The wait is over.
The collective sigh of relief heard across western Hanover County Friday night was when the clock reached 0:00 and Patrick Henry had finally earned its first win of 2013.
The Patriots endured a final run at the end zone by Thomas Jefferson, their ghosts of winless seasons past haunting them at the worst time, as Patrick Henry won 23-19.
Thomas Jefferson (3-4) drove down the field for an early fourth quarter touchdown and a 19-16 lead. Patrick Henry responded with some of their best offensive work of the season, driving 80 yards for the eventual game-winning score, capped by an 8-yard touchdown run by junior Bender Vaught, who scampered for 222 rushing yards and would play a key role defensively.
With time evaporating, the Vikings didn’t panic, moving the football into the red zone for a first and goal opportunity. The Patriots’ defense held, forcing a fourth and goal at the 6 with just 1:23 to play. On the precipice of their first victory in Ashland in the 21st century, the Vikings choked.
The snap from center was fumbled, their called play never materialized, and Vaught pounced on the football to end the drive and seal the win.
“I could tell before the game that everyone wanted to win, and that’s exactly what we needed: heart,” said defensive back Cade Harris, who had an interception for the Patriots. “In this game, everyone came together.”
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team and their mental toughness to grind through those six weeks,” noted head coach Jonathan Clark, who earned his first win as a varsity head coach.
The Patriots, at 1-6, are not mathematically eliminated from the Class 5A North playoff race, and could sneak in the top 16 out of 24 teams who qualify if they win out. They hope the comeback continues Saturday when they travel to John Marshall, who can empathize with Patrick Henry. They’ll be winless (0-7) holding their Homecoming Saturday, just as the Patriots did on Friday.
Another team with faint playoff hopes with three games to play is Lee-Davis, who saw their postseason chances take a serious hit Friday thanks to Highland Springs quarterback DJ Johnson. His four touchdown passes, three for 57 yards or more, paced the Springers to their sixth straight win, 41-14 in Mechanicsville.
“Some college football team should take a look at [Johnson],” Highland Springs head coach Loren Johnson said after the game. “He’s not the prototypical quarterback when it comes to size, but teams need football players, and DJ’s a football player.”
His first pass of the night sailed about 15 yards to K.C. Hinton, who turned around, broke tackles, then raced upfield for a 69-yard score. The Confederates (3-4) struck back, using the combination of Austin Rice and Blake Stattelman to run down the field, Rice scoring the equalizer on a 15-yard scamper around right end to tie the game 7-7.
Highland Springs took the lead for good early in the second, as a Springer drive ended on a 1-yard sneak by Johnson. Then, 28 seconds until halftime, Johnson found another college prospect, 6-foot, 4-inch wideout Felton Davis, who outjumped Lee-Davis coverage for a 13-yard touchdown completion for a 21-7 halftime edge.
Midway through the third, Johnson wowed the crowd on a 70-yard touchdown pass play. He faked the handoff, rolled right, planted his feet, looked left at the designed receiver, and threw a 40-yard bullet just over the left shoulder of receiver Marcus Taylor, who caught it in stride and simply ran away from the defense.
The Confederates spent the second and third quarters finding no solutions for the Springer defensive pressure. Lee-Davis completed just two passes on the night, one to Highland Springs on a third quarter interception by Brandon Sulser at midfield. Stattelman finished with 90 yards rushing, Rice with 80, and both Confederate scores. His second came in the final minute of the third quarter from a yard out to get back within 14 at 28-14.
Johnson finished the night with 257 yards through the air, slamming the door on the Confederates on the ensuing drive with a 57-yard touchdown pass to Greg Dortch, just 15 seconds after the final Lee-Davis score. Dortch would catch Johnson’s final TD pass in the fourth quarter from 13 yards out.
Lee-Davis began the evening in ninth place in VHSL rider points standings in the Class 5A South “Central Zone.” Rather than admitting the top 16 teams based on rider points in the entire region, as most are doing, 5A South voted to split their playoff berths to eight in the Central Virginia area (Metro Richmond) and eight in the Eastern Virginia area (Tidewater region). So, it’s possible a team such as Lee-Davis could technically finish in the top 16 in the region as a whole in rider points, but, in the format adopted by 5A South miss the postseason. (6A South is the only other region not accepting the top 16 teams into the playoffs region-wide.)
At 3-4, they must win their final three games, and likely get help. A Hermitage win over current #8 seed Mills Godwin would aid, but it won’t matter if the Confederates can’t get a road victory Friday night at Hanover. Lee-Davis’ chances for a third straight playoff berth are in serious jeopardy.
The Hawks solidified their playoff positioning in Class 4A South thanks to a 47-30 win at Armstrong. It was, by far, Hanover’s best offensive performance of the season, as Jalen Elliott worked from the tailback, scoring four touchdowns, three of them in a decisive second quarter, as the Hawks raced to a 33-12 halftime lead.
Hanover is 4-3, and currently 10th in rider points in 4A South. The top eight teams host first round playoff games, and, if the playoffs began now, the Hawks would have to travel to Tabb High School in Yorktown for the first round. With a victory over their old rivals (and former Capital District foe) Lee-Davis at home Friday, Hanover could cut into the 1.6 rider point deficit over eighth place Kings Fork and the 1.3 point deficit over ninth place Churchland.
For the Atlee Raiders, it was symmetry, and a triumphant return to Glen Allen for Reid McCoy. McCoy, who started for the Jaguars at quarterback in 2012, transferred to Atlee after moving last March. His return to Staples Mill Road, ironically on Homecoming for the Jaguars, ended with a 70-0 shutout victory.
The Raiders (6-1), scored 35 points in the first half, 35 in the second. Tye Burriss returned a punt for a touchdown for the third time in four weeks, while Tramell Carey returned two interceptions for touchdowns. It was the second time this year Atlee scored 70 points in a game, the other in their season opener against Deep Run. For his part, McCoy passed for two touchdowns and ran for a third.
Next up for Atlee is a trip to Armstrong on Friday, looking to go to 7-1 as a huge showdown with the aforementioned Springers looms next Friday, Nov. 1, at Senior Night for Raider Nation.
(NOTE: Lee-Davis at Hanover is the “Game of the Week” to be heard on WHAN, 102.9 FM and 1430 AM, Friday at 6:30 p.m., and available online.)