Barron Collier's Ernst Dervil torches the Bears defense for his second touchdown during Friday night's game at Palmetto Ridge High School. GREGG HARDY/CSI
As Barron Collier football coach Mark Jackson watched Palmetto Ridge’s Jaden Booker threaten to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in a single game — or so it must have seemed — and perhaps spoil the Cougars’ stunning rally from a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit Friday night, he had only one thought.
“I’m thinking that we’re about to go back and try to score again,” Jackson said. “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”
Understandable, given the way quarterback Dylan McNamara and the Cougars’ offense were playing at the time. In the span of eight minutes and 13 seconds, Barron Collier (1-1) stunningly turned a 34-17 deficit into a 38-34 lead.
Jackson, however, didn’t need any more heroics from his offense.
For Palmetto Ridge (1-1), the euphoria of watching Booker take a screen pass from Hosea Booker and go 88 yards for the potential game-winning touchdown — with 1:17 left on the clock — turned into a gut punch. The Bears were flagged (much to the contempt of coach Chris Toukonen and his staff) for a sideline violation that nullified the touchdown.
A few plays later, Schneider St. Louis sealed the Cougars’ four-point victory when he intercepted a tipped ball by a fully extended Caleb Cousins, the Bears’ standout tight end.
The flag following the Booker-to-Booker connection really stung, Cousins said.
“Well obviously emotions are high when you get a big run like that, especially off a screen play,” said Cousins, who hooked up with Hosea Booker on a pair of touchdown catches (six and 52 yards) to help Palmetto Ridge build a 21-0 lead in the first half. “I wasn’t expecting that at all. Running down the field, I’m cramping, excited, Jaden scored that touchdown and I see the yellow flag come on the field, and it’s just all downhill from there. Emotions are very high.”
Asked what positives he and his teammates will take from the emotional loss, Cousins said, “Great first half, exceptional first quarter. We just shot ourselves in the foot.”
Of course, Jaden Booker did not approach the millennial mark for total yards from scrimmage in one night. But thanks to three huge runs, including touchdowns of 49 and 66 yards, he had well over 200 yards rushing. Had that potential game-winning pass play not been negated, he would’ve easily topped 300 total yards.
It was Booker’s shortest run on the night — a one-yarder with 55 seconds left in the third quarter — that sent the Bears into the fourth quarter holding a 17-point advantage.
“Yeah, I said a lot of prayers,” Jackson said about the large hole his team had dug itself. “We were able to string some plays together, the kids bought in and made some plays (and) the defense stepped up in the fourth quarter.”
McNamara ignited Barron Collier’s comeback with a two-yard flip pass to Braden Johnson that made it 34-24. Then, the Cougars hit the Bears with two quick strikes.
First, Ernst Dervil blew past the Palmetto Ridge defense on a 46-yard touchdown run — his second score of the night — with 6:32 remaining. Then, after the Barron Collier defense bore down to force a punt (after surrendering a first-down run by Booker), McNamara spotted Dylan Rodd leaving two defenders in his wake, and they connected on a 50-yard touchdown pass with 1:40 to play. Rodd pestered the Palmetto Ridge defense in the second half, picking up chunks of yardage on two other passes.
McNamara made two key plays in the third quarter with his team down 27-10 and desperate to get back in the game. Following a Palmetto Ridge personal foul on an incomplete pass, he took off on a long run down to the Bears’ 5-yard line. Then, while rolling right, McNamara found Magnus Joslin in the back of the end zone.
The Barron Collier special teams, it should be noted, played a subtle role in the win. Matthew Campbell’s 31-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the second quarter made the Cougars’ double-digit halftime deficit sting just a little less. (Campbell also went 5 for 5 on his PAT tries.) Also, the Cougars blocked the extra point following Booker’s 1-yard TD run, which, ultimately, forced Palmetto Ridge to need a game-winning touchdown rather than a game-tying field goal in the final minute-plus of game time.
Jackson was asked if there was one play that made the difference in the Cougars’ comeback.
“I don’t know. I can’t even remember them all right now. I saw too many,” he said. “We ran the ball hard, the offensive line got better throughout the game (and) we were able to slow them down a little bit. We gave up the big play right there, but they had a penalty, we had a penalty. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”
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