Tomorrow will be better … Copeland interception with 2:33 left snuffs out final Hernando rally as Clay prevails, 41-37

Hernando High junior Israel “Izzy” Fields busts loose on a highlight reel 44-yard fourth-quarter run Friday night versus Clay High. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Hernando High senior Ygenio Booker (8) latches on to one of his five receptions for a game-high 81 yards – part of his 201 all-purpose yards – over the coverage of Clay’s Dakar Augustin (1). Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Clay High’s Aundre Carter (28) looks to elude the pursuit of Hernando High’s Qwenton Coney (73). Carter rushed 29 times for a game-high 281 yards and three touchdowns in the Blue Devils’ 41-37 come-from-behind win at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium in Brooksville. By JOE DiCRISTOFALO

FOOTBALL

Blue Devils advance

behind bulldozer Carter’s

29 carries for 281 yds, 3 TDs

By TONY CASTRO

HernandoSport.com

BROOKSVILLE – For whatever Florida pundit picked the Blue Devils as four touchdown favorites prior to Friday night’s first-ever meeting against Hernando, ask anybody who attended the Class 5A, Region II quarterfinal and they‘ll tell you … the game was a coin flip.

On the night, the opposing offenses accumulated a combined 853 yards, 37 first downs and 11 touchdowns.

The host Purple and Gold, though they came in seeded third in the region, flipped the script in the second half with pair of touchdowns and numbing goal line stand to turn a 34-24 halftime deficit into a 37-34 cushion in the fourth quarter.

After halting the Blue Devils a yard shy of the goal, HHS followed the Bill Vonada script to a “T” with a methodical 10-play, 99-yard drive capped by a gorgeous 10-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Boston Tafelski to the red-hot senior slot back Ygenio Booker.

Booker’s third touchdown of the night was followed by senior placekicker Luke D’Ambrosio’s seventh point of the night with 8:48 left in the game, 37-34 Leopards.

But HHS couldn’t get another stop.

As all great programs do, the defending regional champion Clay High gridders overcame three penalties (2 holding calls and an unsportsmanlike conduct) to traverse 81 yards on nine plays capped by senior fullback Aundre Carter’s third touchdown of the night from a yard out.

Blue Devil senior placekicker Liz Fogarty split the uprights with her fifth point-after, 41-37 Clay.

The hosts began its final possession at its own 30 with plenty of time remaining at 3:51 and all three times outs in their pockets.

Booker, who did everything, added his seventh carry for one yard (finishing with 91 rushing yards, 81 receiving yds., and 29 yards on a kickoff return) on first down.

Up to this point, Tafelski had a brilliant night. He had rushed for 80 yards and had clicked on 7-of-10 passes for 92 yards, highlighted by his 12th touchdown pass of the season to Booker.

But on second down, Tafelski mishandled the center snap. As the ball hit the turf, so did he for a loss of two critical yards and momentum.

On third down and 12, Tafelski, who had connected with Booker five previous times, targeted him again. This time, Clay senior Jordan Copeland stepped in front of Booker and intercepted the pass with 2:33 left in the game.

It was bedlam along the visitors’ sideline. It turned out that HHS’ lone turnover would be the final dagger.

Clay ran off seven straight runs, including the last two kneel downs out of victory formation by senior quarterback Caleb Eason to seal the pulsating 41-37 nod.

With the win, sixth-seeded Clay (8-3) will tangle with 5A-8 champion and second-seeded Zephyrhills (10-1).

Zephyrhills Bulldogs

The host Bulldogs rallied from a 21-0 deficit to oust New Port Richey-River Ridge (7-4), 35-31.

In the other 5A-II quarterfinals, fifth-seeded Menendez (8-3) topped fourth-seeded Belleview (6-5), 48-34, while top-seeded and host Glen St. Mary-Baker County (10-1), which led 21-0 at halftime, eliminated eighth-seeded Brooksville-Nature Coast Technical (7-3), 34-7.

Game standouts

In the highest scoring playoff game in Hernando County history, Clay amassed 473 net yards on 52 snaps, averaging 9.10 yards per play against the beleaguered HHS defense to drop HHS to 2-13 in regional competition.

CHS’ starting O-line Jordan Collins, Jason Brooks, Mikey Carns, Joseph Grelli and Ross Doan were so solid that HHS defenders recorded no sacks and notched only two tackles out of 52 snaps, behind the line scrimmage.

Despite a tremendous effort, Hernando suffered its ninth straight regional playoff setback as Carter hammered the hosts for 29 carries for a game-high 283 yards, highlighted by his 17th, 18th and 19th touchdowns of the season.

Shemar Lawson

Eason, who entered with astonishing video-game type stats, 24 touchdowns against one interception, clicked on every pass he threw. The 6-foot-3, 170-pounder connected on 8-of-9 for a game-high 115 yards and two touchdowns – his 25th and 26th of the season – against one interception on a deflected pass by Josh Vonada that Shemar Lawson intercepted and returned 59 yards.

Clay junior Spencer Lesage, was a pest, latching on to three passes for 50 yards while adding his 7th and 8th TD receptions of the season.

Via the rush, Lesage chipped in three carries for 17 yards, including a 14-yard TD scamper for his first of the season.

Blue Devil senior wideout Ajay Belanger, at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, was critical down the stretch. He finished with five receptions for 65 yards, including two huge third-down grabs on Clay’s final scoring drive.

As a tribute to Vonada, the Leopards were competitive behind a banged-up offensive line.

Ken Curtis portrayed Festus Haggen

The scotch-taped O-line included senior captain Collin Roberts, who walked around like Festus from “Gunsmoke” with two heavily taped up ankles that he reinjured during the game, junior Jacob Hackney, senior Hayden Griffith, freshman William Bartz and senior Jacob Butts.

Amazingly, Bartz and Butts made their O-line debuts, as HHS racked up 380 offensive yards, including 288 yards via the rush.

Besides Booker, junior fullback Israel “Izzy” Fields rushed 13 times for 74 yards – his 44-yard effort on the fourth play of the fourth quarter could reach ESPN – while he added his 16th and 17th touchdowns of the season from a yard out.

Junior slot back David Hale Bronson, who was injured during the Lecanto game and held out against Springstead, bounced back with 45 yards on eight carries.

 

 

Hernando High senior Ygenio Booker (8) amassed 201 all-purpose yards, including three touchdowns, in the Leopards’ 41-37 loss to the Clay Blue Devils in Brooksville. In all, Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Post-game chatter

Lane Stephens

HHS junior linebacker Lane Stephens, who suffered a broken finger in the fourth quarter and was in a splint after the game confessed, “We got pushed around. But we came out to play in the second half. In a game like this, you have to play 48 minutes. Fortunately, I have next year.”

Describing Clay, “They’re a good team that has a good running back (Carter),” explained the 17-year-old Stephens. “We just missed tackles and some assignments. We didn’t capitalize on our last drive of the fourth quarter.”

Collin Roberts

Roberts, who could barely walk, “I thought we came out ready to play. Clay had a big running back and they rode him,” shared Roberts, 17. “Clay’s defense wasn’t as good as we expected.”

On Hernando’s second-half comeback, “Our O-line was communicating better,” expressed Roberts. “I thought the difference was we had too many mental mistakes.”

On how much his final game hurts, “It hurts a lot,” replied Roberts. “But I’m not gonna dwell on it.”

Ygenio Booker

After Booker’s 201 all-purpose yard effort, “I have to first thank God, my O-line and my quarterback (Tafelski) for everything,” shared the 17-year-old. “Clay was a great football team; they were the best team we played.”

On the playoff loss in his final prep game, “It hurts,” responded Booker. “But you can’t dwell on losses, you’ve gotta be positive. This team means everything to me. I’ll always remember these guys for the rest of my life. They’ve got a spot in my heart.”

Hernando Head Coach Bill Vonada during the playoff game with Clay High School. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Vonada, who slipped to 2-5 lifetime in playoff tilts closed his 19th and perhaps his final prep season at 97-95 lifetime. The veteran mentor clutched an autographed football signed as a surprise by the Class of 2018 members.

“The guy who picked us as a 28-point dog is questioning his sanity,” sarcastically pointed out Vonada. “The effort was there. I told the guys as long as they could look in the mirror after this game and they gave everything they had, then that’s fine. Obviously, the outcome isn’t what we wanted, but I couldn’t prouder of a team.

Describing Clay, “They’re an outstanding team,” insisted Vonada. “We knew they’d be tough. Their running back (Carter) was the real deal. But that goal line stand in the second half got us back into it.

“… Offensively, we rode the momentum for two scores. Even after they (Clay) scored, we had four minutes left and all our timeouts. I felt good about the situation,” recalled Vonada. “All season long, somebody else stepped us for us and made plays. Tonight, I have to credit the O-line. We had a freshman (Bartz) in there. We had a first-time tackle start (Butts). We had guys play with one leg (Roberts). We didn’t have a perfect finish, but we finished strong. The guys sold out and gave what they had.”

On where the program goes from here, “We have a saying after every practice,” said Vonada. “Today was okay and guys say in unison ‘Tomorrow will be better.’”

Clay 41, Hernando 37

Green Cove Springs-Clay Blue Devils
 

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

TOT

CLAY

14

20

0

7

41

HER

14

10

6

7

37

Individual Scoring:

CLAY – Carter 1 run (Fogarty kick).

HER – Booker 52 run (D’Ambrosio kick).

CLAY – Lesage 39 pass from Eason (Fogarty kick).

HER – Israel Fields 1 run (D’Ambrosio kick).

CLAY – Lesage 10 pass from Eason (Fogarty kick).

HER – Booker 6 run (D’Ambrosio kick).

CLAY – Carter 5 run (Fogarty kick).

CLAY – Lesage 14 run (Predmore run fails).

HER – D’Ambrosio 26 FG.

HER – Israel Fields 1 run (Boston Tafelski run fails).

HER – Booker 10 pass from from Boston Tafelski (D’Ambosio kick).

CLAY – Carter 1 run (Fogarty kick).

 

CLAY

 

HER

First Downs

18

19

Rushing Attempts/Yards

43-358

41-288

Completions/Pass Atts./Int.

8-9-1

7-11-1

Passing Yards

115

92

Total Offense

52-473

52-380

Fumbles/Lost

0-0

1-0

Return Yards

6-98

6-66

Punts/Average

0-0

2-30.5

Penalties

8-74

5-54

By the Numbers: Hernando Leopards

Playoff History (2-13 lifetime)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Bill Vonada  Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
 

YR

 

OPPONENT

 

SITE

 

RESULT

 

COACH

1967

Cross City-Dixie County

Away

L 14-25

Thompson, Vince

 

1981

 

Oviedo

 

Away

 

W 26-13

 

Palmer, Dub

1981

Gainesville-Buchholz

Away

L 2-14

Palmer, Dub

1994

Bushnell-South Sumter

Away

L 7-26

Imhoff, Mike

1995

Gainesville-Eastside

Away

L 7-33

Imhoff, Mike

 

1997

 

Inverness-Citrus

 

Home

 

W 35-18

 

Browning, Bill

1997

Citra-North Marion

Home

L 7-24

Browning, Bill

1999

Tampa-Jesuit

Away

L 18-39

Browning, Bill

2000

Titusville-Astronaut

Away

L 0-57

Browning, Bill

2002

Wauchula-Hardee Co.

Away

L 7-28

Browning, Bill

2005

Citra-North Marion

Away

L 10-61

Smith, Matt

2010

Citra-North Marion

Away

L 21-35

Palmer, John

2011

Gainesville

Home

L 14-20

Palmer, John

2012

Gainesville

Away

L 3-60

Mobley, Dwayne

2017

Green Cove Spgs-Clay

Home

L 37-41

Vonada, Bill

 

TOTALS (15) (3)

 

208-494

 

-7-

By the Numbers: Nature Coast Technical Sharks

Playoff History (3-7 lifetime)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Nature Coast Technical Sharks
 

YR

 

OPPONENT

 

SITE

 

RESULT

 

COACH

2006

Williston

Home

L 12-26

Joyner, Jamie

2007

Citra-North Marion

Away

L 13-34

Joyner, Jamie

2008

Williston

Home

L -FF

Joyner, Jamie

2009

Citra-North Marion

Away

L 22-34

Lee, Mark

 

2015

 

Zephyrhills

 

Home

 

W 43-13

 

Worden, Justin

 

2015

 

River Ridge

 

Home

 

W 42-33

 

Worden, Justin

2015

Green Cove Spgs-Clay

Away

L 28-40

Worden, Justin

 

2016

 

Zephyrhills

 

Home

 

W 35-21

 

Worden, Justin

2016

River Ridge

Away

L 3-24

Worden, Justin

2017

Glen St. Mary-Baker County

Away

L 7-34

Johns, Cory

 

TOTALS (10)

 

205-259

 

-3-

FF – Denotes forfeit loss due to FHSAA sanctions imposed on NCT after South Lake game.

 

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