As the victorious Atlee Raiders ran off what was left of the football field Friday night at Varina High School, they took with them memories of a win that can change a program, momentum for the homestretch of the season, and a seemingly unending supply of mud.
Some of it was stuck to the cleats of Atlee kicker Ryan Molin. But neither the mud nor the Varina defense, could stop Molin from a date with destiny.
Molin’s 27-yard field goal deep into the night sent Raider Nation into a frenzy, as Atlee defeated Varina for the first time since 1998, 31-28 in overtime in front of a smaller crowd due to the rainy weather.
The field goal ended a night that saw the Raiders fall behind early, score 21 unanswered points, have a touchdown taken off the board, and survive not one but two Varina comebacks. The Blue Devils’ loss was their first of the season, as both teams went to 5-1.
Varina struck first, as a big 47-yard run by Leander Cutler, helping to fill in for injured starting tailback Herb Anderson, out with a concussion, set up a 15-yard touchdown run by Shawn Tyler. The point after was blocked for a 6-0 Blue Devil lead.
Quarterback Reid McCoy and Atlee fired back. Coming out passing in the rain, and misfiring early, McCoy eventually found reliable Daniel Glymph behind the secondary in the back of the end zone from 32 yards. On the next possession, McCoy went to Zach Jacobs, seeing playing time due to injuries to the Raider receiving corps. Jacobs, in between two defenders, caught a 33-yard touchdown pass to cap the first quarter with Atlee ahead 14-6.
In the second, a Raider touchdown was on, then off the board. A McCoy to Glymph 30-yard TD strike down the middle of the field on a fourth down play was nullified due to a penalty for an ineligible receiver downfield. The Blue Devils couldn’t cash in on the mistake, going to halftime at home down eight.
On the second play from scrimmage in the third quarter, the Atlee line paved the way for tailback Lamont Stubbs to run right, then turn up the middle, stopping a Varina defender dead in his tracks, then running away from him to the corner of the end zone for a 64-yard touchdown run and a 21-6 lead.
For Varina, it got worse. Starting quarterback Tim Minor was hit and left the field limping, not to return. Backup Corey Finney entered, and the Blue Devils had trouble completing plays, much less beginning a drive. Varina head coach Stu Brown calmly called a time out and talked to him and the offense.
Seconds later, Finney launched a bomb down the sideline to wide receiver Ya Ya Konate, who took advantage of his Atlee defender slipping in the
mud to the ground to run to paydirt, a 73-yard touchdown. Less than three minutes later, Finney fired from the 40 to Donovan Dowling, who caught the ball at midfield, made his defender miss, and raced down the field for a 60-yard score. Both times, the Blue Devils converted two-point attempts. In a flash, Varina led 22-21.
Comebacks and quick strike offense have been hallmarks of Varina for years. Most nights the blow is fatal to the opponent. But not on this night, as Atlee responded defensively late in the third by pinning the Blue Devils deep in their own territory. Dowling punted to Tye Burriss, who made a significant punt return for the third straight week, taking the ball near midfield and running inside the Varina 20. Dowling’s face mask penalty tackling Burriss advanced the ball to the 5-yard line.
Two plays later, Stubbs punched in from a yard out and the third quarter ended with Atlee again in front, 28-22. The fourth quarter was the opposite of the high-scoring third, yielding just one score, when Finney found Konate for a 25-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.
Varina opted for the extra point attempt for the lead. The snap was low, the holder never got control of the ball, the kick never attempted. Varina’s biggest regret of the night may have been not letting their suddenly hot backup quarterback lead the team on another two-point attempt.
Both defenses stiffened in the final minutes, and Varina took the ball first in overtime. A questionable interference penalty aided the Blue Devils in advancing from the 10 to a fourth down from the 2-yard line. Opting to run, the Raiders pushed into the backfield, Devon Jackson catching Tyler from behind inside the two, keeping Varina off the scoreboard.
In Atlee’s possession, the Raiders went backwards awhile due to a holding penalty on first down and a rush for no gain. On third down from the 20, offensive coordinator Claude Hataway Jr. made a surprise call for a swing pass. Stubbs headed out of the backfield to the right side of the field, catching the McCoy throw and advancing to the 10-yard line.
The Raiders sacrificed positioning in the middle of the field to get Ryan Molin as close to the goal posts as possible for a game-winning field goal try.
Molin’s two field goal attempts the week prior against Hanover were both blocked. So the senior had much to prove, and practiced like it all week.
“I wake up at 6 a.m. Monday thru Wednesday so I can get used to kicking in wet, muddy, slippery conditions,” Molin said. “I took the first step toward the kick, though, and thought, oh, no!”
Fighting through the rain and mud, Molin’s feet found grip, the angle from the right hashmark was rendered irrelevant, as his boot sailed high and deep to seal the win, stunning the home crowd while sending the Atlee team and its fans into pandemonium.
“I didn’t see the kick,” Atlee head coach Roscoe Johnson said after the game. “I think everybody had their head down, they were praying, I literally was looking at the stands at the fans. Once the fans started jumping up and down I figured we made it and I took off running.”
It was a night where Johnson emphasized that his team won in all three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. McCoy made key throws for first half points to build confidence, the offensive line giving him time to find receivers. That same line battled the talented Blue Devils all night. The Raiders didn’t pile up significant yardage, but they executed when needed most: Stubbs’ 64-yard run, blocking an extra point early that proved game-changing later, not giving up hope after Varina punched them in the mouth in the third quarter, stopping the mighty Blue Devils short in overtime, then seizing the moment on the road.
“In order to beat this great team, we had to win all three phases,” Johnson noted. “There will be a storm, and when it happens, we have to weather it, because I knew if we got up, Varina would come right back, they’re that explosive. But I’m excited about our guys, and what they did.”
In taking down the top-rated team in Class 6A South on their home field, Atlee served notice in Class 5A South that they will be very, very difficult to beat come playoff time in November, home or away, heat or cold, rain or shine.
Just ask those who washed the formerly white Atlee uniforms Saturday morning.