Nease didn’t have an answer for St. Augustine’s halftime adjustments – surrendering 24 consecutive points in the third and fourth quarters – and lost its fourth straight game, 34-14, on Friday, Oct. 21.
“I felt our kids fought it out,” said Tim Krause, Nease head coach, at the newly dedicated Joey Wiles-Walt Slater Field at Foots Brumley Stadium in St. Augustine. “They played really well in the first half, and St. Augustine did a great job in the second half. They did a really nice job with some adjustments, gave us some trouble and did a good job putting the game away.”
Nease quarterback Leighton Alley proved effective early, throwing for 129 of his total 214 yards in the first half. After defensive lineman Adam Timmins blocked a St. Augustine punt, Alley threw a 25-yard touchdown to tight end Zach Sheffer midway through the second quarter. Then at the end of the second quarter, Panthers cornerback Trey Ragin intercepted Yellow Jackets quarterback Cole Northrup and stopped St. Augustine cold in its tracks. Nease seemed to have some momentum going into halftime, trailing St. Augustine 10-7.
“I was really proud of the mentality of our kids all week and how they practiced and how they came out and started the game,” said Krause. “I think our kids were excited, and they like to compete. That was fun to see.”
Yet come the start of the third quarter, St. Augustine shifted into a higher gear and didn’t look back. After rushing for less than 30 yards in the first half, the Yellow Jackets committed to their ground game early, with quarterback Cole Northrup running four straight keepers for 60 yards. His last run was a 22-yard touchdown down the right side of the field, increasing St. Augustine’s lead to 17-7 less than a minute into the quarter.
“The way we threw it in the first half really made Nease adjust, and it opened up the run game,” said Northrup, who passed for more than 100 yards in the first half and finished with 263 passing yards, one passing touchdown, 75 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Filling in for suspended starter Jahq Russell, St. Augustine running back Brandon Johnson also capitalized on the halftime adjustments and had a big night on the ground. He finished with 170 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown run at the end of the third quarter that made the score 27-7.
“I told the offensive line before the game, ‘you block, and I’m going to do my thing,’” said Johnson. “And that’s what happened.”
Nease had trouble responding and moving the ball in the second half.
“We’ve had our struggles on the offensive line,” said Krause. “That continued again tonight and showed up in a couple situations. In a game like that, if you don’t finish one or two drives, it catches up with you, especially considering as well as they execute on offense.”
The Yellow Jackets also executed in the kicking game with Elijah Ryan converting two field goals on the night, both from 27 yards. Panthers kicker Michael Leisle missed both of his field goal attempts wide left from 43 and 32 yards respectively.
St. Augustine’s last score of the game came early in the fourth quarter when Northrop threw a short pass in the flats to wide receiver Emerson Kabus, who streaked up the left side of the field for a 60-yard touchdown. The Yellow Jackets led 34-7.
Nease responded on the ensuing drive. Panthers wide receiver Ashton Wood returned the kickoff to the Yellow Jackets’ 11-yard line, then caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Alley just two plays later to make the score 34-14. Yet it was too little, too late as the Yellow Jackets used their remaining drives to run out the clock and seal the win.
St. Augustine (7-1, 3-0) will play for the District 4-6A title Friday, Oct. 28, at Middleburg, while Nease (1-5, 0-3) will play at Englewood Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. in their penultimate game of the season.
“Hopefully we finish out strong here, keep improving and recognize that at some points there are peaks and valleys in years,” said Krause. “Hopefully, we have some peaks ahead.”