Frederica Academy Knights

Back On The Horse

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2012 State Champion Frederica Knights were recognized at halftime Friday night.

The 2021 Knights welcomed them with a championship caliber win.

The Knights broke back into the win column in convincing fashion against the Memorial Day Matadors to the tune of 53-6.

Frederica started the game at full speed, forcing a turnover on the opening kickoff, followed two plays later with RB Jordan Triplett’s first touchdown of the night, a swift 21-yarder through traffic. “The River” would follow that score with two more in the first quarter alone, taking it in from 10 and 11 yards.

The Knights offense was set up for success by the defense, forcing 3-and-out on the Matadors first five series. On the few plays that Memorial Day was on the field, they were being met by the Knights in the backfield. By the end of the night, Frederica had held Memorial Day to -26 yards of offense.

“Our defense was solid,” said Head Coach Brandon Derrick after the game. “We’ve been game planning both weeks (during the bye week). Defensively, we played two different defenses tonight. We played our base package, and we played a Hawk 4-2-5 to give us a different look, to create some havoc. I think the kids really enjoyed that.”

The game also saw the return from injury of QB Thomas Veal, who has been out since breaking his arm in the season opener. The Senior picked up right where he left off, showing very little rust on his run game or his passing game, the latter of which included a 24-yard TD to WR Bryce Reilly in the second quarter.

“He looked pretty good, he was really excited,” according to Coach Derrick. “He wanted to throw a lot more, but I thought it would look bad if we came out here throwing it all over the yard, especially when we’re able to run it for 15-20 yards a carry. He’ll get the opportunity to throw a lot more next week.”

The 15-20 yard runs were actually short ones on the night. The second quarter saw three long touchdown runs; a 69-yard jet sweep from WR TJ Jackson, a 56-yard rumble from Jordan Triplett (his 4th on the night), and a 38-yard end-around from WR/TE Jon Phillip Spiers.

“Anytime you can get a big play is good,” said the Coach. “Here lately we’ve just been grinding it out. That’s a good sign, but if you get a couple of big plays are even better.”

Arguably the “biggest” touchdown on the night came on the first drive of the second half. After freshman RB Hayes Carter (who had 100 yards rushing in the second half) was ruled out of bounds at the 1-yard line, Coach Derrick called on senior lineman Ashton “Puma” Frankel to line up at quarterback.

“He’s been giving us a hard time all week trying to get us to put (that play) in,” laughed Coach Derrick, “so we decided to call it, and danged if we didn’t snap the ball right into his leg, and dove right in there and fell on it for his touchdown. He’s actually got good feet, so you might see that again.”

Things get serious next week when hated rivals Bulloch Academy are under the oaks to start region play. Coach Derrick recognizes that his team is in a good, but precarious spot.

“It’s gonna come down to mistakes – who turns the ball over, who doesn’t execute a play here and there. Next week is gonna be an even matchup, we’re gonna be battling. We’ve got 20 (players), they’ve got 45. My 20 are gonna have to be tough, and they are pretty tough as it is.”

Conquested

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

After a tough loss last week to Calvary Day, the Frederica Knights were hoping some home cooking would be just what the doctor ordered.

Unfortunately, all the Tiftarea Panthers were ready to serve up was a taste of our own medicine.

Head Coach Brandon Derrick let it be known in the preseason not to expect the high-flying, seat-of-your-pants high-tempo offense of years past.

This year’s Knights squad will, out of necessity, be a very deliberate clock control type offense, milking the most out of every offensive series. While this strategy worked effectively against Valwood in the season-opening victory, it was not in the cards for the next who weeks.

Tiftarea employed the same philosophy against the Knights Friday night to the tune of a 29-7 final score. The Panthers put together long, extended drives all night starting with the opening drive.

Following the opening kickoff, Tiftarea put together a 72-yard, 12-play drive that ate up more than seven minutes of the opening frame and culminated in a designed QB scramble for the score.

“We knew where it was going 85% of the time in the first half,” said Coach Derrick. “They mixed it up a little in the second half. You’ve got what you’ve got.”

The Knights unfortunately answered the opening drive with a three & out series with short runs from RB Jordan Triplett and acting QB Bryce Reilly.

The senior WR filling in for the injured Thomas Veal would spend more time showing off his wheels than his arm all night. Reilly went 2-3 for 66 yards through the air and 12 carries for 48 yards.

Sophomore RB Jordan Triplett didn’t fare any better on the night. The Tiftarea defense focused on #4 all game, limiting him to 34 yards on 11 carries. The night was by far the worst of his so-far stellar career.

The lone offensive highlight of the evening came on the Knights second drive of the 2nd half. After the Knights turned the ball over on downs on the opening drive, Reilly lobbed a screen pass to Triplett to the short side of the field, which “The River” then turned into a 61-yard touchdown.

Late in the 4th, the Knights threatened to score again, evoking memories of late-game heroics from Knights squads past.

Reilly scrambled five times and was aided by a horsecollar penalty on a 16-yard run, which set the Knights up for a 1st & goal inside the 5-yard line. Unfortunately, Lady Luck failed to smile, and a bobbled handoff led to the only Knights turnover on the night, sealing the final score at 29-7.

Defensively, the night belonged to LB Jacob Aiken. The Player of the Game recipient notched a minimum of seven solo tackles (four on the opening drive alone) and numerous group efforts. After the game, he was adamant to share the credit for the performance with his teammates.

“There’s only 20 of us. We all rely on each other, we all fire each other up,” said the Senior. “It was Just as much the linemen as it was me. I need them, I need Jon Phillip (Spiers). We all need each other.”

The Knights are back on the road next two weeks for a pair of GHSA matchups, traveling to Nahunta to take on Frederica coaching alum Jeff Cannon and his Brantley County Herons, then to Ludowici to take on Long County.

Unhorsed Knights

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Friday night was a case of “same David, different Goliath” for Frederica Academy.

Coming off an opening week victory over Valwood, Coach Brandon Derrick and the Knights hit the road to Savannah to take on their first GHSA opponent of the year, the Calvary Day School Cavaliers.

Last year, after keeping them to a 7-7 tie at halftime, Frederica wound up falling to the Cavaliers by a score of 27-7. Unfortunately, this year’s game would turn out to be quite different.

In 2020, the Frederica roster was famously 30 men in size. The “Dirty Thirty” was outmanned at almost every matchup, but still managed to notch a 7-3 regular season record en route to a state championship matchup.

This week, due to injuries to the already smaller roster, Frederica took a “Lean Eighteen” into battle against the 70-man roster of Calvary Day.

It would be safe to say that Cavaliers Head Coach Mark Stroud spent at least part of the week reminding his team of the quick start that Frederica was able to put together against them last year, because Calvary Day started fast and didn’t let up, scoring twice in the 1st quarter.

After the teams exchanged 3 & outs on their first drives, the Knights defense struggled early against the 2020 Final Four team, allowing touchdowns on two 50-yard drives.

With senior QB Thomas Veal out for three weeks with a broken non-throwing arm, WR Bryce Reilly moved under center for the week. To say it was a baptism by fire would be an understatement.

The Knights offensive line was unfortunately overpowered, and the extended time in the pocket that Veal enjoyed against Valwood the week before was nowhere to be seen.

Regardless, Reilly proved to be a more than capable backup, completing 4 out of 5 passes in the first half (most of which to fellow WR Blake Holloway) and adding 21 yards rushing.

The harassment didn’t stop with the backup Quarterback. Sophomore RB Jordan Triplett saw his share of difficulties against the Cavaliers D-Line as well.

After putting up 222 all-purpose yards the week before, Triplett felt the effects of being almost sole focus of the defense, getting stopped behind the line five times in the first half.

Down 27-0 in the final moments of the first half, the Knights were looking to finally get on the board with a 4th and goal play from the 1 yd line with :03 left on the clock.

As fate would have it, momentum again swung the other way after a bobbled snap resulted in a fumble and a Cavaliers scoop and score covering 99 yards to end the half at 34-0.

The third quarter wasn’t any better for the Knights, who were still unable to cross the goal line, while the Cavaliers added another two TDs. The goose egg on the scoreboard finally got cracked in the 4th with rushing TDs from both Triplett and Reilly.

Needless to say, this was a learning experience for the Knights, and Coach Derrick had praise for both teams.

“I thought the kids played hard, but we were just outmanned at every spot,” Derrick said after the game. “They’re a damn good football team, but here’s the thing; if we didn’t make a couple of mistakes, it could’ve been 21-14 at the half.”

When the dust settled, Reilly ended the night with around 100 yds in the air and another 50 on the ground. Triplett, despite Calvary’s best efforts, managed to put up in the neighborhood of 150 rushing as well.

Thankfully, the game was injury-free for all intents & purposes, and the Knights are back Under The Oaks at home next week against the 1-1 Tiftarea Academy Panthers, for what should be a much less biblically-lopsided matchup.

Knight Run

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

To put it mildly, the 2021 season opener for the Frederica Knights was a mixed bag.

On the plus side, the Knights were victorious, defeating their longtime rivals, the Valwood Valiants to the tune of 27-6.

On the downside, the already short-staffed team suffered a significant injury with starting quarterback Thomas Veal breaking his non-throwing arm.

The game started with a long drive from the visiting Valiants. Their opening drive covered 46 yards, notched three first downs, and ate almost half of the quarter off the clock.

The Knights defense bent but didn’t break, and the drive ended on the first of several bad snaps going over the head of the Valwood quarterback.

WR/DB Bryce “Ice” Reilly, who gave the Frederica faithful a present playing on his birthday, made his presence known early & often on the opening drive with his first three tackles of the night. He would at least double that total by the end of the game, as well as tacking on a fumble recovery, an interception, and a touchdown reception. Happy birthday, indeed!

Momentum was difficult to establish early, with the two squads swapping 3 & out drives and a 2 & out from Frederica ending on an interception.

Valwood got on the board first with a 40-yard drive, culminating with a 3-yard QB sneak on the third play of the second quarter.

After that, it became the Jordan Triplett show.

After a solid 13 yd kick return from freshman Hayes Carter, Triplett broke off his first big run of the night, scampering 33 yards to set up a 23-yard touchdown pass four plays later on 4th down from Veal to Triplett, putting the Knights in the lead for good, 7-6

By the end of the half, “The River” Jordan had put up 88 yards on the ground, and Veal had thrown a TD and an INT. Sophomore DL Hamp Thompson evened the turnovers at one apiece with a strip sack in the final moments of the 2nd Quarter.

The first drive after the half saw the return of the “Cherokee & Apache” wildcat formations and a steady stream of Jordan Triplett runs. The 12-play drive would burn more than half of the quarter, Triplett would add another 40 yards to his total, and Veal tossed his second TD of the night, this time to Bryce Reilly.

The next two Valwood drives in the 3rd would end in fumbles, recovered by Reilly and Veal respectively.

To start the 4th, Valwood was stringing together their first extended drive since the 1st.  An interception by Reilly and stacked penalties for unnecessary roughness & unsportsmanlike conduct ended that and set the Knights up at the Valwood 35-yard line.

Two runs from Veal and five from Triplett led to the final score of the night, a nimble 4-yard run thru traffic from #4.

Unofficially, Jordan Triplett had 176 yards on the ground with two TD runs and one TD reception for 23 yards.

Before the injury late in the 4th, Thomas Veal had thrown for two TDs on a mere 35 yards, and had added a fumble recovery on defense.

The injury to his non-throwing arm will be further assessed, but initial speculation is that it will cost the senior 6 weeks of recovery time. That, more than anything is the big takeaway from the night.

With Coach Derrick’s squad coming into the game with only 21 players dressed, the loss of Veal will be noticeable and how Coach Derrick and his staff adapt will be a challenge to say the least.

Albeit a challenge they have overcome before.

Knights Conquest

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

After an unexpected trip to the state championship game last season, the Frederica Knights are looking to temper expectations for this season. “We’re rebuilding, but we’ve got some really talented kids,” says Head Coach Brandon Derrick.

Arguably the most talented young man on the roster is sophomore RB Jordan Triplett. The #1 freshman running back in the nation last year, “The River” Jordan has been busy this offseason, attending numerous football camps, including a tryout for the US National Team.

“Jordan will be bigger and better this year,” according to Coach Derrick. “He’s got great speed especially when someone’s chasing him. When he gets in the open field, he didn’t get run down one time last year.”

Hamp Thompson, who played back-up last year, will also see a lot more action.

“This year he’s gotta be ready to play,” said Derrick. “It’s going to be a new experience for him.”

Another big year is expected from Senior Quarterback Thomas Veal. After being unexpectedly thrust back into the starting lineup last year, Coach Derrick is counting on solid development and performance from the signal-caller.

“Veal has been pretty good (in camp). He’s going to be a bit more of a runner this year. He’s got sneaky speed and he showed it last year. I think he’s got a greater understanding of what we’re trying to do. Experience is going to help him.”

Of the returning offensive & defensive linemen, there will be some new assignments for the 2021 season. Rising Junior Sam Norris, who played last year at Guard, will be moving to center to replace the graduated Joshua Elliot.

Quite possibly the most notable addition to the 2021 squad comes to the DL in the form of a 5’10” 305lb Ashton Frankel. A senior who was in line to be a starter at 7A North Gwinnett High, Frankel will be lining up at Nose Tackle for Frederica. According to Coach Derrick, Ashton “has done a good job of coming in and fitting right in.”

While the OL and DL are major points of concern, the receiving corps seems to be in good shape.

“We’ll be okay at WR,” according to Coach Derrick. “We didn’t have flashy speed last year but were still able to average 100 yards a game and complete 60% of our passes because we knew what we were capable of doing. We’ll have to be very calculated this year.”

With rising senior Chase Schueneman transferring to Glynn Academy, the leadership mantle of the receivers falls on the capable shoulders of senior WR Bryce Reilly.

According to Coach Derrick, “Bryce has the experience; he’s a senior with four years of game time under his belt. He’s nursing a tweaked knee right know, but he’ll be good to go.

At the Tight End position, the job looks to belong once again to Jon Phillip Spiers. While he “may be moved to OT” according to the Coach, they’re “trying to keep him at TE as the slot guy.”

When asked who will be the big surprise this season, Coach Derrick points to either William Levy or sophomore Blake Holloway.

“Blake is going to be a big-time football player this year. He’s 6’3, he may wind up being a premium DE/OLB when it’s all said and done, but he’s so fast at CB and he’s good. He’s going to be a big target down the field with great hands. He and Bryce are going to be a great pair.”

Elsewhere on the defense, DT Mike Collier still hasn’t recovered from last year’s injury. The team is expecting him back around mid-season. In the meantime, senior MLB Jacob Aiken will definitely be the defensive anchor.

“We’re not going to be flying around, trying to go no huddle with everybody. We’re going to slow it down, more ball control/clock control,” says Coach Derrick. “Our kids understand where it’s at. It’ll be interesting.”

The Legend Of The Dirty Thirty

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It would be the epitome of understatement to say that the 2020 season for the Frederica Academy Knights was a surprising one.

Any season that ends in a trip to the state title game is a superlative one, no doubt.

Although the season was still somewhat up in the air due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the global pandemic was the least of Coach Brandon Derrick’s worries.

Defensive Coordinator Alex Mathis left the squad to join fellow FA coaching alum Geoff Cannon on the Brantley County Herons.

The already thin roster saw several contributors either opt out of the season or transfer to other schools, most notably the starting quarterback.

When the dust settled, the Knights would look to start the season with a meager 30 varsity players – “The Dirty Thirty” as they would come to be known.

And then, as the Knights approached their season opener versus longtime rival Valwood, COVID made its presence known. A positive test two weeks prior to the season opener required a 10-day shuttering of the program. After four days of game prep, the team headed to Hahira, GA to take on the Valiants.

After their first four quarters of the season, the Knights had given the first peek of what could be ahead in 2020 in the form of a 36-13 win.

Senior RB Kyle “Meatball” Perez put up 149 yards on the ground with 3 touchdowns, while freshman soon-to-be phenom RB “The River” Jordan Triplett notched 2 more touchdowns, while piling up 167 yards.

What turned out to be the tipping point of the season came in week three, when the team traveled to Chula, GA for the first time in six years to take on Tiftarea Academy.

The Panthers mounted a 4th quarter comeback and won the game 21-18, knocking the Knights to 1-2 on the young season, but more devastating was the loss of Kyle Perez. A broken leg would cost the running back most of his senior campaign.

The injury to Perez would mean an opportunity for Jordan Triplett to shine – and shine he did. The freshman back took on the weight of the starting role impressively, and the Knights wound up going 6-1 over the rest of the regular season, with the lone loss coming to Bulloch Academy, 20-16.

That loss would be avenged a month later in the first round of the playoffs, a game the Knights won 34-27.

In that game alone, Jordan Triplett carried the ball 24 times for a gaudy 278 yards and 4 touchdowns. Payback for another regular season loss came in the second round of the playoffs.

In a low-scoring affair, Frederica punched their ticket to the state championship with a 14-7 victory over Tiftarea.

Alas, the season ended where the Knights wanted it to end, it just didn’t end how they wanted it to end. The Goliath of John Milledge Academy got some payback of their own against the David of Frederica, flipping the script from 2018 and winning the trophy, 49-0.

When all was said & done, Jordan Triplett wrapped up the season with a noteworthy 1865 rushing yards on 237 carries, racking up 22 TDs on the ground and 2091 all-purpose yards.

Triplett’s opening salvo of his high school career saw him ranked as the #1 freshman running back in the nation, and the #2 back across all classes in the state of Georgia.

Post-season superlatives for #4 include selections to the GISA All State & All Region teams, Southern Sports Edition All-Area team, and an invitation to try out for the U.S. National Team.

While the freshman was making waves on the stat sheet, his 16 teammates from the Class of 2021were making their presence known as well. DEs Will Thompson and Will Counts (otherwise known as “the Wills”) combined for 94 tackles and were both named to the GISA All-State, All-Region, and All-Star teams.

Joining them on all three squads was LB Josh Meadows, who contributed significantly on both offense (his seam route was near unstoppable all season) and on special teams (blocking two punts in one game while playing without full use of one of his arms).

Senior MLB Joshua Elliott also got the nod for All-State and All-Region recognition, and three more Knights seniors were named to the All-Region squad as well; Eli Fritchman, Jaiden Rose-Scally, and Garrett Squire.

True, there are holes to be filled on the roster, but as any team coached by Brandon Derrick shows, talent follows talent, and more importantly, heart follows heart.

The 2020 Knights had plenty of both.