Jeff Doke

Life Of A Dawguar

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Every fan has at least one moment in their sporting life that they remember precisely where they were and what they were doing when it happened. I have two.

The first is January 1, 1981. I was 9 years old, and I remember clearly watching my quiet, reserved, school teacher mom literally jumping up and down on our living room couch screaming “GO! GO! GO!” as Hershel Walker rumbled up the middle for 25 yards against some Irish dudes.

It’s the first Georgia game I can remember watching, and it’s when I first realized there was something special about this game called “football.”

Those were some good days. The three years of Hershel Walker between the hedges was enough to spoil a budding football fan. A national championship, a trip to a second championship game, and a Heisman Trophy?

One could get used to this! Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and pat early-80s me on the head and say “there, there.” Football life for the Dawg Fan was not sunshine & roses for large swaths of the coming decades.

Oh sure, there were some great moments – the 2018 Rose Bowl, the 2005 SEC Championship over LSU, the 2007 “storm the field” victory over Florida. But for every great moment like these, there’s a Prayer at Jordan Hare, a 2nd & 26, and pretty much any game against Florida in the Spurrier years.

The second defining sports memory in my life came on November 30, 1993. I was throwing darts with some fraternity brothers at a place called The Brick in downtown Milledgeville when I looked up to the TV over the bar to see the announcement that Jacksonville had been awarded the 32nd NFL franchise.

I let out a massive holler that literally left everyone else in the place silent. Under normal circumstances, I would have been mortified, but I was elated. My hometown was getting an NFL team! (Yes, I know. I’m from Brunswick, but as Jim Rome once said, Brunswick is just a suburb of Jacksonville that happens to be in another state. Again, tell me I’m wrong.)

Much like my early days as a citizen of Dawgnation, the early days of Jaguars fandom was the stuff of legends.

The AFC Championship game in our second year. Three consecutive trips to the postseason in the years following. That epic 14-2 season in 1999. And then, much like the post-1983 Dawgs, it all came crashing down. The Blaine Gabbert years. The Justin Blackmon debacle. Those damn tarps. The Tennessee &!%$*#@ Titans.

Yes, you could say I’m a glutton for punishment. Doubly so when you realize how few people fall into the Venn Diagram intersection of “Dawg fan” and “Jags fan” – “Dawguars,” if you will.

Most Dawg people are Falcon fans simply due to geography, regardless of how allegedly infrequently the Falcons draft UGA players  – three since 1995 by the way.

Three players, coincidentally, is how many UGA alums the Jaguars have drafted in that same span…and also how many North Avenue Trade School “players” have snuck their way onto the Jags roster as well.

All of those numbers are dwarfed by the massive 11 players from Gainesville that have gone on to wear teal & black.

Eleven hated amphibians that we booed on Saturdays that we now have to choke down the bile and root for on Sundays.

Players like Fred Taylor, one of the Pride of the Jaguars, that broke our heart for years at the WLOCP. First rounders like Taven Bryan & CJ Henderson. And now, after the Marrone era, we now welcome a former Gator to the Head Coaches’ office – Mr. Urban Meyer. Ugh.

Whether or not this winds up being another Pete Carroll success or another rare Nick Saban failure in the NFL is yet to be seen.

I hold high hopes that Urban will be able to take that “generational talent” headed our way from Clemson (really? I’ve gotta support a Clemson player now, too? Fine…) and return us to the halcyon days reminiscent of those first five years of our franchise history.

If he gets us our first Lombardi, this Dawg will be understandably ecstatic.

I’m just glad it’s not Spurrier. Even I have limits.

Drop The Puck

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Over the last year, COVID has caused some pretty significant sports cancellations – March Madness, the Olympics, UGA vs. the North Avenue Trade School Alumni Slush Fund Referees.

For me, the most significant cancellation was the Savannah Hockey Classic.

I was more than a little disappointed when the 2021 tournament was cancelled, but that just made me that much more happy when the news broke of the East Coast Hockey League coming to the Coastal Empire.

The ECHL, one of two official mid-level minor leagues of the NHL, has teams that include the Jacksonville Icemen, the South Carolina Stingrays, and the Atlanta Gladiators.

The new franchise in Savannah, scheduled to start play in 2022, is yet to be named.

You can follow the developments ramping up to the puck drop (including a name-the-franchise contest) at savannahprohockey.com.

In the meantime, here’s a few suggestions I’d like to put forth.

Savannah Banana Spiders – okay, full disclosure; I am NOT a fan of the Savannah Bananas.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I love minor league baseball. I had season tickets to the Sand Gnats. Call me a codger, but dagnabbit, baseball isn’t supposed to be goofy! And the Bananas have goofiness in spades.

Never mind the fact that bananas don’t grow in Savannah…but banana spiders do. Not sure how our arachnophobic fans will react, but at least it’s an ecologically accurate franchise name.

Savannah Banana Hammocks – Okay, picture this; Borat in his swimsuit as celebrity spokesman…on second thought, don’t. Nevermind. Moving on…

Savannah Hunters – This one tips the hat to both the Army presence in Savannah (Hunter Army Airfield), as well as the rapidly dwindling “good ol’ boy” demographic in the Low Country.

You saw which counties were blue vs. red back in November. Tell me I’m wrong. The only question is whether or not the “bro country, lifetime NRA membership, RealTree camo” demographic will go for hockey. Now, before you get your Salt Life t-shirt all wrinkled, chill out. I’m in every one of those categories, too.

Savannah Midnight – it’s been almost thirty years since “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” put Savannah back in the national consciousness for the first time since Sherman’s march, and it still draws some serious tourist dollars.

Just imagine the cross promotions with Club One! We’d run the risk of alienating the previously mentioned demographic, but from what I understand, every list of potential franchise names is required to have a non-plural noun (Magic, Wild, Kraken, et. al.). I think it’s a law. Maybe just an executive order. I’ve lost track.

Savannah Shamrocks – This one was my favorite until I remembered that there’s already a squad going by that moniker.

The Savannah contingent of USA Rugby as a matter of fact, and I’d rather not be the one to approach those guys about co-ownership of the name.

I know some of those guys. Some of them are teddy bears, some are wildebeests, and it’s impossible to tell the difference until it’s too late. My HMO recommends we pass on this one as well.

Savannah Spirits – Here’s another sneaky one. Do we mean Spirits as in the ghostly beings that fuel the numerous haunted tours downtown, or Spirits as in the liquid courage that fuels the numerous questionable life choices downtown?

I guess we’ll have to wait to see the mascot to decide. (Bonus points if you remember the short-lived CBA franchise of the same name!)

Chatham Artillery – This one is my absolute favorite. It references an old school Savannah recipe known as Chatham Artillery Punch.

When the recipe calls for three *bottles* of liquor and three *bottles* of champagne mixed in a bucket, you know this is a beverage that DOES NOT FOOL AROUND. And it’s one that screams “Savannah.”

Remember the quote from “the book” as it is known to the locals; “If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, ‘What’s your business?’ In Macon they ask, ‘Where do you go to church?’… But in Savannah the first question people ask you is ‘What would you like to drink?’”

Hopefully soon, the second question will be “wanna go watch some hockey?”

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.

Knights Crusade Ends

Jeff headshot

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

As I sit down to write this, it has been about twelve hours since the 2016 season came to an end. Twelve hours since Deerfield-Windsor came to St Simons and left Frederica with a heartbreaking 28-14 defeat. Twelve hours since the drive for a state championship ended two weeks short of the goal. Twelve hours that I have spent wondering what I wanted to say to all of you, because I knew that this was how I wanted to handle this column. 

I could have written the standard game summary article, focusing on game highlights such as Jashawn Sheffield’s 85-yard touchdown run or Tyler Pierce’s fumble recovery, but I felt that I needed to do something a bit more personal because that’s what this season needed; something personal.

I can only imagine what you are feeling. Literally so, because I never played the game. My athletic “career” consisted of one tee-ball practice; coach yelled at me and he wouldn’t let me get Gatorade when I wanted it, so my mom didn’t make me go back. I was way more brainy than I was brawny, so I was okay with that. I didn’t have the dedication that any of you have when it came to playing the game we love, so I am resigned to watch from the booth. 

And watch I have. As the radio play-by-play voice of the Knights since the 2012 season, I’ve watched every moment of Frederica Knights Football over these past five years. The victories, the losses, the injuries, the highlights, the legendary comebacks, and the comebacks that fell just short. There has been glory, and there has been agony, and this season had a little bit of both.

The glory is what I want you to focus on. There is plenty of glory to focus on because this truly was an amazing season. Look at the things you accomplished; first ever school victories over Valwood and Pinewood. Back to back victories over defending state champions. A victory over the defending region champion. The 2016 Knights season was one to be proud of. 

To the Frederica seniors, I know this day is toughest for you. Some of you may go on to play college ball, and some of you may never put on pads again. The thought of “what could have been” will always sting, but that will abate with time.

What you will always hold most cherished will be the sense of team spirit that you built this year. That much was evident to everyone who watched this team. You all have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. 

To the juniors, I say to grasp this moment. Use it as motivation for your 2017 campaign. Remember the feeling of being this close and use it to take it even further next year. You’ve got one more chance, so make the best of it.

To the sophomores, it’s gut check time. You are now at the midway point of your high school careers. Things look very promising, that much is evident. The talent in this class alone makes me extraordinarily confident that there will be a trophy hoisted before you trade your pads & cleats for a cap & gown. I challenge you to prove me right.

To the freshmen, please take notice of your school history. You have just started your football career, and there is still time to make an impact. For every highly-touted player like Eli Yarborough, Max Bourne, and Shaun Tatum, there have been players that seemingly came out of nowhere and stepped up. Some for years like Luckett McKeown, others for a game like Pierce Gunderson. You can make a difference in this program, and I have every faith that you will do just that.

I feel confident that I speak for your families, your coaches, your teachers, your classmates, and your community when I say hold your heads high, Knights. This season may not have ended the way you wanted it to, but you left your mark on this school, and we are all absolutely proud of you. This season will not be forgotten. The Knights teams to come will make sure of that.

Now then…is it August yet?

Frederica Banishes Bethlehem Christian

Jeff headshotBy: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Last year, the Frederica Knights found themselves somewhere unexpected; at home for the first round of the GISA Playoffs.

After a tough rebuilding 2014 campaign, the surprising 3-1 region/7-3 overall record in 2015 was good enough to land the Knights with home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The run for the State Championship ended early, losing to Gatewood 14-3 in the first round.

2016, however, is a VERY different year. This year’s Knights more than made up for the previous year’s loss, opening up the playoffs with a decimating 52-14 victory over Bethlehem Christian.

Head Coach Brandon Derrick has spoken numerous times throughout the year as to when he hoped this team would hit their stride. He was worried about hitting the peak too early, that he would prefer his squad to start firing on all cylinders by week 8, fully hitting their stride for the playoff run.

And fire on all cylinders they did this week. The Knights defense opened the game with a three & out. Once the offense took the field, it looked like they were going to pick right back up where they left off two weeks prior (a 34-7 victory over Edmund Burke Academy). The drive ended, unfortunately, with an Isaiah Jackson fumble just inside the red zone.

This would be Jackson’s only “lowlight” of the game. Following the fumble, the sophomore running back put together one of the finest two quarters of high school football I have ever witnessed, scoring three times on runs of 1, 54, and 55 yards.

Twenty four minutes of play, over a hundred yards rushing, and three touchdowns. Not a bad night’s work, to put it mildly.

It wasn’t all Jackson in the first half, however. Fellow sophomores Patrick Brunson and Jaylin Simpson also found the endzone; Brunson on an iconic crossfield 65-yard punt return and Simpson on a 9-yard pass from Sophomore QB Gaven Williams.

Senior CB Chris Myrick also got in on the action, adding a 54 yard interception return for a touchdown. at halftime, the score was already 45-0, and the Knights were fairly confident of the victory.

The night wasn’t done for the offense, though. After sitting out the first two quarters, Sophomore RB Jashawn Sheffield tacked on a 50-yard touchdown run on the second play of the 2nd half. For those of you scoring at home, that’s five touchdowns of 50+ yards on the night. Electric doesn’t begin to describe this team.

“These kids are very focused, very in to what we’re trying to do,” said Coach Derrick after the game. “We’ve got a bright future.”

The future continues next week under the oaks against Deerfield-Windsor out of Albany, GA.

“They’ve got a lot of skill kids,” speculates Coach Derrick. “They’re gonna match up well with us at times, it’s going to be a pretty even game.”

Final thought; while the playoffs continue, it’s hard not to look ahead for this squad. When you realize that you’ve got five amazing sophomores in Williams, Sheffield, Simpson, Jackson, and Brunson, it’s hard not to feel a giddy sense of anticipation about the next few years.

There is a core of players on this Knights team that would make any coach jealous, regardless of if we’re talking GISA, GHSA, or otherwise. It’s difficult to look at this team and discount them simply because of the league they are in. They’re focused, they’re executing, and they are driven.

And in three more weeks, hopefully we’ll be able to add “they’re champions” to that list.  The March to Mercer continues…

 

Frederica Closes Regular Season

Jeff headshotBy: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It would be a vast understatement to say that it has been a rough couple of weeks in the Golden Isles.

Frederica Academy had two crucial weeks remaining as Matthew started bearing down on the Golden Isles, both against region opponents and both that had serious playoff implications.

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Frederica Overthrows Pinewood

Jeff headshotBy: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Another First For Frederica On The March To Mercer.

There’s something amazing about watching unbridled joy erupting from a grown man. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s something to behold, and it’s exactly what we saw from Head Coach Brandon Derrick.

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Frederica’s March To Mercer

Jeff headshotBy: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Frederica Academy has only had a football program for six seasons. A mere drop in the bucket when compared to other programs in southeast Georgia.

If you know anything about Frederica, however, you know that their penchant for athletic excellence is not taken lightly. State championship trophies for soccer, baseball, basketball, and golf fill the cases at the athletic department on their St Simons Island campus.

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Frederica Remains Dominant

Jeff headshot By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Frederica Knights followed up their defeat of defending GISA Class AAA State Champions Valwood with a defeat of defending GISA Class AA State Champions Memorial Day.

The Knights took their unbeaten record to 5-0 with a 23-3 victory, sending the Matadors to a 1-3-1 overall record.

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Frederica Stays Perfect

Jeff headshot By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Coming off of an “unscheduled bye week” compliments of Hurricane Hermine, the Frederica Knights found themselves undefeated, well-rested, and injury free going into week 5 of their 2016 campaign.

“We’re at 100% right now” said Head Coach Brandon Derrick earlier in the week. The Knights needed to be at 100% for this week’s opponent; defending GISA state champions Valwood High.

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