CRAWFORDVILLE — One way to tell that a football team has grown up and is playing mature football is in what it doesn’t do.
It doesn’t shoot itself in the foot. And it doesn’t try to force something that’s not there.
And that’s how Wakulla beat Rickards, 34-19, on Friday night at J.D. Jones Stadium.
The War Eagles didn’t turn the ball over, but instead capitalized on the Raiders’ youthful mistakes.
They also didn’t try to pass when the gameplan’s veer option runs were working quite well.
An opportunistic Wakulla (11-1) advanced to the Region 1-5A finals to play Suwannee (9-2) after its running backs gained 249 yards against the Raiders and while scoring 10 points in the first half off two Raiders’ turnovers.
“We dominated the game in all three aspects,” Wakulla coach Scott Klees said. “I’m very pleased with the outcome and how we dominated. They have a great football team, and their only two losses are to us and a team from Arkansas. Outstanding coached team, but our kids were ready to play and we proved we were the best in our district and region.”
Rickards (8-3) took the lead 7-3 halfway through the first quarter when sophomore quarterback Marcus Riley got outside the pocket and found Kalen Riles alone for a 72-yard touchdown strike.
But when the Raiders got the ball right back after forcing a three-and-out, Riley fumbled on a zone read just outside his team’s red zone.
Wakulla quarterback Feleipe Franks then hit Keith Gavin for the team’s only pass completion of the first half, a seven-yard fade to the right corner of the end zone.
The War Eagles never looked back when Gavin took an ensuing punt from Rickards back for a 49-yard touchdown return, which proved to be part of 24 consecutive points put up by Wakulla.
“It was supposed to be punt-safe, and I was supposed to fair catch it,” Gavin said. “I saw I had enough time and I broke my coach’s rules. I caught it, broke the first dude’s tackle. The last dude was just about to hit me until (Chris) Beverley came with the big hit and got me loose.”
One drive later, under the helm this time of junior quarterback D.J. Phillips who finished the night 22 of 37 passing for 250 yards, Rickards moved the ball down the field, only to have Wakulla linebacker Antonio Morris come up with an interception resulting from linebacker Monterious Loggins’ hit on Phillips as he threw.
“This week we focused on the word ‘focus,’ because it was key to this game,” Loggins said. “Rickards is explosive. They can strike at any moment. We stayed calm after the big play, kept focused and we’re able to keep playing football.”
Wakulla pulled away to a 27-7 lead thanks to Franks’ 35-yard field goal and a 67-yard touchdown run by Demarcus Lindsey. Lindsey finished with 143 yards, offsetting the 11 catches for 155 yards by Riles.
“We gave them two turnovers and a punt return which hurt us,” Rickards coach Quintin Lewis said. “It really killed our momentum. I thought we started the game great, but we could never get it back.
“Against a great team like Wakulla you can’t make those mistakes.”
No more comebacks
Riley scored on a 3-yard run late in the second quarter, and Rickards got the ball coming out of the break, but the Wakulla defense shut down everything until the final minutes when Phillips hit Riley on a 17-yard touchdown.
“We moved the ball but didn’t make plays tonight,” Lewis said. “We dropped passes, made misreads by the quarterback. It wasn’t a sharp night offensively. I think our defense did a decent job in the second half of controlling them and giving us a chance in the game. But we’ve got to plays to sustain drives and score. Ultimately, that’s what hurt us.”
In the meantime, Franks threw his second touchdown pass of the night in the third quarter, a 29-yard hook-up with Kelton Donaldson to dash the Raiders’ hopes and advance themselves into a home game next week.
“Double stack wide,” Klees said about the formation, the first time Wakulla provided Rickards that look. “It was the same play we hit them on last game. Same everything. We got the same look from them and Feleipe made a good throw and Kelton made a good catch.”
The War Eagles made 10 plays of 15 yards or more, including Gavin’s punt return touchdown.
“We big played them tonight,” Klees said. “There were a bunch of big plays, a bunch of big turnovers. We took advantage. It was a night where our kids were really ready to play.”
“A wonderful season. We’ve got a lot of these guys coming back next year. We don’t have to rebuild. We’ve got a great young program that’s going to be successful. This was a stepping stone. Guys have to learn how to get to this level and continue on. And they will.” — Lewis, on the viewpoint of an 8-3 season
Quotable, Part II:
“They know what it’s about because they were in the stands as eighth graders. But it’s new for everybody. I’m proud of our football team. There’s no real new experience. You’ve just got to play each and every down.” — Klees, on being in the regional final for the first time since 2011
WAKULLA 34, RICKARDS 19
Rickards 7 6 0 6 — 19
Wakulla 17 10 7 0 — 34
W — Feleipe Franks 37 field goal, 8:39
R — Kalen Riles 72 pass from Marcus Riley (Gabe Kenon kick), 7:34
W — Keith Gavin 7 pass from Franks (Franks kick), 5:11
W — Gavin 49 punt return (Franks kick), 1:06
W — Franks 35 field goal, 9:06
W — Demarcus Lindsey 67 run (Franks kick), 6:52
R — Riley 2 run (kick failed), :53
W — Kelton Donaldson 29 pass from Franks (Franks kick)
R — Riley 17 pass from D.J. Phillips (conversion failed), 3:20
Passing— Rickards: Marcus Riley 4-10-99-1-0, D.J. Phillips 22-37-250-1-1; Wakulla, Feleipe Franks 4-11-60-2-0
Rushing— Rickards: Riley 12-7, Delvon Williams 1-2, Phillips 5-18, Marlon Jordan 1-5; Wakulla, Demarcus Lindsey 14-143, Cephus Greene 2-17, Brandon Berry 4-22, Justin Davis 6-18, Kelton Donaldson 2-48, Franks 8-(-23), Sebastian Garner 1-6
Receiving— Rickards: Kalin Riles 11-170, Javon Wooten 5-67, Chad Hunter 2-22, Carless Rollins 3-40, Derrick Pete 1-12, Riley 2-27, Williams 1-9; Wakulla: Keith Gavin 2-15, Donaldson 1-29, Davis 1-16
Rickards (8-3), Wakulla (11-1)
Suwannee at Wakulla, Nov. 27
Wakulla 34, Rickards 19
Port St. Joe 17, Blountstown 14 (2 OT)
University Christian 38, NFC 30
Columbia 57, Lincoln 20
Madison County 28, Fort White 19
Trinity Christian 51, Taylor County 0