What’s Rocky doing at St. Johns?

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 9/21/22

ORANGE PARK - St. Johns Country Day School football knocked out a two-game win streak with a 27-26 overtime win over Ocala Christian behind a Caden Burchfield touchdown and a decisive Corban Berrang …

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What’s Rocky doing at St. Johns?


ORANGE PARK - St. Johns Country Day School football knocked out a two-game win streak with a 27-26 overtime win over Ocala Christian behind a Caden Burchfield touchdown and a decisive Corban Berrang extra point kick.

“For me, I’m proud for the kids,” said St. Johns Country Day School coach Rocky Bantag, a veteran of 11 years in the Spartan football program with the last two as head coach. “We have some extra bodies to have good practices. The kids are having a ball and the school is embracing the team.”

After spotting Ocala Christian a 14-0 first-half lead off two rush touchdowns, St. Johns finally scored before the halftime whistle with Burchfield hitting wideout Ian Mamea for a five-yard out pass that turned to 70 yards to paydirt to close the half down just 14-7. “They were a power run team; ours is a bend but don’t break system,” said Bantag. “They were running hard from 20 to 20 but we denied them in the end zone. We had our chances. This group of kids never thinks they are out of any game. They believe in themselves.”

Bantag took over the Spartan football program two years ago and survived a COVID year, a less than successful one-win first year distracted with low roster numbers and injuries, but has kept his fervor for young man football intact to get the St. Johns community excited about football again.

“We had success years ago under a few good coaches; Todd Zehner, Merlin Smith, Billy Sellinger and Derek Chipoletti, as well as Rodney Dubose and I, learned a little bit about what works and what doesn’t work from all those guys,” said Bantag, noting St. Johns dropped to 8-man football in an Independent League to survive. “This group of kids wants to be successful and the St. Johns community filled the stadium for this game and made it an exciting night.”

Noting the aforementioned coaches; Zehner took St. Johns to a Freelance championship game, Merlin Smith is a highly successful coach at Oakleaf Junior High and Chipoletti directed Oakleaf High to an undefeated regular season and a region final finish before coming to St. Johns. Rodney Dubose coached at Orange Park High, Westside High and is now head coach at North Florida Educational Institute.

Burchfield’s favorite target is Bodie Brafford with eight catches and two scores with Ian Mamea averaging an astounding 44 yards a catch for five grabs and two scores. Patrick Walsh has six catches with a 20-yard average as coach Rocky Bantag has maybe found the quick strike offense that works for his Spartans.

“We find the defender to attack and then Burchfield finds the open guy,” said Bantag. “We have the quick strike capability. When we score it is quick; 45 and 27 back-to-back games.”

The third quarter turned into a three-and-out slugfest led by a tornado defensive effort from Caleb Cameron who finished with 14 tackles, four sacks, three fumbles and two fumbles recovered.

The Spartan defense backed Cameron’s effort with 10 tackles from Andrew Staten; one sack, and nine tackles from Trey Dubnansky.

“Staten is being looked at by colleges already because he could be a good 6’-4” lineman,” said Bantag.

After both teams dished the defense in the third, the fourth quarter became an offensive highlight reel as both teams' conditioning started to have an effect.

Owen Johnston opened with a two-yard touchdown run, then Ocala added a two-yard touchdown run.

Burchfield snaked a nine-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Walsh to tie the game at 20-20 with Berrang’s PAT kick getting blocked.

In the overtime, both teams got starts at the 10-yard line with four downs to score.

Burchfield finished with 219 passing yards while rushing for 53. George Friedline topped the Spartan ground game with 54 yards. Mamea hauled in three passes for 146 yards with Walsh snaring three also for 59 yards.


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