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Saturday loss, rain, mud, Thursday: Clay wins

By Ray Dimonda Correspondent
Posted 9/21/22

GAINESVILLE - This week if you searched the word adversity, a picture of the Clay Blue Devils would show up. Last week, due to field conditions the game was played on a humid Saturday morning. After …

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Saturday loss, rain, mud, Thursday: Clay wins


GAINESVILLE - This week if you searched the word adversity, a picture of the Clay Blue Devils would show up. Last week, due to field conditions the game was played on a humid Saturday morning. After the loss to Orange Park, the team went back to work Monday, was on the field two days and prepared for a Thursday night away game at Gainesville. The Gainesville Hurricanes normally play at Citizen’s Field Municipal stadium. With all the rain, that field too had the consistency of a wet sponge, thus moving the game to the backyard of Gainesville High School; a practice field that closely resembled the mortar practice range at Camp Blanding. Despite all those cards stacked against the Blue Devils, the team won the coin toss, took the ball, and went to work. With a Payton Dykas kick runback to the 43, the Blue Devils used the opening drive to go 57 yards in seven plays capped by a Dykas corner catch touchdown reception cracking open the scoring, never relenting the lead in the 28-10 road victory.

“Monday was like our Sunday watching film. A lot of film. We went a little bit, but not much. Tuesday we went back to work. Wednesday was our normal run through and we were back at it,” said Clay Head Coach Kyle Kennard. “I think it was a good thing playing Thursday because the kids were eager to get that bad taste (of the Orange Park loss) out of their mouth. They knew we didn’t play very well against Orange Park. The film showed the effort was not what we expect from the Blue Devils so we challenged them to come back and give it a great effort. The extra day this week will be a luxury for us as we have Tocoi Creek coming and they’ve had a great season so far. We’re looking forward to it.”

After the Clay opening drive score, on the Gainesville counter, Clay defender Bryan Prince had the first of his three quarterback sacks, this one for a five-yard loss. Gainesville running back John Cooper would be a thorn in the Blue Devil’s side all night, this time going 80 yards off a screen pass to even the score, 7-7. When they had the ball back, Clay was forced to punt away.

From their own 35, Gainesville passed on first down getting intercepted by Dykas who looked to go all the way for a pick-6 until a flag brought the ball back to the 20 due to holding. “I play both sides and I am tired,’ said Dykas. “But coach told me to watch nine (Gainesville’s Cooper). He did a little speed out and I saw them throw the ball. I jumped his route, went up and got it.” Dykas finished the night with 12 receptions for 175 yards and two touchdowns.

Back on offense, Dykas moved the ball 10 yards closer with a power sweep. Quarterback Merrick Rapoza wasn’t letting Dykas have all the fun as he tucked the ball from six yards out and used a rugby scrum to cross the goal line to go ahead 14-7. Rapoza finished the evening with 175 passing yards, no interceptions and two touchdowns. Early in the second quarter, driving from mid-field, Gainesville was moving on Clay until Prince had his second sack for a 10-yard loss. Gainesville attempted to recover on third down, only gaining back five yards. Lined up for a Gainesville field goal attempt, Jason Goflin shot across and got a hand on the kick, blocking the three points.

After exchanging punts, Clay was again driving with 3:40 until the half. Using runs by Dominic Martin who finished with 33 yards on 11 carries, and another short pass to Dykas, Rapoza again saw Dykas open in the corner on second and goal to go, hitting his target to go up 21-7 heading into the break. Gainesville opened the second half with a drive that fizzled out inside the five-yard line and stayed safe with a successful field goal, 21-10. The Blue Devil defense would again get another highlight sack by Prince to force a Hurricane punt.

In the final stanza, Clay drove to a first down and goal to go looking to score again when the ball squirted out and was recovered by Gainesville. The Blue Devils would show the hard afternoons in the weight room paid off as they were faced with a Gainesville fourth down and four yards to go, this time shutting down Cooper and taking the ball over on downs.

With the ball back, from their own 32 Dykas and Martin drove the ball to the Gainesville seven-yard line. On second down, Rapoza tucked the ball again and crossed into the endzone for the final score at 4:03, 28-10. After another unsuccessful Gainesville drive, with the ball back and under a minute to play, Clay was forced to punt away to Gainesville. The receiver couldn’t keep the ball tucked away and Clay recovered the ball with :47 ticks to burn. Rapoza would take a knee twice to complete the contest.


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