Corbin Ketchum stopped Guyvin Williams short inside the 10-yard line with just over 2 minutes left as the Green Wave fended off Atlantic, 7-0, at Pop Johnson Field. Father Lopez (8-2) will not only return to the FHSAA playoffs for the first time since 2013, but will almost certainly host a first-round regional game next Friday.
“I can’t say enough about our players and our coaches,” Green Wave head coach Matt Knauss said. “It’s just been amazing. We started talking about this back in February, that we were getting in this year.”
The Green Wave end the regular season with their best record since 2005.
While Father Lopez is postseason-bound, Atlantic’s dramatic turnaround was not enough. The Sharks (5-4) had their bubbles burst after dropping their last three games. “When you hire a good coach, that’s what it should look like,” Atlantic coach DJ Mayo said of the Green Wave. “They’re in Year 3 of their rebuild; we’re in Year 1. (Knauss) does a great job. His guys are strong, disciplined. That’s what Year 3 should look like under a good coach, and we’re on our way there.”
Ketchum, a senior tight end and linebacker, produced a handful of the game’s key plays.
He pounced on an Aaron Manning fumble at Atlantic’s 42-yard line. Manning surged through the first wave of tacklers and gained 11 yards before being jolted from behind.
On the ensuing offensive possession, Ketchum hauled in the night’s longest pass — 21 yards — as TJ Lockley evaded pressure to his right. Wayne Matthews capped off the drive with the lone score, a 5-yard run.
Then, he ended Atlantic’s dreams of a comeback by stopping Williams shy of the line. The Sharks burned all their timeouts before the 7:32 mark of the fourth quarter, leaving them helpless to a short run and two kneeldowns.
“It was just an amazing feeling to get up and be able to celebrate with my teammates,” Ketchum said. “We knew that was the end.”
Knauss added: “He’s our utility knife on both sides of the ball. Tonight, we even experimented with him at punter, and he booted one about 50 yards with a roll.”
Coming up empty
Atlantic controlled the clock and dominated the offensive yardage (115-38) in the first half. However, the Sharks failed to capitalize on two occasions.
Shortly after the first-quarter water break, with the ball resting just inside the Father Lopez 20, Aaron Manning lost the handle of a snap. Ryan Waddell, the Green Wave’s leading tackler, pounced on the fumble.
The Sharks then drained more than 11 minutes off the clock on its second possession, resulting in a missed field goal. Zach McNeely pushed a 42-yard attempt wide to the right.
“It’s a different level of locked-in you have to be to beat playoff teams,” Mayo said. “Our guys haven’t fully understood that.”
Decimated by injuries
Entering the night, Atlantic averaged more than 18 pass attempts per game. However, the Sharks lined up in the wing formation and tried to wear down the Green Wave on the ground.
Mayo said the switch, installed on Monday, was out of necessity with receivers Trevor Young, Aaron Walton and Zamari Davis all out injured.
Making matters worse, junior Maximus Campbell exited early in the fourth, landing awkwardly on a low hit along the far sideline. Campbell, who claimed an offer from Appalachian State last weekend, began the evening with 34 receptions for 387 yards and four touchdowns.
“We had to shorten the game and try to play good defense to pull out the win,” Mayo said. “We had our chances. We’re not at the point in our program where we can lose those kind of guys and still be productive.”
Should Father Lopez remain as the No. 3 seed in Region 2-3A, it will host either Melbourne Holy Trinity Episcopal or Taylor next week. Mayo said he would entertain the idea of a bowl game, depending on the health of his skill players.