The Baker High varsity football Wildcats notched a big victory on the road Friday, beating Clay County 34-19 in the opening game of district play. The victory avenges a one-point loss at home to the Blue Devils last season that helped keep BCHS from post-season play.
A large contingent of the Wildcat faithful made the trip to Green Cove Springs to see the Cats score first on a 31-yard run by quarterback Corey Lawler. He had a breakout game for the Wildcats, running the ball for 184 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. He threw for a third touchdown.
Lawler’s metamorphosis into a running quarterback doesn’t come as a surprise for fans of Wildcat football. He has been successful running the ball from the quarterback spot at spells this season and last, but was not as dominating as on Friday night.
Clay had a hard time stopping Lawler, and that opened up other aspects of the offense. Falon Lee rushed twelve times for 112 yards as BCHS piled up over 300 yards on the ground.
Clay tied the game up on its next possession as freshman quarterback Jake Smith hit Wes Weeks on a 69-yard pass play. The Smith/Weeks connection troubled BCHS all game long. Neither team had much success with extra points and the contest was knotted at 6-6.
BCHS caught a break on Clay’s next possession as Blayne Merchant picked off Smith after CeCe Jefferson forced a quick pass. The Cats set up shop at the Blue Devil 5-yard line and Lawler bulled his way up the middle for his second touchdown of the night and a 12-6 lead.
The Wildcats extended their lead to 20-6 early in the second quarter as Lawler found Drew Rogers on a 54-yard pass play for a touchdown. Lee ran in the two point conversion.
It looked as if the game might turn into a runaway as Falon Lee rambled 61 yards on the next BCHS possession down to the Clay six. Lee was not to be denied on the next play as he ran the ball in for the score.
To its credit, Clay was not about to lie down and die. Smith connected with Weeks three times as the Devils drove down the field. Smith and Weeks hooked up on 14-yard scoring pass and catch to narrow the gap to 26-12 at the half.
The game got more interesting early in the third quarter after a fumble on a punt return allowed the Blue Devils to set up shop in Wildcat territory at the 41-yard line. Smith found his favorite receiver Weeks at the 17-yard line and on the next play Bilal Ally took the ball in for the score to close the gap to 26-19.
The game stayed agonizingly close through the remainder of the second half as both teams poked and prodded, only to be stymied by costly penalties.
The Cats got as close as the Clay 14 early in the fourth quarter but were stopped by a penalty and four incompletions. Clay got inside the Wildcat 35 but three incompletions and a penalty halted the drive.
The breakthrough came late in the fourth period on the final Wildcat possession of the game. Lawler cracked a 20-yard run into Clay territory at the 35, breaking tackles as he went. Lee ran the ball down to the 10 and four plays later Mike Boone skirted around the end and in for a score. CeCe Jefferson punched in the conversion to give the Wildcats a comfortable win.
The Cats racked up 373 yards of total offense with 306 rushing yards on 34 carries and 67 through the air. Defensively they shut down the Blue Devil running attack, limiting them to just 34 yards rushing. Natavian Griffin had a career game with eight tackles and CeCe Jefferson, Jon Kinney, Brody Crews, Rashodd Hadley and the Wildcat line continued to impress. But statistics are only part of the story.
The bigger picture is going on the road and collecting a first district win of the season. The Cats are still defining who they are after the opening game loss to Columbia. This game, particularly the way they secured it at the end, should go a long way to setting them up for the meat of the season.
The Wildcats are on the road again this week against the Palatka Panthers, who will be looking to rebound after a heartbreaking on point loss to Creekside in their district opener.