Jeff Doke

Knights Quest

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Over the years, Frederica Knights teams have developed their own personalities from year to year, and historically become known by it.

The 2018 championship squad was known as the fastest. In 2017, they were heralded as the most “football smart” unit. The Dirty Thirty of 2020 was aptly described as the grittiest Knights team to take the field.

The 2021 squad will more than likely be remembered by a single trait; resiliency.

The cards were stacked against the 2021 Knights from the moment the 16 seniors that led the Dirty Thirty crossed the graduation stage. Any team that loses that amount of talent and leadership will feel the loss in the locker room. The lack of incoming players for the new season just added to the difficulties.

When all was said & done in the offseason, there would be a scant 22 players in green & grey starting off the 2021 campaign. Coach Brandon Derrick, needless to say, was trying to temper expectations.

“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,” said Coach Derrick during a preseason interview.

After Senior QB Thomas Veal broke his hand during the week 1 victory over Valwood, the Knights were forced to show their resiliency once again. Shifting fellow senior Bryce Reilly from WR to QB, the target for opposing defenses shifted even further to record-setting RB Jordan Triplett.

Four tough losses and a bye week later, Veal returned to the lineup and things started clicking again.

A lopsided win over Memorial Day was followed by a solid victory over the hated Bulloch Gators, and then a historic performance from Triplett the following week. “The River” put up 442 yards rushing against the St. Andrews Lions for the 6th best rushing game in the history of high school football in Georgia.

More importantly, the victory took the Knights to a 4-4 record on the season at the time, and set them up for a region championship matchup against the Pinewood Patriots the following week.

After going up 13-0 early against the Patriots, Pinewood QB Mic Wasson turned on the jets and led his team to a 32-20 victory over our Knights. Another loss is the Pinewood game would be senior TE/LB Jon Phillip Spiers, who broke his hand and is out for the remainder of the season.

Which meant it was time to show that resiliency once again to wrap up the regular season.

On the road in Dublin, the Knights took care of the Trinity Christian Crusaders to the tune of 42-17.

The Knights have a bye week coming up this week and will face fellow bye week recipient Tiftarea Academy the following week in a rematch from week 3.

The Panthers won that game 29-7. The winner of that game will more than likely face defending state champion John Milledge Academy. The Trojans have been dominant against the GISA, losing only one game in the last three years.

That loss was to Frederica. Resiliency will absolutely be needed from the Knights if that matchup is in their future.

 

The Big Letdown

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

When I was a freshman at Young Harris College, I was introduced to a south Florida-based parrot head musician named Del Suggs. The chorus of one of his songs said “when everything’s coming up roses, I get suspicious.”

Boy howdy, does that sentiment ring true right now.

As any lifelong Dawg fan will gladly tell you – whether you want to hear it or not – we’ve been through a lot over the years: Second & 26. Half a hundred between the hedges. No, make that the entire Steve Spurrier run.

The Dawgs have been close (or should have been close) so many times since 1980 that many of us have developed a healthy sense of skepticism. Can you blame us though? We survived Jim Donnan *AND* Mark Richt.

This year feels different, though. Undefeated through seven games. Undefeated in the SEC with our backup quarterback and a decimated receiver corp. A defense that has allowed only 4 touchdowns all year…and it would have been three if Mark Stoops’ bookie hadn’t gotten that call through. Georgia, no matter how badly we don’t want to say it out loud, looks unstoppable.

This year’s Georgia/Florida game shouldn’t be a trap game. So why is it making me so nervous?

The 2021 Floriduh Gaturs are not a good football team. Neither QB has proved to be outstanding, although both were described as such in the preseason.

Yes, they almost took Bama to overtime, but I’m standing by my belief that this year’s Bama is a paper tiger.

Dan Mulllen has already gotten a third L to supplement the two Ls you can’t spell his name without. Not only are they not at their usual spot in the top 2 spots of the SEC East, they’re in 4th, behind Tennessee AND KENTUCKY.

Let that sink in. Florida is behind Kentucky. In FOOTBALL.

I’m pretty sure this is mentioned somewhere in Revelations, I’m just scared to look.

I’m nervous about this game because records and rankings absolutely do not matter in this matchup. Let’s take a look at the last few times a highly ranked UGA team has gone up against an unranked Florida squad.

2017 – #3 Georgia 42 – Florida 7. Okay, this one worked out the way we thought, but just wait.

2014 – Florida 38 – #9 Georgia 20. I’m not sure, but I think this was the year Fred Taylor’s kid decided he had some of his old man’s talent. Not sure, I’ve blocked this game from my memory.

2002 – Florida 20 – #5 Georgia 13. Ron Zook’s first year as coach (yeah, I forgot him, too), and a team led by a QB most famous for almost breaking his fool neck headbutting a cement wall on national television.

If we were to flip the script, the last time an unranked Georgia squad beat a ranked Florida team was 1989.

Thirty-two years ago. When George Bush was still in office. The first one, that is.

This is why I am hesitant to embrace hope this year, much less this week. Weird stuff happens at the WLOCP.

True, the 2021 Bulldogs have started to be mentioned in “best of all time” discussions, and rightfully so. JT Daniels is trending towards playing, and let’s be honest, it won’t be a heartbreak if he doesn’t – you’d like to see the Mailman get some payback for last year too, yeah?

My mind says “we’ve got this.” My heart says “ease up off the gas there, pablo.”

My cardiology nurse, however, says “please stop watching Georgia football.” I should probably listen to her, considering she’s my wife.

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.”

Change Is Coming

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

One would think that if you are still a Jacksonville Jaguars fan (as I am), you would have developed a bit more patience.

Imagine being a Jaguars fan that went into a coma after the 1999 season. You’ve experienced four straight playoff appearances, back-to-back division championships, two trips to the AFC Championship game, and an overall record of 49-31. The franchise looks primed for a long stretch of success on the gridiron.

Now imagine that fan coming out of that coma Thursday night.

The Jags have only had four winning seasons in the last 21 years. Only three trips to the post-season. I don’t even want to add up the win/loss record in this stretch (I’m not THAT much of a sports self-flagellator).

Gus Bradley. Doug Marrone. Mike Mularkey.

Oh, and Myles Jack wasn’t down.

And now, we have this season. We started the season with a highly-touted franchise quarterback. A new head coach with a top-notch college resume. Dare I say it, hope. Things, on paper, looked good.

And then, reality. An opening game loss to a Houston Texans team in a Jaguars-esque state of franchise chaos, followed by a week two loss to the Broncos, and a second-half collapse against the Cardinals.

Which brings us to Thursday night. Sometimes, being a Dawg fan prepares you for being a Jags fan. Remember the meme that was making the rounds after the 2018 SEC Championship game? Georgia and Alabama have played 120 minutes in the past two games. Georgia has led or been tied for 119 of those minutes and lost both games.

Wanna hear it sound even better? In those last two games the teams have combined for 290 plays. Alabama has had the lead for 9 (3%) of those.

Oof. Not “woof.” Oof.

Thursday night was like that for the Jags. They were tied or had the lead for the full 60 minutes of that game. The winning kick for Cincy crossed the goalposts as the clock read 0:00. It was the only play of the game that the Bengals were in the lead, and unfortunately, it was the only play that mattered.

And out come the boo birds. The defeatists. The naysayers. The fans that were expecting the franchise to immediately turn around with the arrival of Coach Meyer and T-Law, calling both men “mistakes” and “failures” with ¾ of a season still to play. Armchair GMs decreeing that the Jags are going to go nowhere with either one.

To quote our Commander-In-Y’know-The-Thing; “C’mon, man!”

Let’s be honest, Duval. We are on a 19-game losing streak. We didn’t get here by making smart choices. But change *IS* coming, just not overnight. To make my point, I implore you to look at the 1999 season.

Not ours, but Indianapolis’ 1999 season, otherwise known as “Peyton’s Rookie Year.”

The best forehead in the history of the NFL led his team to a 3-13 record. He threw two more interceptions than touchdowns. He finished the year with a 71.2 QB rating. And just look where he went from there.

Oh, and that same 1999 season, Bill Belicheck was unemployed. His win-loss record after five years in Cleveland was 36-44. Heck, his first season in New England looked like more of the same – 5-11 and last place in the division.

True, the last two decades of football on the banks of the St. Johns River have given us precious little reason to have hope for the future.

Four games into a career is not the time to give up on our new coach and QB. You’ve held on to that glimmer of hope thus far, keep the faith. Change is coming.

Just maybe not this year.