In a contest featuring two teams searching for their first win, Santa Fe first-year coach Joe Szymanski had one overriding message entering Friday night.
“We’ve been preaching all week to finish,” he said. “We had to finish a ball game.”
Santa Fe did just that in a 14-7 win over visiting Gainesville (0-5), giving the Raiders (1-4) their first win of the season.
“It’s a load off our backs,” Szymanski said after the game. “We can breathe finally.”
Raider quarterback James Smith threw for two scores in the first half while defensive back Dontrell Jenkins intercepted two passes and added two pass breakups, including the game-winner in the end zone with eight seconds left.
“(Szymanski) told us to get a stop,” said Jenkins, the Sonic Drive-In Player of the game, about the timeout going into the final play. “We’ve been getting stops the whole time. He said, ‘Stand tall right here.’”
Santa Fe started the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Blake McCoy with 2:01 left in the first quarter.
In what looked like it was going to be a scoreless second quarter, the Raiders drove down the field and made it inside the Hurricanes’ 30-yard line. However, a tackle-for-loss on fourth down gave the ball back to Gainesville with under 30 seconds left in the half.
Rather than play conservatively and run out the clock, Gainesville took a shot down the field. Mason Zwilling’s deep pass was intercepted by Jenkins at the Raiders’ 35-yard line.
Taking a page out of Gainesville’s book, Santa Fe took a shot of their own, and Smith hit KJ Johnson for a 65-yard touchdown to put the Raiders up two scores heading into the half.
“When we got the pick, I talked to Coach Hockman, our OC (offensive coordinator), and we were like, ‘Let’s take a shot,” and I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s take a shot,’” Szymanski said. “I like to do that, he does too, when we get turnovers.”
Struggling offensively, Gainesville made a quarterback switch in the third quarter subbing Zwilling out for Matthew Williams. But Williams’ first pass attempt was intercepted by Jenkins.
Gainesville head coach Dock Pollard decided to stick with Williams to start the fourth quarter and his move paid off for both of his quarterbacks. After two big runs by Williams to begin the drive, Zwilling came back in and ran for a 12-yard first down on fourth down.
“We were just looking for a spark,” Pollard explained about the QB switch. “We’re so young. Get rattled. Got a lot of guys that haven’t played high school football. We’re in a dog fight and sometimes we have to make a move that will have a calming effect on the team.”
A few plays later, running back Caleb Young ran for a 12-yard touchdown to put the Hurricanes on the board with 8:43 left in the game.
Gainesville would force a three-and-out defensively and got the ball back with a few minutes left and no timeouts.
On 4th-and-20 on their side of the field, Zwilling rolled out to the left, and with pressure in his face, floated the ball to tight end Nicholas Tisher who ran 25 yards for the first down.
Faced with another fourth down, Zwilling hit Williams for a 20-yard completion to put the ball on the 25-yard line with barely a minute left. John Cooper snagged another pass for a first down and, coupled with a facemask penalty on the Raiders, gave Gainesville a first-and-goal with less than a minute left and a chance to tie.
A 2-yard run, a spike and an incomplete pass later, Gainesville faced fourth-and-goal with eight seconds to go. With the game on the line, Zwilling floated a jump ball into the back corner of the end zone where Jenkins and Williams were battling one-on-one.
Jenkins, who stars on the Raiders’ basketball team, used every inch of his vertical to knock the ball away and give Santa Fe the win.
The Raiders look to begin a win streak as they host P.K. Yonge (0-3) next week, while Gainesville will look to win their first game of the season on the road against 0-3 Menendez (St. Augustine).
Friday, Sept. 23
Branford 22, Paxon (Jacksonville) 21
Cornerstone Charter Academy (Bell Isle) 35, Bronson 0
Oak Hall School 35, Eagle’s View (Jacksonville) 0
Seven Rivers Christian (Lecanto) 52, St. Francis Catholic Academy 8
Hamilton County (Jasper) 38, Bell 21
Buchholz 24, Vanguard (Ocala), 21
Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) 43, Columbia (Lake City) 30
Dixie County (Cross City) 26, Jefferson County (Monticello) 20 (OT)
Williston 56, Fort White 28
Santa Fe (Alachua) 14, Gainesville 7
Interlachen 26, Keystone Heights 12
Bradford (Starke) 21, Munroe (Quincy) 7
Hawthorne 46, P.K. Yonge 6
Suwannee (Live Oak) 10, North Marion (Citra) 7
Union County (Lake Butler) 45, Newberry 0
OFF – Eastside, Chiefland, Trenton