Northeast Florida Sports Jacksonville

Fleming Island wins one for Ben, in epic county showdown

ORANGE PARK – As they break the huddle every time, the Fleming Island football team puts their hands in a circle and yells out family every time.

To say it’s been a rough week this week for the family would be an understatement. As that family was put through an unbelievable test Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week.

Hopefully the 28-20 win over Ridgeview will be a step in the right direction to begin the healing process.

On Tuesday, with little to none practice, the Eagles handled Buchholz 27-0 to start off district play on the right foot. A day later, sophomore lineman Ben Johnson collapsed at school on Wednesday from cardiac arrest and passed away Thursday afternoon from irreversable brain damage at Wolfson Children Hospital.

Practices were cancelled Thursday, meaning there was very little preparation for its game with cross town county rival and undefeated Ridgeview and it showed early on.

Clearly their minds were somewhere else in the beginning and you can’t blame then. Yet despite the early sluggish start, the Eagles found a way to get back in it and get the win for Ben.

Fans released balloons prior to the game as a tribute to Ben Johnson.

Ridgeview spray painted 78 on the field at both 22 yard lines in honor of Ben Johnson

As they took the field, Fleming Island slowly walked through the banner, which read, ‘Ben this ones for you, 78’ and raised their hands to the sky.

Prior to the game, there was a moment of silence for Ben Johnson and the field was painted prior to the game with 78 at both ends of the field at the 22 yard line. Fans released balloons in honor of Ben Johnson as the announcer read a prepared statement sharing their condolences.

Early on the Eagles were out of sync clearly on both sides of the ball including its dominating defense, which had only surrendered 18 points through four games, but gave up 14 points in 13 minutes of play.

Ridgeview fielded the opening kickoff and marched 73 yards in 11 plays capping the long drive with a 1 yard sneak from Tyler Huff to give the Panthers an early 7-0 lead five minutes into the game.

The Eagles offense didn’t fare much better going three and out on its opening drive. However, a rare turnover by the Panthers quickly changed things.

As bad as the offense played early on, Fleming Island took advantage of several Ridgeview mistakes in the first half to get back in the game, thanks to two shanked punts, a fumble recovery of a backwards pass and an interception at the 35 yard line.

A backwards pass from Huff was misplayed by the Panthers receiver and into the hands of Ryan Smenda at midfield. Six plays later, Chauncey Garrison 6-yard run tied it up at 7-7 with 3:23 in the first quarter.

Two possessions later, Huff found Kiaran Turner alone for a 39 yard score on an inside slant play giving the Panthers a 14-7 lead three minutes into the second quarter.

Smenda fielded a high snap on a punt and leaped in the air and still managed to get off a 65 yard  punt that rolled out of bounds at the 1-yard line, despite being under heavy pressure.

A quick three and out and a shanked punt from Charles Barrett gave the Eagles the ball at the 17-yard line. Five plays later, Isaiah Walker’s 2 yard run on fourth and goal tied it up again at 14-14 with 3:02 left in the first half.

Two plays later, Eugene Oglesby hauled in an interception as he tight roped the sideline to put the Eagles back near the red zone again at the 36-yard line.

Dean Hyams found Jacob Ashe for a 13-yard touchdown reception giving the Eagles their first lead of the game at 21-14 seconds before halftime.

The second half though was a different story as the defense nearly pitched a shut out before Kiaran Turner connected with Denali Lindo with a 10 yard toss with under two minutes left to cut the lead to 28-20.

The lethal defense consisting of play makers Jack Surgeoner, Jalyn Robinson, Jackson Bull and Smenda shut down the high powered Panthers offense, that had scored 187 points through 4 games and held them to a season low 20 on the night.

Smenda delivered another 60 yard punt to start the third quarter backing up the Panthers back to the 10-yard line.

A quick three and out and another shanked punt put the Eagles in the red zone again. Anfernee McCaskill broke two tackles before bulldozing through another Panthers defender for a 5-yard score to increase the lead to 28-14 midway through the third quarter.

On the second series of the second half, Huff scrambled 6 yards on a play before being pushed out of bounds routinely. However, Huff wasn’t seen again the rest of the game after suffering an undisclosed injury.

Kiaran Turner came in to replace Huff and struggled immediately, looking out of place behind center instead of his natural wideout or tailback position.

Turner tried to hurry up the offense on a fourth and one play and dropped the snap, Smenda was there to recover the turnover.

A bad snap sent Smenda into a frenzy and he was gang tackled by a host of Panthers at the 13-yard line giving them a great chance to get back into the game.

However, that momentum didn’t last long as Turner threw a ball right into the hands of Bull in the end zone to kill a potential scoring threat.

Despite the turnover, the Panthers defense forced a quick three and out to give them one last chance essentially.

Oglesby made a spectacular play bringing Turner down, who tried to reverse his self on a play and was brought down by Oglesby for a huge loss at the 10-yard line.

However, Turner regrouped and connected with Lindo on a 10 yard pass cutting the lead to 28-20 with 50 left to play in the game.

An onside kick was recovered by the Eagles, allowing them to kill the clock and burn all but three seconds left after punt was downed at the 5-yard line.

Turner tried to get off a Hail Mary but was sacked by a host of Eagles, bringing the Eagles crowd and players to their feet and some much needed excitement to a community who was dealt such a devastating blow.

Fleming Island (5-0) travels to Oakleaf (1-3) for another District 3-7A game; while Ridgeview (4-1) hosts Orange Park (1-4) in a District 5-5A game.