• Jaylyn Session rushed for a school-record 271 yards Friday in Palatka’s win over Belleview. Keshawn Russell (10) blocks on this play. (CHRIS DeVITTO / Palatka Daily News)

District Opportunity

Record night behind them, Panthers turn attention to 5-5A opener on road

It can’t be as simple as just giving the ball to 28 and letting 14 throw a few.

OK, it was last Friday for the Palatka Panthers.

They put it in the hands of No. 28, Jaylyn Session, 20 times – on all but one Palatka running play – and he responded with a school-record 271 yards in a 47-7 beating of hapless Belleview.

Session broke a record that stood since Lee Johnson went for 254 in a 1993 win over Bradford, yet he reached the end zone just once. But this was a night an even older offensive record was matched – four touchdown passes from backup quarterback Demontae Ashley (No. 14). That hadn’t been done since a 55-15 rout of North Marion in 1980.

‘That doesn’t happen very often when you run for as much as you did and throw four touchdown passes,” said PHS coach Willie Fells. “That was a great game to be a part of and it’s something the kids can look back on.”

But not this week.

The 2-1 Panthers are in Orange Park Friday to face Ridgeview in the District 5-5A opener for both schools. Also nicknamed Panthers, Ridgeview is 3-0 and a far cry from the Belleview bunch that has been outscored 137-13 in an 0-3 start.

Certainly it will be a good idea for Palatka to keep handing the ball to Session, who has 549 yards in three games despite having played little before his senior season. Likewise, it would make sense to mix in the pass, whether the passer is Ashley or starting quarterback Mitchell McKinnon, back at full speed after bruising a knee on the last series of the Aug. 31 Ponte Vedra game.

Any success against Ridgeview’s 4-3 defense will be largely a matter of the performance of the offensive line that helped make last week’s records possible. The starters are Clay Sipprell, Demarcus Dallas, Desmond Hammock, Jacob Burney and Nelson Williams.

It just won’t be as simple as it was last Friday.

“What happened against Belleview was our focus for that week,” said Fells, who didn’t realize Session had the rushing record until after the game. “We study Ridgeview and base our attack on what we think will be successful. What works against one team may not work against another.”

So far, the pass has worked pretty well for Ridgeview with Tyler Huff, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior who has completed 34 of 58 passes for 579 yards and six touchdowns – two in each game. He works from a spread offense that occasionally uses a tight end.

Huff spreads the ball around, too. Ten Ridgeview players have at least one reception, none with more than eight. The leading rusher is Caleb Plyler with 38 carries for 193 yards and two TDs. Ridgeview is coming off a 42-0 defeat of winless Jacksonville Westside.

“Ridgeview’s a very good team. They have a great high school quarterback in Tyler Huff. We’re going into a very difficult environment, just like we did in Ponte Vedra,” said Fells, who had to game-plan for Huff and Ridgeview last year as defensive coordinator for another 5-5A team, Clay.

Records notwithstanding, there was room for improvement in Palatka’s performance against Belleview. The Panthers fumbled on the first play of the game, failed to cover on onside kick for the second straight week and were successful on only one of three extra-point kicks. That doesn’t four conversion tries that became runs or passes because of trouble with the snap.

“We can’t turn over the football,” said Fells, considering failure to cover onside kicks as turnovers. “We dropped some interceptions in the first half that we caught in the second. We cannot have the penalties we’ve had. We struggled on extra-point kicks getting guys blocked. I have to get better.”

Palatka’s regular deep snapper is Ashley, who had his big night despite a bad back but did no snapping against Belleview. He’s OK now and will take care of the snaps Friday, Fells said.

He welcomes the chance to start district play on the right foot.

“There’s nothing like having the future in your hands,” Fells said. “If we can take care of silly penalties and clean up the special teams, we’ll have a good opportunity.”

Palatka Daily News

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