The Bulldogs will host Matanzas in the Potato Bowl and then face Mainland three days later.
Because of ceaseless afternoon rains, Flagler Palm Coast’s football team hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to practice outside since the season started.
“We’ve had a ton of walkthroughs,” Bulldogs coach Robert Paxia said.
The Bulldogs haven’t had many opportunities to play games either. Their 35-14 victory at Spruce Creek on Sept. 9, was their first game in two weeks.
But that will soon change. They host Matanzas in the annual Potato Bowl game on Friday, Sept. 16. Three days later, on Monday, Sept. 19, they’ll meet Mainland at 6 p.m. at Daytona Stadium in a game that was postponed because of lightning. Just four days after that, on Sept. 23, they’ll be back home against University.
That’s three games in eight days, weather permitting.
“Honestly, we’re just glad we got to play a game,” Paxia said after win against the Hawks. “It's been a crazy two and a half weeks with weather and practices and all that stuff. And now, we’re getting ready for a gauntlet. Three games in eight days, man. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But we're excited. We've got the Potato Bowl and Mainland in a three-day stretch.”
“Three games in eight days, man. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But we're excited. We've got the Potato Bowl and Mainland in a three-day stretch.”
— ROBERT PAXIA
Adding to their excitement is a 2-0 record, matching last year’s promising start in Paxia’s first season at his alma mater. But after those first two wins last season, the Bulldogs ran into a rough four-game stretch that included a 40-7 loss to Spruce Creek.
It didn’t take long for FPC to demonstrate to the Hawks (1-2) that this is a new year. Gerod Tolbert scored on a 71-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown on the first drive of the game. Mikhail Zysek, who caught three passes for 90 yards, scored on a 15-yard reception in the final seconds of the first quarter. And an interception by Ely Gilyard set up Marcus Mitchell’s 8-yard touchdown run, putting FPC up 21-0 at the half.
The Bulldogs took advantage of four Hawks turnovers. And after rushing for 373 yards in their season-opener, quarterback D.J. Murray aired it out with 254 yards passing and three touchdown passes. The dagger was a 20-yard strike to Ashton Bracewell with 3:21 left to play. FPC also ran for 218 yards with Mitchell gaining 178 on 29 carries.
“We just knew coming in that they had a good front seven, so at practice we were just drilling it in that we had to get a passing game established early, and that’s exactly what we did,” Murray said. “We came out and executed.”
Spruce Creek pulled within a touchdown in the second half. Quarterback Luke Smith scored on a 1-yard keeper on the opening possession of the third quarter. A jet sweep by Tony Kinsler made it 21-14.
“We just knew coming in that they had a good front seven, so at practice we were just drilling it in that we had to get a passing game established early, and that’s exactly what we did.”
— D.J. MURRAY, FPC quarterback
“We’ve got to give them some credit,” Paxia said. “They came out in the third quarter and made some adjustments that kind of put us in a bind. We had to adjust back, and then we settled down.”
A roughing the punter call against Creek gave the ball back to FPC, setting up Bracewell's TD reception.
“We had a sniffer set, a tight end (Bracewell) and another tight end behind him,” Murray said. “It was more like a heavy set, so they thought we were going to run the ball. We did a little RPO and threw it right over the top. Ashton made a good play on the ball.”
Paxia said the Bulldogs haven’t practiced that play in two and a half weeks.
“That was a heck of a catch,” he said. “We just felt good about the concept. And it was a great throw by the quarterback. He threw it to where only the 6-4 guy can go make the catch. That really opened up some things for us. They were just trying to cram us down in the box. So we were able to take advantage of some of those.”
FPC’s third interception of the game set up Landin Simmons’ 1-yard touchdown run with 17.4 seconds left for the final score.
“We got it to where we wanted it,” Spruce Creek coach Andy Price said. “We just had too many mistakes. We had a muffed punt, and then we roughed the punter when we’re not even setting up a block. We can’t beat other people if we’re going to beat ourselves.”