ORANGE PARK - Oakleaf High senior running back Devin Outlaw ran for 279 yards and four touchdowns to open 2022 in full attack mode after two years of nagging injuries while the Oakleaf defense forced four turnovers including a Drake Stubbs interception touchdown, lifting the Knights to a 45-8 rout of host Orange Park in the season opener for both teams.
Outlaw simply dominated, averaging 16.4 yards per carry on 17 rushes. The senior carried the ball on thirteen of Oakleaf’s first 19 offensive plays, and at one point had accounted for 229 of the Knights’ 243 yards of offense. The 5’11”, 210-pounder was quick to get past the line of scrimmage, and punished would-be tacklers in the secondary with his physical style.
“I wouldn’t get in front of him,” Oakleaf head coach Marcus Miller said of Outlaw. “He probably is stronger than last year.”
Oakleaf (1-0) at Baker County (0-0)
Baker County, 11-3 last year with 54-21 state semifinal loss to 5A champion Miami Central, was getting manhandled last week to the tune of 21-0 at halftime to Bradford before officials ended the game due to weather, but the Wildcats are probably a much better team than the score indicates.
Baker County graduated a ton of talent including a 1600 Yds, 12TD QB and a 915 Yds, 14TDs running back, but return senior running back Cam Smith (1400 yds, 15TDs). Baker County is always rugged up front with a pounding ground game.
Bradford, under former Baker County coach Jamie Rodgers, the Class 5A Florida Dairy Farmers coach of the year in 2017 with Baker County getting to a Class 5A runnerup finish, comes in with track speed at all positions. Bradford will face Keystone Heights on September 30.
Oakleaf, whose schedule the past few years has included some Georgia trips and visitors from south Florida, will be close to home this season and will make a first trip to Baker County on Friday and get a first-ever visit from Class 1A perennial state champion Madison County in October. Oakleaf does travel to Tallahassee Chiles on September 23.
Outlaw scored on runs of six, five, two and 19 yards,. He was headed well past the 300 yard mark after scoring to cap the opening drive of the third quarter, but sat out the remainder of the contest.
Oakleaf shot out to an early lead courtesy of a series of Raiders miscues. Orange Park quarterback Durrionte “Bo” Myrick and running back Kenneth Henderson botched a handoff on the first play from scrimmage. Oakleaf linebacker Da’Jon Brown pounced in the loose ball at the Raiders’ 20 yard line. Outlaw took advantage, covering the short field in two plays, scoring from five yards out just 35 seconds into the game.
Orange Park fumbled on its next two offensive plays, and though the Raiders recovered both of them to retain possession, the losses led to a punt by Jaden Atteo that traveled only 12 yards. One play later, Outlaw broke two tackles in the backfield, gaining 20 yards to the five yard line. After an offsides penalty against the Raiders, Outlaw bolted through a hole up the middle to score easily, putting the Knights ahead 12-0.
Orange Park regained its equilibrium on its next possession, turning to their own senior running back, William “JoJo” Restall, who gained 98 yards on seven rushes before leaving the game with an ankle injury. Restall found a hole up the middle and raced 50 yards to the Knights’ 25 yard line, where his fumble was recovered by teammate Jermel Brown. Myrick converted a fourth and four with a read option that gained eight yards, and scored on a quarterback sneak on the next play. He then rolled right and dived into the pylon for a two-point conversion that brought the Raiders within 12-8.
Outlaw rushed for 73 yards on the next drive, which was capped by a perfectly thrown fade route from Oakleaf’s Drew Ammon to Taylor Bradshaw from twelve yards out— the only pass of the first half completed by either team—. Ammons’ pass on the two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete, leaving the Knights with an 18-8 lead with 11:51 remaining in the second quarter.
The turning point came on the ensuing Orange Park possession. Looking to answer Bradshaw’s touchdown with a drive to again draw within one score, Myrick led receiver Brian Green a little too far on a slant pattern. Oakleaf safety Drake Stubbs stepped in front of the pass, intercepted it and weaved his way 54 yards for a touchdown, evading Myrick at the 10. Ammon booted the extra point, giving the Knights a commanding 25-8 lead.
After a touchback, the Raiders mounted a drive, moving 51 yards to the Knights 29 yard line. However, while running back Kenneth Henderson was stood up at the line of scrimmage, Oakleaf tackle Justin “JJ” Marsh-Mensie stripped the ball loose, recovering it for the Knights to end the threat. As with the first lost Raiders’ fumble, it took Outlaw just two runs to take advantage. He galloped down the right sideline for 70 yards, and then bulldozed into the end zone from two yards out.
Ammon was only able to complete one of six passes in the rain that fell on Hoyt B. Cotney Stadium most of the night, but showed off his running ability on the final drive of the first half. Pressured in the pocket, he stepped up and took off, not stopping until he was run out of bounds at the Orange Park 20 yard line with three seconds left on the clock. On the last play of the half, Ammons surveyed the field but could not find an open receiver. He tucked the ball and ran to his left, cut back right and received a block from Carlos Witherup that enabled him to get into the end zone.
With a 39-8 score at the intermission, both teams played mostly back-ups in the second half. Oakleaf picked up where it left off, starting at its own 35 and callng eight running plays, four by Outlaw and four by new quarterback Brandon Wallace. The five minute drive culminated in Outlaw’s fourth touchdown of the game, a 19 yard jaunt. The visitors finished with 444 total yards, 432 of them on the ground, while Orange Park had 181 rushing yards and 216 yards overall.
A 70 yard kickoff return by Nolan Chambers set the Raiders up at the Oakleaf 25 yard line, but disaster struck one final time. Backup quarterback Elijah Craggette completed three passes to reach the five yard line. But on the next play, Craggette fumbled in effort to take the ball back from Henderson, and could not corral the loose ball. Tackle Akeem Neal jumped on it for Oakleaf, the fourth Raiders turnover.
Orange Park (0-1) vs. Episcopal (1-0)
Orange Park’s Achilles Heel seems to be in their fingers with the Raiders victimizing solid game play with fumbles; 0-0 versus Bolles in first quarter of preseason before turnovers turned game into 28-0 halftime score and fumbles and interception against Oakleaf thwarting one red zone visit and upping score in season open blowout.
Still, coach Marcus Wimberly can reverse course with a little duct tape on the ball (reference Friday Night Lights scene with Tim McGraw) and maybe some Stick-Um from Fred Biletnikoff on the sideline.
JoJo Restall got a 55 yard blast and a 28 yard blast with quarterbacks Bo Myrick and Elijah Craggette getting loose for some double digit runs.
Episcopal got gacked by Middleburg in preseason play but found some mojo for 37-7 score for three quarters over Christ’s Church Academy in their opener with four touchdowns via pass.
Neal also had a sack and a tackle for loss.
“The game could have been a lot different,” lamented Orange Park head coach Marcus Wimberly, making his Raiders debut after moving to North Florida from Tennessee in the offseason. “Both teams play in the same weather. We have to be mentally prepared from the start.”
Wimberly was pleased with the effort given by his Raiders.
“They kept playing,” he said. “We have got to coach better on tackling and blocking. Those things we can fix. You can’t fix [a lack of] effort.”
Oakleaf’s Miller partly attributed the four turnovers forced by his defense to the maturity of five sophomores, including Stubbs, who started last season and have made great strides.
Orange Park hosts Jacksonville Episcopal in its next game on September 3, while Oakleaf travels to Baker County that same evening.
“Baker County was a state semifinalist last year,” said Miller. “They are well-coached and they have a heck of an atmosphere up there, so it will be a heck of a challenge.”