Damarcus Creecy led the Bucs to a 22-16 victory as the Bulldogs were forced to play much of the second half without quarterback D.J. Murray.
Mainland receiver Ajai Harrell scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run and added the two-point conversion on a pass from Damarcus Creecy. And then he reprimanded his coach. He had earned it.
“He grabbed me when I got a little hyped and said, ‘Hey, you told me to be calm.’” Mainland coach Travis Roland said.
Roland didn’t remain calm for long. Harrell’s touchdown put the Bucs ahead with 2:31 remaining against Flagler Palm Coast in a rare Monday night game on Sept. 19 at Daytona Stadium. Mainland’s defense then held the Bulldogs on downs to preserve a 22-16 victory.
“This means Mainland’s back,” Roland said. “This is the standard.”
A year ago, the Bulldogs stifled a late Bucs' drive to hold onto a 17-13 victory at FPC. This time, Mainland (2-1) returned the favor against Roland’s former team.
“This means Mainland’s back. This is the standard.”
— TRAVIS ROLAND, Mainland football coach
The game was pigeon-holed on a Monday after the originally scheduled game on Sept. 2 was postponed because of lightning. FPC (3-1) was playing its second game in three days after defeating rival Matanzas in the rain on Sept. 16. Several Bulldogs, including quarterback D.J. Murray, battled cramps throughout the physical contest between two of the top teams in the area.
“Our bodies were a little beaten up,” said FPC free safety Benjamin Laurore, whose early interception set up Chase Magee’s 27-yard field goal for the first score of the game. “But we can't use that as an excuse.”
And yet, FPC was left wondering what might have been if Murray did not have to leave the game with 5:15 left in the third quarter. The junior had to be carried off with severe cramps after leading the Bulldogs on a touchdown drive on their previous possession, giving FPC a 16-14 lead.
Murray returned for the Bulldogs’ final drive, but his fourth-down pass fell incomplete with 55 seconds left, and the Bucs ran out the clock.
Sophomore Jakob Miller had been FPC's backup quarterback, but he suffered an injury in a JV game last week, so tight end Daniel DeFalco took over under center while Murray was sidelined.
“He was cramping really bad,” FPC coach Robert Paxia said of Murray. “Almost a full quarter, we played without a quarterback. When you have one as dynamic as him, you have to change what you do. He’s the guy who makes us go on offense. As great as our running backs are, as great as the offensive line is, the dual threat that (Murray) is … we were unable to emotionally recover for a brief period.”
“Almost a full quarter, we played without a quarterback. When you have one as dynamic as (D.J. Murray), you have to change what you do. He’s the guy who makes us go on offense. As great as our running backs are, as great as the offensive line is, the dual threat that (Murray) is … we were unable to emotionally recover for a brief period.”
— ROBERT PAXIA, FPC football coach
Marcus Mitchell scored two touchdowns for FPC, including a 3-yard run that put the Bulldogs up 10-7 with 1:55 left in the second quarter. But the Bucs responded with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Creecy to Harrell with 14 seconds left in the half.
Roland said that after Bartram Trail stymied the Bucs inside the 20-yard line in handing them a 17-3 loss on Sept. 9, they focused on the two-minute drill and red-zone offense during their bye week.
“We stunk it up against Bartram Trail in the red zone and in situational football, so all bye week was about the two-minute and 20-and-in,” Roland said.
Creecy passed for 280 yards and two touchdowns and had some key scrambles to keep drives alive.
“He’s a great quarterback,” Roland said. “You see his command. He was out with injury all week long. We had to practice on Saturday and Sunday just to be able for him to be out there. He battled amazingly.”
Now both teams will have a quick turn-around with games on Friday, Sept. 23. Mainland travels to undefeated Lake Minneola, while FPC hosts University.
For the Bulldogs, it will be three games from Sept. 16 to Sept. 23.
“Three in seven days is tough for anyone,” Paxia said. “We’re just going to try to figure out how to manage and try to do what’s best for the kids.”