JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mandarin’s offense was moving the ball, and Creekside’s running game had difficulty finding room.
But one thing didn’t just tip the field for the Knights, it moved the ball all the way down the field — Creekside’s special teams.
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The Knights had a unique scoreline in Friday night’s News4JAX Game of the Week. Not only did Andrew Kelley return a kick for a score but teammate Bruno Alves did the same thing. Creekside’s special teams were responsible directly for 16 points, as the visiting Knights rode a coolly efficient game from quarterback Sean Ashenfelder and timely stops from their defense on the way to a 37-27 victory at The Corral.
Kelley’s 86-yard return gave Creekside (4-1) the lead for good in the first quarter at 9-7. Alves then started the second half with an 83-yard scoring return, while Kelley tacked on a 57-yard return later that set up his team’s final touchdown.
“It’s all credit to the boys blocking,” said Kelley, who has had several big returns this season. “They opened up some good holes, went through them and got some yards. Both me and Bruno have some speed to us, and if they kick it to us, they’re in trouble.”
It was that play and some harmful errors from Mandarin (3-2) that added up to defeat for the Mustangs, ranked eighth in the Super 10.
After Mandarin’s first series, the Mustangs snapped the ball high and off the punter’s hands. It went through the end zone for a safety. There was another high snap later. And after Kelley’s touchdown return, the Knights, ranked fourth in the Super 10, successfully attempted a pooch onside kick. When the offense couldn’t move the ball after that, a roughing the punter penalty gave Creekside a first down.
“I made a couple of mistakes and a couple of bad calls, and it burned us,” Mandarin coach Toby Bullock said. “It’s on me. I’ll eat that one, and we’ll move on and get better Monday.”
Three plays after the roughing call, Ashenfelder hit Ashton Reynolds for a 41-yard touchdown pass and a 16-7 lead.
While Ashenfelder’s stats won’t amaze, it was part of a solid game from the sophomore. Ashenfelder has been the second option in a two-man quarterback rotation behind starter Wilson Edwards. Ashenfelder entered the game completing 9-of-18, but he went 7-of-12 for 88 yards Friday with a 30-yard touchdown to Eros Taufer on fourth-and-7 for Creekside’s final points and a 37-21 lead.
“We decided we could maybe do some run-option stuff, and Sean is great at that,” Knights coach Sean McIntyre said. “We gave him a little opportunity. We ran the ball a little better when he was in there.
“Wilson will be ready when he’s called on, and Sean will be ready when he’s called. We kind of have a two-quarterback system right now. They’re great kids, and they support each other. It’s awesome to see.”
Ashenfelder added a rushing touchdown, and he also converted a key fourth-and-1 late in the game to keep the ball out of the Mustangs’ hands for a few more minutes. His 39 rushing yards were all the more important as Nicky Williams, who entered the contest with 522 rushing yards, was held to 28 yards on 21 carries.
“I think Nicky’s presence opens up things for us,” Ashenfelder said and, added with a laugh, “and I’m very thankful for Nicky.”
Mandarin’s offensive stats were dynamic. Quarterback Tramell Jones threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns, mixing it up with eight different receivers catching passes. But Jones was picked off twice by Jay Boyer and, aside from the special teams miscues, there were drive-ending mistakes that proved costly in the second half.
Following Alves’ touchdown return, the Mustangs drove deep into Creekside territory, but Boyer picked off a pass at the seven. The next drive went to the 6 but an inside handoff to receiver Kieren Jackson was fumbled on the exchange. Creekside recovered to end that threat.
Another drive ended in the red zone on downs while another stalled out at the Knights 23 and went over on downs. That’s four scoring opportunities lost in a 10-point game.
Even when it seemed Mandarin finally caught a break, it turned on the Mustangs. With Creekside ahead 30-14 and 10 minutes remaining in the third, Williams fumbled on a run. Michael Wyche returned it 44 yards for an apparent Mandarin score.
But, as was explained to Bullock, the referees blew an inadvertent whistle while Williams still possessed the ball. The ball is dead at that point. That means no fumble and no touchdown.
It loomed larger when Edwards fumbled on the next play and the Mustangs drove to the 6, only to cough up their own fumble.
The special teams play, the big plays from Ashenfelder and the critical stops from the defense all added up to a victory for the Knights.
“Special teams definitely played a big role in this game,” Kelley said. “Defense had some great stops, offense did their thing. [We] came out on top with a ‘W’. It’s a big win.”
Creekside 37, Mandarin 27
Creekside, 9, 14, 14, 0 —37
Mandarin, 7, 7, 7, 6 —27
C – Safety, ball snapped out of end zone
M – Tiant Wyche 1 run (Ben Hipp kick)
C – Andrew Kelley 86 kick return (Ronald Daragjati kick)
C – Ashton Reynolds 41 pass from Sean Ashenfelder (Daragjati kick)
C – Ashenfelder 6 run (Daragjati kick)
M – Kieren Jackson 32 pass from Tramell Jones (Hipp kick)
C – Bruno Alves 83 kick return (Daragjati kick)
M – Wyche 17 pass from Jones (Hipp kick)
C – Eros Taufer 30 pass from Ashenfelder (Daragjati kick)
M – Jackson 19 pass from Jones (pass failed)
Category: C — M
First downs: 11 — 18
Rushes-yards: 37-58 — 36-98
Passing: 129 — 303
Comp-Att-Int: 12-20-1 — 24-41-2
Fumbles-lost: 4-2 — 2-1
Penalties-Yards: 8-71 — 8-69
RUSHING — C: Ashenfelder 12-39, Nicky Williams 21-28, Daniel Approbato 1-4, Wilson Edwards 3-(-13). M: Wyche 18-52, Jones 12-30, Bryan Johnson 1-7, Deshard Wescott 2-7, Jackson 2-5, Team 1-(-3).
PASSING — C: Edwards 6-8-1-41, Ashenfelder 7-12-0-88. M: Jones 24-41-2-303.
RECEIVING — C: Reynolds 2-51, Brendan McMillian 6-39, Taufer 1-30, Mark Ranneklev 1-4, Williams 2-3, Kelley 1-2. M: Jackson 7-99, Jaime Ffrench 7-75, Josiah Watkins 4-60, Wescott 1-19, Wyche 1-17, Dalton Anderson 2-14, King Patterson 1-10, Ethan Putz 1-9.