Craig Damon told his team two weeks ago after a scrimmage game win that he would be resigning for a position with the FHSAA and that he would coach two more games “because they gave me two weeks”. The last of those two weeks came on Friday night with a road game at Marion County rival and class 6A Vanguard.
The football gods intervened by extending Damon’s tenure on the sidelines as the game was delayed by weather and did not begin until shortly before 9pm eastern time. When it finished in the early morning hours of Saturday, Damon had collected his 113th and final victory with a 21-20 win over Vanguard.
Entering the game Coach Damon was excited for the kids and North Marion but acknowledge that he had some anxiety, which the weather delay added to.
The Colts defense sacked Vanguard quarterback Adam Robles with less than two minutes remaining on fourth down and the Colts ran out the clock to give Damon his final win
North Marion never trailed in the game scoring on a short Caleb Seiler touchdown run set up by a big reception by Travonte Matthews followed up by a James Allen run to down to one yard-line to make it 7-0 in the second quarter. Vanguard answered back after halftime to even the game on a Reshard Sweet 7-yard touchdown run. Sweet led the Vanguard rushing attack with 129 yards and a touchdown.
North Marion (2-0) played for their departing coach all night and took a 14-7 lead later in the third on a Seiler to Cameron Mackey 42-yard touchdown pass. The Colts defense would set up their next score recovering a fumble deep in Knight territory and on the next play stud junior James Allen extended their lead to 21-7 on a 10-yard touchdown run. The impressive Allen has yet to gain respect from recruiting services while being very worthy of said attention, finished with 90 yards rushing and a touchdown for the Colts. Vanguard (1-1) was game to spoil the party and hit the comeback trail. Robles found Natrell Jamerson for a 47-yard touchdown pass pulling Vanguard to within seven at 21-14.
Vanguard struck again on another Robles to Jamerson-94 yards and two touchdowns receiving, connection from 23 yards out for a touchdown to make it 21-20 but were hit with a fifteen-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty resulting in a failed extra-point , which would be the difference.
North Marion held on until the final horn and when it sounded, Damon received a Gatorade bath from the team followed by numerous hugs and congratulations from many supporters in attendance, even from Vanguard supporters who have a deep dislike for North Marion on the field.
“Caleb made some big throws tonight, Matthews caught some good balls tonight and Mackey got a touchdown. James Allen ran well and the offensive line…were getting better it’s an area we’ve been working to improve on and I thought we played a little bit better tonight than we did before and our tight ends blocked pretty good tonight and our defense played well and they played a lot of plays tonight,” Damon said.
The fire was still there from Damon even after the win over Vanguard.
“Very joyous (about beating Vanguard). Vanguard has gotten us the last few times we’ve played them so it was nice to know that North Marion owns the bragging rights for the Northside,” Damon expressed with relief that it was over.
Damon leaves North Marion winning 113 games-the most of any coach in North Marion history, taking North Marion to the Florida state playoffs all 13 years he was the head sideline boss. He leaves big shoes to fill and feels the program is in good shape as he exits stage left.
“The program is in good hands, they’ve got some good coaches there and Coach Johnson has been with me for years now so he knows what they have to do, it’s just a matter of the guys continuing to believe in the goals that we’ve set and working towards them,” Damon said.
Damon will now shift his focus to his role as a director of athletics for the FHSAA in Gainesville, a position he applied for while randomly checking the website in a moment of downtime in early August. He applied, talked to his family about it and knew he would accept if the call came, it did on the Thursday afternoon before North Marion’s scrimmage the next day, Friday. He’ll begin his duties on September 10th and is excited about what lies ahead while knowing he may come across things he hasn’t had to deal with previously.
“Uncertainty, the unknown. For what 20 years now I’ve known pretty much everyday what I possibly could run into, Tuesday I have no idea what it’s gonna be like, I’m not sure how those eight hours are gonna pass by,” Damon said.
Damon has left his mark at North Marion in the most humble of ways while not winning a state title during his time but being well-respected throughout Marion County and the state. He has “no plans” to return to coaching. “I’ve done my time and now it’s somebody else turn.” We can only hope that in a few years Damon will be back at North Marion to be honored for something that should bear his name (Craig Damon Field at Stan Toole Memorial Stadium?-that’s a good start) but how does HE want to be remembered for his time at North Marion.
After a deep breath and pause Damon said, “I care for our kids. It doesn’t matter about wins and losses it’s about our kids. I hope that I treated every kid like I would want folks to treat my son.”
A lot of those kids ran on that field under his watch, so Craig Damon Field at Stan Toole Memorial Stadium would be fitting.