Can one really dub a contest a rivalry if one side has never won? You better believe it. When it comes to St. Augustine and Menendez, proximity trumps previous results.
St. Augustine (1-0) may be the school that has students who live on an island, but it’s Menendez (1-0) that puts its football players on one.
Menendez used the press man coverage that has been a staple of the Falcons under head coach Patrick Turner to hold Middleburg to one completion in last week’s 44-13 victory.
“I was more disappointed that we gave up the one,” Turner said this week. “I felt we got complacent. One of my points of emphasis is you’re on an island and you do your job until you hear the whistle.”
Turner is coaching the secondary this fall. The unit looks different from the bunch that St. Augustine saw last Labor Day, or even in 7-on-7 competitions over the summer. Menendez’s starting cornerbacks in the spring transferred elsewhere. DeMario Douglas left for Mandarin and Branden Gilyard returned to Matanzas.
In the place of Douglas and Gilyard is junior Tristan Willis and senior Chris Baker. The latter moved to Florida after playing on a Liberty County (Ga.) team last year that went 11-2 in Class AAA.
“The unit is coachable,” Turner said. “It’s an eclectic group. Chris Baker came from Georgia. Tristan came from offense. Hunter Ray was at Fletcher last year. It’s a group that has jelled. They have gotten better each week.”
Those three along with senior safety Nate Warrell and sophomore nickelback Tre Evans are the group that shut down Middleburg last week.
Kenny Logan, who led the Falcons with five interceptions last year, is not exclusively an offensive player these days. The junior plays in the defensive backfield in certain packages. He will be joined back there by quarterback/running back Darian Oxendine in select situations.
How much progress the Falcons have made will stay among themselves. The team has banded together to go radio silent this week. They would rather do their talking on Friday night at about 10 p.m. instead of the run-up to the game.
The Falcons’ ability to shut down the passing game via man-to-man defense has not gone unnoticed by the Yellow Jackets.
“They are talented players,” St. Augustine coach Brian Braddock said when asked about the havoc Logan and Oxendine can cause defensively. “We face a lot of talented secondaries over the course of the year and have seen some pretty good players in the last couple weeks to speak rightly by those opponents. It’s another week with another good challenge to play against talented athletes. They have some gifted players over there and our guys are excited to throw it and catch it.”
St. Augustine comfortably rolled over Baker County in its opener, but the Yellow Jackets also committed three turnovers — two of which were interceptions by first-year starting quarterback Austin Reed.
St. Augustine threw for 334 yards and four touchdowns against a Baker County team that does play man coverage at times. Baker County did not convert either of Reed’s interceptions into points, but Menendez may not be as forgiving.
The Falcons’ varsity scored 41 points in three quarters against Creekside in an Aug. 18 kickoff classic and 44 last week against Middleburg. Should they manage to put up anything similar to those numbers against the Yellow Jackets it would not only mark Menendez’s best offensive output against St. Augustine in the 17-year history of the rivalry, but it would free up Logan offensively.
“We have put up some points. Playing him part time (on defense) has allowed us to do that,” Turner said about Logan who ran for 143 yards and three touchdowns against Middleburg. “Obviously, this week we understand it’s important for him to play in the secondary.”