RECRUITING: Tebow, Rickerson go head-to-head

PONTE VERDA, FL - Cars were parked on the shoulder of U.S. 1 for more than a half-mile on each side as first coast football fans flocked to see the "Game of the Week" in Florida high school football.

Despite soggy conditions courtesy of Tropical Storm Tammy, which thoroughly soaked Florida's First Coast for several days, Friday night's clash between the ninth ranked (4A) Ponte Vedra Beach Nease Panthers (4-2) and the third ranked (3A) St. Augustine Yellow Jackets (7-0) was eerily similar to their playoff meeting last season, controversial, yet memorable.

The game featured two of the top recruits in the country. second rated quarterback Tim Tebow of Nease and four star cornerback St. Augustine's Jacques Rickerson. Both players are very high on Florida's recruiting boards.

In fact, underclassmen and seniors combined, there were more than a half dozen Division I prospects that played in the game. That was evidenced as coaches from Florida (Dan Mullen, Chuck Heater, and John Hevesy) Alabama (Mike Shula and Buddy Wyatt), Florida State (Mickey Andrews, Daryl Dickey, and two others), Michigan and Mississippi State lined the sidelines, while the two teams battled for First Coast bragging rights.

Rumors around the Nease stadium circulated that Florida Head Coach Urban Meyer was supposed to fly-in to the St. Augustine airport and drive to the game, hoping to catch most of the second half. However, his appearance at Gator Growl took place a little later than expected and he wasn't able to make the trip.

The stadium was packed despite a pre-game downpour that left the field and most of the area around it under water.

Tebow and the Nease Panthers could not solve the Yellow Jackets stingy defense for most of the first half, due in large part to the strong play of Rickerson, who was outstanding in coverage.

Offensively, the Jackets utilized the arm of their little known quarterback Quinterrance Cooper, who struck gold on his first two passes of the game. Cooper hit Kevis Streeter for a 61 yard touchdown and running back Brandon James for a 42 yard touchdown later in the first quarter for a 13-0 lead.

Cooper is the younger brother of University of Miami sophomore linebacker Willie Cooper.

St. Augustine mixed a usually an effective ground game behind the strong running of James. That was made easier when Nease linebacker Charlie Kirschman, a two-star Alabama commit, left the game with what was believed to be a separated shoulder.

Rickerson's electrifying 79 yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Yellow Jackets a 20-7 halftime lead, and although it wasn't known at the time, probably sealed their victory. The play marked the third time Rickerson has intercepted a Tebow pass dating back to last year's thrilling playoff game.

Rickerson was confident of a St. Augustine victory coming into the game.

"We just wanted to come in here and take care of business," Rickerson plainly stated."We've dominated this series and we were ready for them."

Most of the second half was consumed by two clock eating drives by the Yellow Jackets. Neither drive, however, resulted in points. Rickerson, who is also the Jackets' punter, was very effective in kicking the ball away from the Panthers' return personnel.

Tebow, who finished the game 16 of 27 for 147 passing yards and 93 rushing led Nease back into the game with some strong play late in the game. He drove the Panthers for a touchdown mid-way through the fourth quarter that cut the margin to six at 20-14 with just under three minutes left on the clock.

"I take the blame for this" an emotional Tim Tebow said afterward.

The Yellow Jackets were unable to get a first down and faced a fourth and five deep in their own territory. However, with just 2:09 left in the game, the Panthers ran into the punter, giving the Jackets a first down and dashing any hopes Nease hopes had for a dramatic comeback win.

Fightin Gators Top Stories