Long before the Atlee student section known as “The Rage Cage” lined up to enter the Raiders’ football stadium Friday night, 90 minutes before kickoff, most everyone had written off their opponents, Patrick Henry.
The week before, Atlee had defeated Deep Run 70-14 while the Patriots fell at home to Hanover 22-0. The Raiders had won their last four games against Patrick Henry, and few thought Friday would be any different.
In the end, while the scoreboard read Atlee 41, Patrick Henry 0, it didn’t tell the full story. The first half saw the Raiders sputter, struggling to find its offensive groove and losing one of their top linemen, while the Patriots hung tight, but couldn’t cash in on their opportunities to position themselves for a big upset.
It began on Atlee’s first possession when Loumond Dandridge immediately fumbled the Raiders’ first handoff of the game. Patrick Henry’s Riley Enright recovered at the Atlee 41. But the Patriots couldn’t take advantage for points, in what would become a recurring theme.
“Our coaching staff tells the kids we have to win the turnover game every Friday night,” Atlee head coach Roscoe Johnson said. “We didn’t do a good job with that tonight.”
In what would be the Patriots’ best chance at points later in the first quarter, they advanced to the Atlee 9-yard line, and opted to go for it on fourth down and 2 rather than kick a field goal for a 3-0 lead. Bender Vaught’s carry only netted one yard, and Atlee took over at its own 8.
“I wanted our kids to get in the end zone,” Patrick Henry head coach Jonathan Clark said. “A field goal was not an option at that point. Unfortunately, we missed one assignment and that’s all it takes. Disappointing for sure.”
A series of failed drives and punts ensued for both teams until Tye Burriss took a line drive punt off the foot of Shawn McRae and rambled down the right sideline 87 yards for an apparent touchdown. It was called back, though, due to an Atlee penalty.
The scoreless tie both skyrocketed Patrick Henry’s confidence and quieted the Atlee home faithful. With under a minute left before halftime, a simple handoff changed everything.
Dandridge redeemed himself, finding room on the right side, going for 36 yards to the Patriots’ 29, making one move that made Patrick Henry’s Cade Harris come out of his shoes. A late hit on Dandridge out of bounds advanced the ball to the 14 with 11 seconds left.
Quarterback Reid McCoy stepped back on the next play and deftly lofted the football into the right back corner of the end zone, where Tramell Carey leaped high to make the catch. With 4.8 seconds left to halftime, the Raiders popped the Patriot balloon.
The 7-0 lead propelled the Atlee offense into high gear for the second half. A 71-yard touchdown run by Lamont Stubbs four minutes into the third quarter made it 14-0. Less than four minutes later, Dandridge found the end zone from 13 yards out. By the time McCoy hit Daniel Glymph on a 23-yard touchdown pass with 8 minutes left in the game, the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Were there adjustments made by Johnson in the locker room?
“We just told the kids to buckle their chin straps and be ready for a dog fight. I told them at halftime that Patrick Henry wasn’t going to just lay down, so we needed to take it,” Johnson noted.
That they did. They limited Chesdin Harrington, in relief of the injured Tyler Phelps for a second straight game due to an ankle injury, to two completions on 11 pass attempts, and the Patriot rushing attack to just 112 yards. Meanwhile both Stubbs and Dandridge each gained over 100 yards rushing, while the Raiders enjoyed three touchdown passes, the two from McCoy and one from backup Travis Barton late in the game.
“We knew that Atlee wanted to move the ball quickly on the perimeter and we shut that down for a half,” said Clark. “The score at the end of the first half was my fault. We should’ve run the clock out on our last possession. But to hold them to one score was pretty good and we still had confidence.”
Fans of Patrick Henry (0-2) should take note: their defense limited Atlee to seven points in the first half, whereas Deep Run gave up 42 points the week before. When the Patriots possessed the ball for most of the first quarter, it kept their defense rested and kept McCoy and company away from the football. The Patriots’ defense has played much better the first two weeks of 2013 than in the previous four years.
Now their offense must get in gear as they prepare for Friday’s 55th Tomato Bowl in Ashland against Lee-Davis.
“Our offense has to bet on the board. That’s my mission,” emphasized Clark.
Meanwhile, Atlee (2-0) hits the road for the first time to face Douglas Freeman, also 2-0. The Rebels were most responsible for the Raiders missing the 2012 playoffs when they pulled off a miracle drive in the final minute of last year’s meeting to score the winning touchdown with three seconds left to stun Atlee 49-48. The entire Raider defensive unit is back, and they’ll be ready for Kyle Farkas and his four Rebel wideouts.
“The entire defense was young last year. Now they have the experience. They’ve been through a lot together,” Johnson said.
Lee-Davis seeking first win at annual ‘Tomato Bowl’
When Lee-Davis travels to Ashland Friday, they, too, will be looking for win number one, as they fell in their home opener to Mills Godwin, 24-0. The story of the game was turnovers, as the Confederates committed three in the third quarter alone, allowing Godwin to score 17 points in those 12 minutes, salting away what was a very close game.
The last time Lee-Davis was 0-2 heading into the Tomato Bowl was 2007, which is, ironically, the last time Patrick Henry won the Tomato Bowl at home. The Confederates have taken the last two meetings in Ashland, and last year’s 27-20 Lee-Davis win in Mechanicsville was the first Tomato Bowl in five previous meetings where the home team won.
Meanwhile, the Hanover Hawks opened their home schedule Friday with a convincing 27-7 victory over J.R. Tucker. Quarterback Korbin Bordonie continued to settle into his role, throwing for 164 yards and the opening touchdown to Josh Harris. Rayvon Birden scored two rushing touchdowns while Brooks Coombs added one. Hanover (2-0) travel to Hopewell Friday in a rematch of last year’s final Division 5 Regional title game, won by the Hawks 35-7.
The Tomato Bowl (Lee-Davis at Patrick Henry) can be heard on the High School Game of the Week, Friday at 6:30 p.m. on WHAN, 102.9 FM, 1430 AM, and at HanoverCountySports.net.