Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School head coach Tod Creneti found himself in the unenviable position during the offseason of trying to replace the production of the since-graduated duo of Fred Billy and Chase Brown, who rushed for 2,818 yards and 45 touchdowns last season.
Falcons running back D.J. Clark won’t be able to replace their offensive totals by himself, but the sophomore is doing a great job filling a large portion of that void. His latest effort led the Falcons to a 55-25 road win against Bradenton Christian School on Thursday night.
“It’s been fun to watch him grow this year,” Creneti said. “He’s become a much more physical runner. His vision has improved and right now he’s the go-to guy. He’s the guy who’s going to get us going on the ground, and that sets everything else up.”
Clark scored a 72-yard touchdown on the first offensive play of the game, a 65-yard touchdown on the Falcons’ second and a 35-yard touchdown with 4:39 left in the first quarter. He finished the first quarter with 233 yards, an outstanding game for other running backs.
His final stats? Warning: All defensive coordinators should skip the next paragraph.
Twenty carries. Four hundred and twenty-six yards. Five rushing touchdowns. Six rushes of at least 35 yards.
The performance continues what’s been an excellent season for Clark, who played sparingly behind his older teammates last season. Clark entered Thursday with 73 carries for 621 yards, an average of 8.5 yards per attempt, and seven touchdowns in just five games.
“To be honest, I have the best O-line in the area,” Clark said. “I’m just proud to play behind them every game. I’m blessed to watch Chase Brown, see him every day at practice (last year), play behind him. I go watch his film and try to play like him a little bit.”
After losing the past two games in the series by a score of 98-36, the Panthers (1-5) were able to hang tough early against the Falcons (6-1). After the Falcons’ opening score, Panthers quarterback Zach Seagreaves completed an 82-yard touchdown pass to even the score at 7-7.
The Falcons scored the next 20 points before Bradenton Christian scored on a 55-yard touchdown run by junior Joey Bivona. Seagreaves added a 61-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Nolan Averso midway through the second quarter.
Seagreaves finished 5 for 19 with 154 yards and two touchdowns, and Bivona had 137 yards from scrimmage (three catches for 86 yards and five rushes for 51 yards).
“We were trying to take advantage of some things we saw,” Panthers coach Dan Fort said. “We got some of them, but late in the first quarter and early in the second quarter we didn’t execute a few of the things we had. I think we got behind the eight-ball, and we were playing catch-up.”
But Clark — and the rest of the Falcons’ offense — proved too much.
Saint Stephen’s closes the regular season at 7 p.m. next Friday at home against Largo Indian Rocks Christian (2-5), which has been outscored by an average of 21 points per game. Bradenton Christian finishes its regular season at 7 p.m. next Friday at Oviedo Master’s Academy (6-0), which is outscoring opponents by an average of nearly 40 points per game.