'If this is the last game, it’s the way to go out,' FPC senior Dakoda Wagner said.
Flagler Palm Coast’s Dakoda Wagner lingered on his rivals' field after the Bulldogs cruised to their fifth consecutive Potato Bowl victory.
The senior running back posed for a photo with a neighbor and reflected on his high school football career.
“If this is the last game, it’s the way to go out,” Wagner said of the Bulldogs’ 40-0 victory against Matanzas at "The Ship" on Thursday, Nov. 4.
The Bulldogs found out Nov. 7 that they would not be in the state playoffs, based on RPI rankings.
“I want to thank FPC. They have done things for me I don’t think any other high school would do, and I’m grateful,” Wagner said.
FPC finished the season with a 5-4 record. The Bulldogs were able to play just eight games with Orange City University canceling because of field conditions, and Pine Ridge eventually forfeiting after the season opener was postponed.
The Bulldogs started out well with a 17-13 win over Mainland, but a killer schedule caught up to them as they lost to three teams that finished the season ranked in the top 10 of their classifications.
FPC put it all together at the end, shutting out DeLand and Matanzas by a combined score of 75-0.
“We got back to the fundamentals four weeks ago, and that’s paid off,” FPC coach Robert Paxia said.
Six different players scored touchdowns against the Pirates, including seniors Wagner, Jevon Santiago and Michael Crockett. Freshman Marcus Mitchell, sophomore Daniel DeFalco and junior DZ Steward also scored.
“We made it a point for the seniors to score,” Paxia said. “We wanted this to be a fun night for them to finish on.”
The Pirates, meanwhile, finished 3-7 in a year of growth after graduating 26 seniors.
“I love the progress we made,” said Matanzas coach Matt Forrest. “We are a completely different team than what we looked like in Week 1. I’m very proud of our 11 seniors for laying the groundwork of our culture.”
Beating the rain
Despite rescheduling hours before kickoff, a packed house watched the two Flagler County high schools play their rivalry game. Food trucks lined up outside the field on short notice, and fans began arriving early to beat the traffic after finding out shortly after 1 p.m. that the game would be played a day early.
It was originally scheduled for Friday, Nov. 5, but was moved up to avoid an expected rainstorm and messy conditions.
In the third quarter, FPC quarterback Dennis “D.J.” Murray suffered a hit to the head and did not move for several minutes.
Murray, who was transported to the hospital, sustained a concussion and was doing well the next day, Paxia said.
After Murray went down, the Bulldogs scored three touchdowns in a five-minute stretch to go up 34-0.
“Dennis put some pep in our step,” Wagner said. “We’re grateful he’s OK, and he’s going to be back soon.”
Pirates’ Cundiff sidelined
The Pirates were missing star receiver Noah Cundiff, who sprained his right ankle in the St. Augustine game Oct. 22.
“We ran him around Monday, but it was still bothering him,” Forrest said. “The kid has a bright future ahead of him, and we didn’t want to do anything that could be detrimental (to his college career).”
Without Cundiff, who caught 25 passes in just five games after starting late because of a high left ankle sprain, the Pirates' offense had trouble getting in gear. That was due partly to the play of FPC sophomore linebacker R.J. Hill.
“He made a lot of plays," Forrest said. "He was very disruptive. He’s able to cover sideline to sideline. When you have a middle linebacker that runs through gaps and plays laterally as well as he does, it makes it hard.”
The Pirates’ defense kept the game close through the first half. The Bulldogs did not score until early in the second quarter and led 14-0 at halftime.
A Pirates' fumble at their 2-yard line contributed to the Bulldogs' three-touchdown outburst. FPC made it 40-0 with 3:40 left when Steward caught a slant pass from Preston Roberts and ran 70 yards for a touchdown.
“They have a very good, very deep football team,” Forrest said. “Whenever you’ve got a (Class) 8A school, you’ve got the numbers. They have some kids going both ways, but not nearly as many as we have. Our kids just got tired. They played as hard as they could. They just got beat by a better and deeper football team.”
While Forrest said he was looking forward to offseason workouts and watching the Pirates’ young core continue to develop, Wagner, who has committed to Army West Point, contemplated his transition from high school to college.
“I love playing with my friends,” he said. “I’m definitely going to miss when I go to college. I wish we had a little more time to perfect everything.”