JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With Sandalwood driving late Friday night and threatening to take the lead, Raines linebacker JaMari Whitehead made what seemed like a timely play, forcing a fumble and stopping the Saints at the 1-yard line.
As far as Sandalwood coach Adam Geis was concerned, the timing was off. The play happened a little too late, like after the ball crossed the plane of the goal line late.
Regardless of the perspective, when time finally was up the Vikings, buoyed by the play of their defense, had held off host Sandalwood for a 14-8 victory at the Woodshed in the News4JAX Game of the Week. Whitehead’s forced fumble and recovery with 3:01 remaining almost salted away the contest for Raines, ranked ninth in the Super 10.
It was one of a couple of calls Geis disputed at the end. But as far as Whitehead was concerned, it was a good call.
“We prepare for this in practice and we knew this type of play would come, and we came up with the ball,” said Whitehead, who had 1.5 sacks and was in on three different tackles for loss. “It was just a great goal line play.”
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The Saints (1-2) had driven 44 yards to the 1 with 3:01 remaining. Quarterback Baylor Hayes, who passed for 187 yards, kept it after a low shotgun snap and went into the middle of the line. He reached the ball out but it was knocked away.
There was a scramble for the ball, and Vikings senior Whitehead popped out of the pile holding the ball, forcing and recovering the fumble.
It was a bang-bang play. But Raines players felt it was perfect timing, just before the ball broke the plane of the goal line.
“They spread us out to try to get us out of the box and they tried to rush it in,” senior defensive back Kenton Kirkland said. “But the quarterback tried to reach out the ball, and (Whitehead) knocked it out. It was a good play.”
He was a tad late as far as Geis was concerned. All Hayes had to do was break the plane of the goal line with control of the ball for it to be a touchdown.
“I have a picture,” Geis said. “(Hayes) may have dropped the ball, but it was after he crossed the line. We have people down there taking pictures. The ball crossed the line.”
But on a night when the chain crew took a down away from the Vikings (2-1) on a first-half possession and no one noticed, the referees ruled the play a fumble before Hayes crossed the line. Raines’ ball.
The outstanding play from Whitehead has been par for the course, said Raines coach Donovan Masline, as the team had five tackles for loss and three more sacks against Sandalwood.
“Whitehead is on a tear right now,” Masline said. “He’s definitely causing havoc for offensive tackles.”
Still, Sandalwood had yet another chance after forcing a punt. The Saints took over at the Vikings 34 with 1:24 left and made it to the 18. After a pair of incompletions, it appeared Sandalwood running back Jordan Bean, who had been bottled up all game, broke free, weaving 18 yards for a touchdown.
But there was a flag behind the play. Holding on the Saints.
“I wasn’t concerned at all,” Whitehead said. “I knew our defense would hold them.”
A desperation scramble and heave by Hayes, with penalty flags on Sandalwood all over the field, fell incomplete on fourth down and, finally, with the clock at 0:00, Raines had survived.
“It looked like the holding call came out well behind the play when we scored the winning touchdown,” Geis said of Bean’s play. “You move on, either way.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys out there, and I just wanted to see a great game. I saw a great game from both teams. We battled. Easily at the end, we could win by a point. I mean, we scored the winning touchdown twice in the last minutes.”
The ending was par for the course for the Saints, however. They controlled the ball for more than 15 minutes of the 24-minute first half but were held off the scoreboard. The best chance came at the end of the first half when, on a fourth and 4 from the Vikings 22, Hayes’ pass in the end zone was broken up by cornerback Khalil Francis.
Instead, it was 8-0 Raines at the half, with quarterback Roman Doles’ 17-yard touchdown run on the Vikings’ first drive accounting for the only points.
At the same time, Bean, who had 190 yards rushing over the season’s first two games, was hemmed in by an aggressive Raines defense. Bean finished with 32 yards on 16 carries. Five of those carries were losses and seven others went for two yards or fewer.
In addition to Whitehead’s big game, Terrance Forbes was in on a sack and tackle for loss while fellow linebacker Jaylen Clark had a tackle for loss and half a sack.
“We knew the offense had to rely on us come crunch time,” Kirkland said. “I really do like my defense. I think it’s the best in the city, especially when we connect, get together. Going into the bye week, we have a lot of things to correct, but we’re looking pretty good.”
Sandalwood came back on its first drive of the second half when a scrambling Hayes hit Marceil Henfield on a 60-yard pass play for a score. The two connected again on a two-point conversion to tie the game.
That lasted all of 15 seconds. Sincere Cohen took the handoff on the Vikings’ next play and went for 65 yards and a touchdown.
That score would hold up by a matter of inches. It may have been a close call but, as far as Raines is concerned, Whitehead’s play was all in good time.
Raines 14, Sandalwood 8
Raines, 8, 0, 6, 0 —14
Sandalwood, 0, 0, 8, 0 — 8
R – Roman Doles 17 run (Raquez Bacon run)
S – Marceil Henfield 60 pass from Baylor Hayes (Henfield pass from Hayes)
R – Sincere Cohen 65 run (pass failed)
Category: R — S
First downs: 9 — 12
Rushes-yards: 22-163 — 31-72
Passing: 60 — 187
Comp-Att-Int: 6-15-0 — 13-24-0
Fumbles-lost: 1-0 — 1-1
Penalties-Yards: 7-50 — 10-70
RUSHING — R: Cohen 3-68, Nyle Allen 6-30, Marcel Bowes 1-20, Bacon 3-20, Doles 7-20, Terrell Shepard 1-11, Team 1-(-6). S: Hayes 13-35, Jordan Bean 16-32, Rosco Harvell 2-5.
PASSING — R: Doles 6-15-0-60. S: Hayes 13-24-0-187.
RECEIVING — R: Kyle Gilyard 3-31, Bacon 1-16, Jadarian Rollins 1-7, Kenton Kirkland 1-6. S: Henfield 4-97, Jordan Gartrell 4-42, Bean 3-39, Troy Hillman 1-7, Sajari Love 1-2.