JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Atlantic Coast’s offense went nowhere in the first half. All it took to get the Stingrays going Friday night was an opportune defense and some improvisation from its quarterback and a receiver.
The night started with Creekside methodically running the ball over Atlantic Coast’s defense, but ended with the Knights coming up short on a fourth-down pass. In between, there was a key injury, two plays of 95 yards or more, three interceptions by the Stingrays and a field goal that wound its way through the uprights.
And Atlantic Coast was left with one young team growing in confidence.
A goal-line interception led to a 99-yard pass play that shifted the momentum. Stingrays quarterback Ridge Jacobs completed two more scoring passes as Atlantic Coast broke out with a 20-point third quarter. Kicker Bruno Alves, in his second game this season, booted his team to victory with a 33-yard yard field goal to start the fourth quarter, as the Stingrays rallied for a 23-20 triumph in District 2-7A play.
It was sweet for Atlantic Coast (2-5, 1-2), which had been so close at times this season. For the young Stingrays, with only 16 seniors on a 60-player roster and minus play-making receiver Patrick Bryant, who was nagged by a shoulder injury suffered last week, it was the second comeback victory in a row.
But this one elicited screams and yells in the locker room, with celebrations that died down and then randomly picked up again. Players filed in and out of the locker room to celebrate with family, fans and teammates.
It was a refreshing change.
After scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter to beat White by three, the team again knocked out an opponent with serious playoff aspirations.
“Last week started it off for us, but we should have been doing this the rest of the season,” said Jacobs, a junior who had 199 yards passing. “We kept shooting ourselves in the foot. A lot of close calls. But now we’re finishing them out.”
The finish was the key, unlike the first quarter, when the Knights began the game with two nine-play drives, with 16 running plays total, on the way to a 14-0 lead.
There was a chance for more. Creekside (3-4, 1-2), which entered the game ranked eighth in RPI in Region 1-7A, had its third drive end when quarterback Daniel Plummer, who was in after starter Quinn Sieger tweaked his back on the first play of the second quarter, was hit as he threw. Atlantic Coast’s Desmond Evans corralled the fluttering ball at the Stingrays 29.
“(The back) tightened up on him,” Knights coach Sean McIntyre said of Sieger. “We didn’t feel like he gave us the best opportunity. He’s a tough kid. If he could go, he would. He played as hard as he could play and as long as he could play.”
Sieger’s loss loomed large. With Creekside still up 14-0, and driving on its first possession of the second half, Plummer was picked off at the 1 on third down by Josh Whimper. It was a play that Stingrays coach Mike Montemayor called the swinging point of the game.
“I read the play perfectly, and I saw him throw it,” said Whimper, a junior. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to get it. I’ve got to get it.’ It looked like a touchdown. It’s my first game starting, and I didn’t want to let me team down.”
He set his team up for success. After two incompletions, Jacobs scrambled left. With two receivers and two defensive backs in the area, he hit Smith in stride near the 40. Smith outraced the defense the rest of the way to shave the deficit in half.
“It was amazing,” Smith said. “It was supposed to be a simple little route. The quarterback had to roll out, and I improvised. It turned out to work in our favor.”
It woke up Atlantic Coast, which was all or nothing on offense. The Stingrays had six three-and-out series during the game and only two first downs and 44 total yards in the first half.
Jacobs hit Kenny Guerrier on a perfect 45-yard scoring pass to pull his team within 14-13. On the Knights’ next possession, Plummer was picked again, this time by Eric Harper, who returned it to the 2.
Two plays later, Jacobs again connected with Guerrier for Atlantic Coast’s first lead.
The Knights countered with a big play of their own. Maxwell Robinson took the ensuing kick 95 yards for the touchdown, weaving down the right sideline and cutting back. After Stingrays leading-tackler Travis Batts batted down the extra point, the game was tied at 20.
Guerrier returned the favor. His 50-yard return set up his team in good field position and the team picked up a couple of first downs. That set up Alves’ field goal to start the fourth, giving Atlantic Coast a 23-20 edge.
Creekside returned to its first-half bread-and-butter. Preston Strope, who finished with 144 rushing yards on 33 carries, pushed the Knights into field goal position with 1:40 remaining. But Andrew Daragjati’s 33-yard field-goal attempt drifted wide right.
“I trust Andrew to death,” McIntyre said. “He’s a great kicker. It couldn’t have missed by more than a foot.”
The Knights got the ball back with 1:12 left but were unable to generate any more offense. Plummer’s incompletion on fourth down touched off a party for the Stingrays, who finally seem to be coming of age.
“I think there was some momentum coming from last week,” Monetmayor said. “They saw that it finally came to fruition. That all it takes is one play at a time, one series, one quarter. That’s all it takes. There’s no special plan, no secret to it. Just work. You have to grind and work for it.”
Atlantic Coast 23, Creekside 20
Creekside, 14, 0, 6, 0 — 20
Atlantic Coast, 0, 0, 20 3 — 23
C – Quinn Sieger 1 run (Andrew Daragjati kick)
C – Preston Strope 1 run (Daragjati kick)
AC – Jordan Smith 99 pass from Ridge Jacobs (Bruno Alves kick)
AC – Kenny Guerrier 45 pass from Jacobs (kick blocked)
AC – Guerrier 4 pass from Jacobs (Alves kick)
C – Maxwell Robinson 95 kick return (kick blocked)
AC – Alves 33 FG
Category: C, AC
First downs: 14 , 7
Rushes-yards: 42-155, 21-34
Passing: 119, 199
Comp-Att-Int: 12-20-3, 9-23-0
Fumbles-lost: 0-0, 0-0
Penalties-Yards: 3-35, 5-30
RUSHING — C: Strope 33-144, Jalen Hines 3-16, Sieger 4-3, Team 2-(-8). AC: Jacobs 8-24, Kendall Mathis 5-17, Jatarvis Fryer 1-1, Ronnie West 5-(-2), Team 2-(-6).
PASSING — C: Daniel Plummer 10-18-3-94, Sieger 2-2-0-25. AC: Jacobs 9-23-0-199.
RECEIVING — C: Hines 7-51, Shane Calhoun 1-31, Jackson Surrency 2-25, Jack Goodrich 2-12. AC: Smith 4-126, Guerrier 2-49, Malcolm Seaborn 2-15, Fryer 1-9.
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