MACCLENNY, Fla. – Baker County’s offense entered the playoffs on a tear, but with the defense the Wildcats flashed Friday night, high-point games won’t always be a necessity.
Baker County’s defense outscored its offense and Yulee’s offense as well in the News4JAX Game of the Week. Seth Chestnut’s 60-yard pick-six in the second quarter and a fourth-quarter safety by Jeremiah Mitchell provided enough points as the Wildcats defeated the Hornets 16-6 in the opening round of the Region 2-2S playoffs at Memorial Stadium.
“Got a little momentum to go into the next game, trying to make it to state,” said Chestnut, a sophomore linebacker who also was in on three tackles for loss and a stop on fourth down on Yulee’s first drive of the game. “It feels like a learning experience, like we’re getting momentum now. We’re trying to go as far as we can.”
The next step comes in the 2-2S semifinals, where Baker County (8-3), seeded third in the region, will meet the winner of Saturday’s clash between second-seeded Baldwin and seventh-seed Palatka.
Coach Kevin Mays knows his team needs to play a cleaner game to have hopes of advancing to the region finals. The Wildcats had 13 penalties for 115 yards, one of which brought back a touchdown run, as well as two fumbles lost, a blocked field goal and a snap on a field-goal attempt that sailed over the holder’s head.
After Baker County’s offense put a touchdown on the board less than a minute into the game, they never set foot in the end zone again despite 128 rushing yards from Cam Smith. That came from an offense averaging more than 30 points a game this season, and one that had scored 31 or more points in five of the past six games.
“I’ve said this. It’s something I’ve talked about a ton — we shot ourselves in the foot tonight,” Mays said. “We’ve got to stop doing that. We’ve preached that for two weeks now. They’re going to listen at some point.”
He was not the only one who saw mistakes hurt his team. Hornets coach Kyle Dougherty listed his team’s many self-inflicted errors. On the Wildcats’ opening three-play scoring drive, Dougherty said there was a botched assignment on each of the three plays, as Baker County picked up 28, 11 and 41 yards — the last coming on quarterback Blake Mays’ keeper down the left sideline for a score.
“That’s the nature of executing in practice, doing things in the summer,” Dougherty said. “They show up on Friday nights. Having those moments, those are tough to overcome against a really good football team. It’s tough to overcome the mistakes we made.
“(On the scoring drive), it wasn’t major defensive lapses, but it was one or two guys each play. That’s the story of our whole season — it’s one or two guys this play, one or two guys that play.”
Yulee (6-5) had two drives end on fourth down, the first on the Wildcats 15 when Chestnut tripped Rylan Hale after one yard and the last on the Hornets’ final drive when Mitchell swatted down a pass.
Yulee had good starting position at times but failed to take advantage. Starting at its 49 led to Chestnut’s interception less than two minutes into the second quarter.
“I just saw the quarterback look at me dead in the eyes,” Chestnut said. “I didn’t think he was going to throw it. He just threw it, and I thought I’ve got to take it to the crib — touchdown.”
A possession that started on Baker County’s 26 following a fumble turned into a three-and-out following a holding penalty, and two minutes into the final quarter, Mitchell barreled in to sack Turner for a safety and a 16-0 lead.
Even when the Hornets moved the ball, the ending wasn’t always good. One field goal attempt was blocked and, following Teonte’ Artis-Croxton’s 4-yard scoring reception midway through the final quarter, the two-point conversion attempt was snuffed out when Davion Dean picked off the pass.
When Mitchell tipped Turner’s fourth-down attempt on Yulee’s next drive, it iced the game and ended the Hornets’ season, one in which all five defeats came to playoff teams — twice to Baker County, including a regular-season game in which they lost by one after leading by nine in the fourth quarter, and games against Baldwin, Episcopal and Charlton County (Ga.). Those five losses came by 33 total points.
It will be an interesting team next season. Yulee started several underclassmen on defense, but the Hornets lose offensive skill players such as Turner and wide receiver Zackary Drawdy, who had 83 receiving yards on six catches, with five of those receptions going for first downs.
“We fought hard,” Drawdy said. “We battled adversity all year. We just came up short. It’s the little things (that lost the game). Now the season’s over, but we built that foundation for the younger kids. They know what it’s like. They know it won’t come easy.”
The next game won’t come easy for Baker County, either, unless the mistakes are cleaned up. The team lost to Baldwin 30-7 early in the season, but the Wildcats still harbor high hopes.
“We want to make it to state,” said Mitchell, another sophomore. “Everybody wants to win it.”
Baker County 16, Yulee 6
Yulee 0, 0, 0, 6 — 6
Baker Co., 7, 7, 0, 2 —16
BC – Blake Mays 41 run (Mays kick)
BC – Seth Chestnut 60 INT return (Mays kick)
BC – Safety, Jeremiah Mitchell tackled Chris Turner in the end zone
Y – Teonte’ Artis-Croxton 4 pass from Turner (pass failed)
Category: Y — BC
First downs: 13 — 17
Rushes-yards: 17-27 — 51-236
Passing: 189 — 124
Comp-Att-Int: 20-35-1 — 9-14-0
Fumbles-lost: 0-0 — 4-2
Penalties-Yards: 6-55 — 13-115
RUSHING — Y: Artis-Croxton 11-37, Coen Brehmer 1-(-1), Turner 2-(-2), Rylan Hale 2-(-3), Team 1-(-4). BC: Cam Smith 25-128, Mays 9-72, Josh Holmes 6-30, Davion Dean 4-28, Silas Rhoden 1-5, Rasean Rayam 1-(-3), Team 5-(24).
PASSING — Y: Chris Turner 20-35-1-189. BC: Mays 8-12-0-102, Dean 1-1-0-22, Team 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — Y: Zackary Drawdy 6-83, Hale 4-33, Josiah Evans 3-28, Jye Thompson 2-28, Artis-Croxton 4-10, DJ Mason 1-7. BC: Dean 3-57, Rhoden 3-31, Joshua Holmes 2-31, Smith 1-5.