YULEE, Fla. – When the whistle blew for halftime Friday night, West Nassau’s offense walked off the field in a tie game against host Yulee.
When the Warriors offense walked back on the field, almost the entire third quarter was gone and Yulee was holding a 10-point lead.
The Hornets began the second half with a monumental 18-play drive that featured three fourth-down conversions. After Yulee turned that effort into three points, a West Nassau fumble on the ensuing kickoff led quickly to a Hornets touchdown, giving Yulee a little breathing room on the way to a 24-20 victory over its county rival at the Hive in the News4Jax Game of the Week.
The length of the sustained drive surprised even Hornets head coach Kyle Dougherty.
“That was 18 plays?” Dougherty asked. “We just played football the way we wanted to play. We converted a couple of long fourth downs and some penalties helped us out.”
The first penalty rankled Warriors coach Rickey Armstrong. Yulee (2-1) was punting in its own territory on fourth down, but during the kick a West Nassau player was flagged for a personal foul, one of 12 personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conducts assessed on both teams during a chippy contest.
The player was blocking one of the Hornets behind the line of scrimmage and kept blocking him into the ground after the punt was cleared. Armstrong wryly wondered if his player was flagged for excessive blocking, but he said he did not get clarification from the officials.
West Nassau (0-2) had benefitted from a similar call on its opening drive. The Warriors were punting and Yulee was called for a block in the back. The penalty was marched off from the line of scrimmage, allowing West Nassau to convert a fourth down on the way to a touchdown.
The referee declined after the game to clarify any calls.
The second-half penalty put Yulee into a better position. Facing fourth-and-1 at the Warriors 42, Braylen Ricks converted with a three-yard run. The drive continued, with quarterback Chris Turner twice hitting receiver Rylen Hale on fourth down, once for 13 yards on a fourth-and-11 and another for 23 with eight yards to go.
“These are situations we go over in practice day after day, and it shows up on Friday nights,” Hale said. “That’s good coaching from coach Kyle, a good game plan.”
The drive eventually stalled and Dougherty took the easy points with Braiden Shiver drilling a 23-yard field goal for a 17-14 advantage with 1:54 remaining in the third quarter, a drive of 10:06.
But the Warriors turned around and fumbled on the kickoff. Gavin Blackwell recovered at the 18. Two plays later, L.J. Jacobs was in the end zone and the lead was stretched to 24-14.
West Nassau had a sustained drive of its own to start the final quarter. The Warriors took 11 plays and chewed up six minutes, leading to a 2-yard scoring keeper from quarterback Brady Wright to cut the deficit to 24-20.
West Nassau stopped Yulee on its next possession and forced a punt. But a second critical special teams miscue ended the Warriors’ hopes. The punt was muffed by the returner, and Hale, only a sophomore, pounced on the ball at the West Nassau 45.
“Rylen’s phenomenal,” Daugherty said. “He was phenomenal blocking. He was phenomenal catching the ball and running his routes, and he’s a phenomenal kid, a wonderful human.”
Five runs by Jergotti Wilcox, who led all rushers with 151 yards, sealed the game and ran out the clock.
“You can’t win a game like this with those turnovers,” Armstrong said. “We gave them the ball twice and that was the difference in the game.”
The game started fine for Armstrong, with Conner Nobles’ 4-yard touchdown run capping the first possession, which included 34 yards in offense for the Warriors and 30 yards in penalties on Yulee. Trailing 7-6, West Nassau struck on a fourth down of its own in the first quarter, with A.J. Miller’s 49-yard scoring run coming on a fourth-and-4.
The drive to start the second half was in contrast to the start of the game for Yulee, which used big plays to counter West Nassau. Eight of the Hornets first 12 plays went for double-digits in yardage, including a 10-yard scoring run by Wilcox for a 7-6 lead and a 30-yard touchdown pass from Turner to Cam Jacobs to even the score in the second quarter.
That was enough to give Yulee consecutive victories over county rivals, one week after stifling Fernandina Beach. Save for a late loss to Hawthorne in the opener, the Hornets would be unbeaten.
Dougherty blamed himself for that one, but the coach, in his first year leading Yulee, has learned.
“We put an emphasis on special teams, and that paid off for us,” Dougherty said. “Week 1, we didn’t put as much emphasis on it, and it’s my fault. This team deserves every bit to be a 3-0 football team. I take ownership of that first one, but they earned this one.”
YULEE 24, WEST NASSAU 20
West Nassau, 14, 0, 0, 6 —20
Yulee, 7, 7, 10, 0 — 24
WN – Conner Nobles 4 run (kick failed)
Y – Jergotti Wilcox 10 run (Braiden Shiver kick)
WN – A.J. Miller 49 run (Nobles run)
Y – Cam Jacobs 30 pass from Chris Turner (Shiver kick)
Y – Shiver 23 FG
Y – LJ Jacobs 12 run (Shiver kick)
WN – Brady Wright 2 run (kick failed)
Category: WN — Y
First downs: 12 — 18
Rushes-yards: 31-127 — 36-159
Passing: 89 — 101
Comp-Att-Int: 11-21-0 — 6-12-1
Fumbles-lost: 3-2 — 0-0
Penalties-Yards: 14-134 — 11-105
RUSHING — WN: Miller 7-72, Wright 10-27, Nobles 13-25, Russell Weeks 1-3. Y: Wilcox 20-151, L.J. Jacobs 4-18, Braylen Ricks 4-1, Turner 5-(-8), Team 3-(-3).
PASSING — WN: Wright 11-21-0-89. Y: Turner 6-12-1-101.
RECEIVING — WN: Grayson Abels 3-30, Miller 3-23, Prentiss Davis 2-22, Kolten Schlegel 1-16, Nobles 2-(-2). Y: Rylen Hale 3-55, C. Jacobs 1-30, Zackary Drawdy 1-12, Josiah Evans 1-4.