broke two tackles on his way to the end zone for a 33 yard touchdown. Stephens passed to fellow senior T.J. Lawrence for a two-point conversion, making the score 35-18.
Springs was proud of the Golden Eagles rally.
“That felt good. Our team is always going to fight to the end,” said Springs. “It shows that they are becoming the young men we hoped they would.”
Fleming Island completes its season with a 9-3 record. Springs is already looking forward to 2021. A lot of players who contributed in 2020, including Singleton and receivers Darion Domineck and Caleb Jones, will return in the Fall.
“You want to reload instead of rebuild, and that is where our program is right now.”
Niceville will host Orlando Edgewater in a Class 7A state semifinal next Fri., Dec. 1.