Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Golden Eagles Make a Stand; Fleming Island Stays Unbeaten by Halting Columbia's Late Rally

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Golden Eagles Make a Stand; Fleming Island Stays Unbeaten by Halting Columbia's Late Rally

Article excerpt

Byline: HAYS CARLYON

Fleming Island's defense needed a stop - and it delivered.

The Golden Eagles stifled a late rally to preserve a gritty 17-16 victory over visiting Lake City Columbia on Friday night.

"I've been telling people all year that we're going to have a good defense," Fleming Island coach Neal Chipoletti said. "People keep disrespecting our defense so we'll continue to get after people's behinds."

With 3:11 to play, Columbia took over at Fleming Island's 41-yard line after an 8-yard punt. The Golden Eagles held the Tigers to a four-and-out when a bubble screen pass on fourth-and-6 was batted down at the line.

The victory still wasn't sealed. Fleming Island (3-0) took an intentional safety when punter Mike Youngblood took the snap and ran 19 yards back and through the end zone with 14 seconds remaining. Down 17-16, the Tigers returned the kickoff to their 41. After an incompletion, Columbia (1-2) tried a hook-and-ladder that Fleming Island snuffed out. The final seconds ticked off the clock, and the Golden Eagles sideline erupted into a euphoric celebration.

"That's the best Fleming Island team I've seen," Columbia coach Craig Howard said. "Coach Chipoletti has done a great job building this program from the ground up and they are a definite playoff team. We took them to the wire and had a chance to win. We just couldn't ever get the lead."

The game featured a Fleming Island team that reached the Class 5A regional finals last year against a Columbia squad coming off a Class 4A playoff appearance. Expectations for both teams are even higher this season, especially for Columbia with Howard coming over after leading Nease to three consecutive 4A title game appearances.

"This helps our football team because it shows we belong with those top teams," Chipoletti said. "We beat some quality teams last year. We feel like we can go jaw-to-jaw with the best in Florida."

Fleming Island built on its 10-7 halftime lead by putting up a touchdown in the third quarter. The Golden Eagles covered 88 yards in six plays, capped on quarterback Robert "Rookie" Gunn's 1-yard sneak. …

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