Jones has big 1st half in Tornadoes’ 23-14 win over Clay

Telegraph Staff Writer

A strong first-half performance by quarterback Amari Jones, coupled with a stingy fourth-quarter defense, helped the Bradford High School football team defeat visiting Class 5A Clay 24-13 on Sept. 10.

The Tornadoes (1-2) were outscored 78-39 in their first two games, but Head Coach Brian Tomlinson and his staff felt good about what the team could accomplish in its third game.

“The kids worked hard all week,” Tomlinson said. “They say, ‘You play like you practice.’ Well, this is how we practiced all week. We practiced hard and were physical all week. The kids just really did a tremendous job tonight.”

Bradford, which hosts University Christian on Friday, Sept. 17, at 7:30 p.m., made a strong first half by Jones hold up. The senior quarterback completed six of nine passes for 118 yards and touchdown and rushed for 33 yards and a touchdown on six carries as the Tornadoes built a 17-6 lead.

Clay (1-1) opened the second half with a 10-plus-minute drive scoring drive that cut the Tornadoes’ lead to 17-13, but the Bradford defense held the Blue Devils to 24 total yards on their final four possessions.

Tomlinson said he figured a Clay offense that averaged 6 yards per carry in the Devils’ season-opening 21-14 win over Fleming Island would try to ride its rushing attack again against a Bradford team that allowed 8 yards per carry in a 50-21 loss to Union County.

Bradford held Clay to 3 yards per carry. Al’querious Ray was held to 56 yards on 18 carries after gaining 115 yards on 15 carries in Clay’s previous game.

“They have a really good running back and a really good running game,” Tomlinson said. “After last week (against Union County), we knew they were wanting to come out and run the football.

“Our defensive coaches and defensive players did tremendous tonight.”

A penalty against Clay on the opening kickoff had the Bradford offense starting out at the 50-yard line. After two plays netted 4 yards, Jones completed a 9-yard pass to Tez Williams for a first down. Jones later converted a third-and-8 play by scrambling to avoid a sack and then reversing field for a 34-yard gain to the 1-yard line. That set up his own 1-yard touchdown sneak on a fourth-down play at the 7:20 mark of the first quarter. Hayden Hughes kicked the extra point as Bradford led 7-0.

The Blue Devils drove into Bradford territory on their first drive, thanks to runs of 10 yards and 6 yards by Josef Blair. On second-and-4 from the Bradford 44, Blair was dropped for a 1-yard loss by Chason Clark. Williams then tackled D’maurion Frazier for a 4-yard loss on a pass play, forcing Clay to punt.

Clay’s Frazier made a better play on the defensive side of the ball when he intercepted a pass by the Tornadoes’ Dae’Jon Shanks, giving the Blue Devils the ball at midfield. The Bradford defense again got a tackle behind the line of scrimmage by Clark, while Elijah Williams recorded a 7-yard sack. Chalil Cummings put an end to the drive with an interception that gave the Tornadoes the ball at their own 20.

A 21-yard reception by Isaiah Crum was the initial spark of what would be a seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Another big pass play of 15 yards from Jones to Shanks moved the Tornadoes past midfield. On third-and-11 from the Clay 42, Williams caught a pass from Jones and spun out of a tackle to score a touchdown with 8:40 remaining in the second quarter. Hughes added the PAT for a 14-0 lead.

The Blue Devils’ ensuing drive seemed headed nowhere after the Tornadoes’ Trent Hankerson tackled Ray for an 8-yard loss, resulting in third-and-15 from the Clay 29. Quarterback Billy Mobley and Frazier hooked up for a 37-yard gain, though, giving Clay a first down at the Bradford 34. Mobley completed passes of 11 and 18 yards as the Devils moved to the 5-yard line. Blair scored on a run from there to make the score 14-6 and cap a 66-yard drive with 5:38 to play in the first half. Tristan Haack missed the PAT.

Williams returned the ensuing kickoff 29 yards, giving the Bradford offense the ball at its own 49. Willie Pollard had a 6-yard run before breaking free on a 33-yard run to the Clay 12. Two plays after that, Pollard had a 6-yard run to the 4. However, on third-and-2 from there, Jones was dropped for a 2-yard loss. Hughes kicked a 23-yard field goal to put Bradford ahead 17-6 with 3:37 until halftime.

That was enough time for Clay to move down the field into scoring position, especially when two first downs were the result of pass-interference and offsides penalties. Two runs of 13 yards by Blair put the Devils at the Bradford 11-yard line, but on second-and-7 from there, Blair was hit as soon as he received a handoff by Torin Brazell, with Clark finishing off the tackle for a 3-yard loss. After an incomplete pass on third down, Haack attempted a 31-yard field, which was no good with 30 seconds left on the clock.

Clay opened the second half with a 14-play, 63-yard scoring drive that featured 11 carries by Ray for 47 yards. The Devils had a fourth-and-6 play from the Bradford 22, but a roughing-the-passer penalty resulted in a first down at the 11. Another penalty later resulted in first-and-goal inside the 1-yard line. Ray bulled into the end zone from there with 4:21 remaining in the third quarter. Haack added the PAT to make the score 17-13.

The Blue Devils looked unstoppable for most of that drive, but the Bradford defense stepped up, forcing Clay to punt following its next two drives after gaining a total of only 6 yards.

Bradford struggled offensively in the second half, gaining just 57 yards. However, after Clay’s second punt of the half, the Tornadoes increased their lead with a nine-play, 54-yard scoring drive. Bradford picked up first downs on a 10-yard reception by Crum and a 6-yard run by Manny Covey. Jones, who finished 12 of 18 for 196 yards, threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Cummings with 2:58 left in the game. Hughes added the PAT, giving the Tornadoes a 24-13 lead.

Cummings, who had three catches for 54 yards, was one of three players to finish with more than 50 yards receiving. Crum caught three passes for 53 yards, while Williams caught two for 51 yards.

Clay’s final two drives ended in turnovers, with Williams and Cummings each coming up with interceptions.

Despite the team’s second-half struggles offensively, Pollard finished the game with 64 rushing yards on nine carries — a 7-yards-per-carry average.  Covey averaged 6 yards per carry, gaining 58 yards on 10 carries.

Jones was sacked only three times.

“I can’t say enough about how the offensive line opened holes, moved people off the ball and protected,” Tomlinson said.

Bradford finished with 387 yards to Clay’s 199.

The Tornadoes now get set to host Jacksonville’s University Christian, which was last season’s Class 2A state runner-up. University (2-1) opened this season with a 37-27 win over Miami’s Booker T. Washington (the 2019 state champion in Class 4A) and was 2-0 before losing 28-14 last week to Madison County, a state semifinalist in Class 1A last season.

This is the fourth straight season Bradford has played University. The Tornadoes won 34-20 in 2018 before losing 8-7 in 2019 and 33-22 last year.

Tez Williams tackles Clay’s D’maurion Frazier in the Bradford win.