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Nease outlasts Orange Park in 27-12 struggle

By Nick Blank
Posted 9/28/22

ORANGE PARK— Orange Park High and Nease High arrived at the penultimate game at Hoyt B. Cotney Stadium sporting a combined 1-6 record, though it was Nease’s running platoon which created a …

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Nease outlasts Orange Park in 27-12 struggle


ORANGE PARK— Orange Park High and Nease High arrived at the penultimate game at Hoyt B. Cotney Stadium sporting a combined 1-6 record, though it was Nease’s running platoon which created a deficit too high for the Raiders to scale as the Panthers won a 27-12 match Friday night at Orange Park High School.

The Raiders fought till the last on two drives that the Panthers stuffed on fourth down at mid-field and the goal-line with a tenacious defense led by junior linebacker Joe Miracle. Penalties hurt the Raiders, but they displayed big play potential via the running game and in coverage.

Orange Park Head Coach Marcus Wimberly said the homecoming game had a familiar theme to it and he urged his squad to eliminate mistakes. He said his seniors have to determine what they want the season to be.

“We’re capable of winning these games, we’re just blowing it ourselves,” he said. “We can run the ball, that was one of our strengths. But the mistakes, 4th and 1, we’ve got to convert.”

Nease pulled no punches with its deceptive running game and special teams. On their first drive, Samuel Milton and Camryn Smith shared the workload, though quarterback Marcus Stokes was also a factor. MIlton found the endzone from 3 yards out.

The Raiders’ running game couldn’t find footing early with the 6-0 deficit. The punt pinned Nease inside the 10 yard-line. Leaning on the running game the Panthers got to mid-field, but consecutive big plays from Orlando Jackson and a tipped pass gave the Raiders the ball back inside their own 10 yard-line to conclude the first quarter.

Not long after the punt, junior Nease safety Careal Carter made a falling interception early in the drive presenting the Panthers with an opening at the Raiders’ 28 yard-line. Milton gained 9 yards, Stokes found an edge and barely broke the plane of the goal-line to put the Panthers up 13-0.

Onside kicks are rare yet devastating, and Nease caught Orange Park off guard. Smith pushed the Panthers to the Raiders’ 25-yard-line, Stokes found a wide-open Gavin Gmeiner over the middle.

The Raiders knew they had to act behind senior running back Jojo Restall, despite crowd-deflating penalties. Restall juked passed defenders on a gain of 38 to get to the 50-yard-line on the first play. He then scrambled on a critical fourth-down conversion. After another nervy fourth down conversion, a large gain from quarterback Elijah Craggette was negated by a penalty to push the Raiders to Nease’s 29-yard-line.

Restall answered with a 19-yard scamper for a touchdown to end the half at 20-6.

The Panthers resumed their running trifecta that battered the Raiders and Stokes found the endzone from 4 yards.

Restall then turned the game on its head, albeit briefly. Finding a hole at the line of scrimmage from his team’s 20-yard-line, Restall vigilantly eluded defenders until 80 yards later to cut the Panthers’ lead to 27-12.

This set the stage for a game-defining drive the Raiders needed. Senior defensive back Decarius Jacobs undercut Stokes’ throw to give the Raiders tha ball back with a quarter to play. Behind Restall and astute pocket presence from Craggette, they moved to the Panthers’ goal-line. Nease held firm, stopping Restall from 3 yards out.

Bo Myrick picked off an overthrown Stokes’ pass at mid-field, though two short runs, a 6-yard pass and sack later, Nease assumed possession with better field position and a running game up to draining the clock, securing Nease’s first win of the season, moving the St. John’s County school to 1-4 on the year.

The Raiders, 1-4, will have a final home game at the current version of Hoyt B. Cotney Stadium against Lake City’s Columbia High, 3-3, on Friday.

To Wimberly and the school, the occasion will mean plenty.

“There’s a lot of memories. A lot of people will remember this stadium, the stands, everything,” Wimberley added. “It’s going to be sentimental, but we need to give them something to cheer about at the end of the day.”