ORANGE PARK,Fla. – Orange Park's offense couldn't convert a fourth down in the opening half Friday night. When the Raiders flipped the script, they changed the game.
Orange Park converted two key fourth downs in the second half, the first leading directly to a touchdown and the second keeping a drive alive for the go-ahead score. That was enough for the visiting Raiders to rally past rival Ridgeview 13-7 in a defensive struggle in District 5-5A.
After converting 1 of 5 fourth-down attempts, Orange Park (3-2, 2-0) finally delivered, trailing 7-0 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
With starting quarterback Vinny Walker sidelined with a muscle cramp for a play, backup Tavien Wilkerson delivered a 22-yard scoring pass into Alex Collier's hands by the front left pylon on a fourth-and-6.
With the game tied and little more than eight minutes remaining, the Raiders converted again, this time with a run on a fourth-and-1 from the Panthers 15. Walker then hit Sean Dixon on a 3-yard scoring pass a few plays later for the game-winning score.
Big plays for one side, dejection for Ridgeview (0-5, 0-1), which had checked OP throughout the game.
"It was mistakes on defense," Panthers linebacker Miika Tuisano said. "We just can't have those."
The result was the second fourth-quarter victory for the Raiders this season.
"Sooner or later, the ball's not going to bounce your way," OP coach Tom MacPherson said. "You've got to endure it as best you can. Even at this level, winning is hard. I finally got to a point this year, after a couple of disappointments, that I appreciate winning."
MacPherson also appreciated his defense. The Raiders yielded 197 yards to Ridgeview, with only 29 yards gained by the Panthers following the first drive of the second half.
That drive was enough, however, to give Ridgeview the lead. OP pinned the Panthers at their own 7. The Raiders then dropped a pick-six on a pass to the flat and, while sacking quarterback Ben Monroe to force what would have been a fourth-and-13, were flagged for a facemask.
With a second chance, Monroe hit Spencer Calise on a 54-yard pass play. That set up Monroe's keeper for a 7-0 Ridgeview lead.
"Without the penalties extending drives, they really didn't continue to drive down the field," MacPherson said. "Our defense has played hard all year. We put them in a lot of terrible spots, and they respond."
After that, it was difficult moving for the Panthers. The ground game averaged little more than 2.5 yards a carry, with Julius McCray, Paris Taylor and Kendy Charles, who had a sack, leading the way on defense.
The pass defense was up to the task as well. Following the Calise completion, Ridgeview completed none of its final nine pass attempts. The Panthers were picked twice, once by Stewart Udell in the first half and then by Dixon in the second half.
"I started out a little slow, missed two tackles at the beginning of the game," Dixon said. "But once I got that pick, the defense started turning it up."
That overshadowed a brilliant showing by Ridgeview's defense. OP's only fourth-down conversion during the opening 28 minutes came on an offside play by the Panthers.
Collier, who had been averaging more than 118 yards a game rushing, was checked to 65 on 22 carries. Twice, the Raiders threw incompletions on fourth down. Twice on fourth-and-short, Collier was stopped by Tuisano and company.
"I was just trying my hardest," said Tuisano, who seemed to shadow Collier on many plays. "It was a tough game, and I did the best I could. I hope everyone else did, too."
Orange Park 13, Ridgeview 7
Orange Park 0 0 7 6—13
Ridgeview 0 0 7 0—7
R – Max Monroe 3 run (Austin Leonard kick)
OP – Alex Collier 22 pass from Tavien Wilkerson (Kendy Charles kick)
OP – Sean Dixon 3 pass from Vinny Walker (kick blocked)
Category: OP; R
First downs: 15; 13
Rushes-yards: 41-145; 22-56
Passing: 161; 141
Comp-Att-Int: 10-19-0; 9-29-2
Fumbles-lost: 1-0; 2-0
Penalties-Yards: 12-115; 7-50
RUSHING — OP: Collier 22-65, Terrance Johnson 9-39, Walker 7-38, Diego Soto 2-2, Stewart Udell 1-1. R: Glen Miller 4-20, Monroe 8-14, Reynaldo Grey 3-13, Rey Gonzalez 4-12, Team 1-5, Spencer Calise 1-(-5), Matt Dye 1-(-3).
PASSING — OP: Walker 9-16-0-139, Wilkerson 1-3-0-22. R: Monroe 9-29-2-141.
RECEIVING — OP: Udell 4-75, Soto 3-52, Collier 1-22, Dixon 2-12. R: Calise 2-52, Grey 3-39, Miller 2-34, Gonzalez 1-8, Juan Pereira 1-8.