ST. JOHNS, Fla. – Creekside held its own with vaunted rival Bartram Trail for the opening 22 minutes of Friday night’s playoff game.
It took only two minutes to undo all that hard work.
A pair of Knights turnovers in their own territory led to two quick Bartram Trail touchdowns. With the host Bears owning the “middle eight” minutes of the game, as coach Darrell Sutherland likes to say, they went on to a 42-15 victory over their neighborhood rivals in the Region 1-4S semifinals, in a game with fans ringing the fences along the field as part of an overflow crowd.
That helped Bartram Trail (12-0) not only knock off their rivals in the first postseason meeting of the 16 games between the two teams, but it also sends the Bears into the regional final against third-seed Gainesville Buchholz, which thumped Crestview 54-33. It’s a District 3-4S rematch after Bartram Trail won the district-title showdown 21-6 earlier this season.
But rematches are rarely the same, as evidenced by the Bears’ 59-27 victory over Creekside in Week 8 in which Bartram Trail controlled the game with its offensive firepower. This one was for the defense.
“It just comes down to doing our jobs,” said Bears senior linebacker Zeke Cromwell, who had a forced fumble, a recovered fumble and two tackles for loss to go with a sack. “We’re not trying to get the ball, but it comes down to doing our jobs. If you’re in the right spot, turnovers happen.”
That they did. After Bartram Trail scored on Laython Biddle’s 18-yard run, Creekside’s defense kept the Bears in check. But two disastrous plays by the Knights’ offense right before the end of the half changed the direction of the game.
With less than two minutes left in the second quarter, and fifth-seeded Creekside (9-3) at its own 8, Bartram Trail defensive back Sergio Lanzas picked off a pass and ran it back 24 yards to the 1. Biddle bulled in on the next play for a 14-0 Bears lead.
But the defense wasn’t done. Following a sack of quarterback Wilson Edwards, and with the ball at their own 19, the Knights handed off to Nicky Williams, who broke through the line but was stripped of the ball by Mikey Matos. Cromwell recovered at the 25 with 48 seconds in the half. Two plays later, Riley Trujillo hit Taylor Rhodes with an 18-yard scoring strike for a 21-0 advantage.
“Against really good football teams, you cannot turn over the ball, especially in the red zone at either end,” Creekside coach Sean McIntyre said. “That definitely was a huge contributing factor to the momentum of the football game.”
Bartram Trail, not only the top-ranked team in the region but in the all Class 4S in the FHSAA’s power rankings, led only 7-0 through the opening 22 minutes of the game. But those two plays turned things around and, following an 11-play touchdown drive of 5 minutes, 29 seconds to open the second half, the Bears remained in control, up 28-0.
The Bears controlled the middle eight and then some.
“I love the fact there was no panic, no pointing fingers,” Sutherland said. “Everybody was like, ‘Next play, next play.’ We talk all the time about the middle eight, the end of the first half and beginning of the second half. Our guys did a great job of taking advantage of what they could.”
While the defense forced the turnovers, it also did an outstanding job against the Knights, particularly in the first half. Creekside entered the game averaging more than 41 points a game. But at halftime, the Knights had no points off of 59 total yards and four first downs.
Creekside’s quarterback tandem of sophomore Sean Ashenfelder and Edwards, a senior, were sacked a combined seven times, and the duo were thrown for losses on three other running plays. All those lost yards equaled out to 31 total rushing yards for the Knights on 30 carries. In addition to Cromwell’s play, Davis Houk and Caden Baldwin both added a pair of sacks while Shane Armstrong had a sack and two tackles for loss.
“Playoffs — focus on us,” Cromwell said. “We don’t care who we’re playing, we’re just going to play our game. Our coaches put us in good positions, and we were where we were supposed to be, and that’s what happens.”
After the drive to open the second half, Creekside was forced to play catch-up. But every time the Knights scored, Bartram Trail answered. A sensational touchdown catch by Hampton Reidl for Creekside’s first points was answered by a long kick return and another Biddle scoring run, his fourth of the game.
Another great touchdown reception, this time by Ashton Reynolds, had a response from the Bears in the form of Trujillo taking off on a 44-yard scoring run for the game’s final points.
Those capped solid nights for Bartram Trail’s backfield. Biddle had 92 rushing yards, while Trujillo passed for a score and rushed for 161 yards.
“The more we play, the more confident we feel,” Biddle said. “So this is just another thing, another game. It’s going to be the same next week.
“Of course, there’s the rivalry, the fans, everything. But for us, it’s just a game, and we’re just going to play for the win. We’re in the playoffs, every game is just another game until we get to state. That’s what we’re going for.”
While the Bears have another week of prep and another game to play, it was a double blow to Creekside. The Knights not only lost for the 15th time in 16 tries against Bartram Trail, and failed to avenge the 59-27 beating from the Bears earlier in this season, but also the 14th time by double digits.
Not only that, but the contest capped the high school careers of 22 seniors on the playoff roster.
“We don’t rebuild, we reload,” McIntyre said. “We have a sustainable program. After a few days off, our kids will be ready to go. They work hard. They earn what they get, and I love every single one of them. I’m proud of them.”
No hard feelings, though. Unlike many playoff games, several players from each side mingled after the game, cracked jokes and posed with photos with one another, keeping the friendly next-door-neighbor vibe after a hard-hitting game.
“There’s a lot of mutual respect back and forth between these two teams,” Sutherland said. “They know each other, and we know what a great job they’ve done this season.”
Bartram Trail 42, Creekside 15
Creekside, 0, 0, 7, 8 —15
Bartram Trail, 7, 14, 14, 7 — 42
BT – Laython Biddle 18 run (Liam Padron kick)
BT – Biddle 1 run (Padron kick)
BT – Taylor Rhodes 18 pass from Riley Trujillo (Padron kick)
BT – Biddle 1 run (Padron kick)
C – Hampton Riedl 24 pass from Sean Ashenfelder (Ronald Daragjati kick)
BT – Biddle 7 run (Padron kick)
C – Ashton Reynolds 23 pass from Wilson Edwards (Brendan McMillian pass from Ashenfelder)
BT –Trujillo 44 run (Padron kick)
Category: C — BT
First downs: 16 — 18
Rushes-yards: 30-31 — 44-288
Passing: 224 — 90
Comp-Att-Int: 18-32-1 — 7-13-0
Fumbles-lost: 4-1 — 1-0
Penalties-Yards: 3-19 — 6-60
RUSHING — C: Nicky Williams 15-75, Riedl 1-4, Team 1-(-4), Ashenfelder 6-(-12), Edwards 7-(-32). BT: Trujillo 15-161, Biddle 18-92, Shaun McElroy 6-27, Arthur Lewis 1-4, William Bryant 2-2, Brody Tillotson 2-2.
PASSING — C: Edwards 13-21-1-151, Ashenfelder 5-11-0-73. BT: Trujillo 7-13-0-90.
RECEIVING — C: Riedl 2-65, Reynolds 7-63, Andrew Kelley 2-31, Reagan Guy 3-27, Eros Taufer 1-24, Williams 1-12, McMillian 2-2. BT: Jack Cremen 1-31, Jacob Kallner 2-24, Rhodes 2-22, Lewis 1-8, Bryant 1-5.