Once you finally get your first win, a young team under a new coach can then advance to set new goals. For Patrick Henry, the next step was ending seasons of futility against an unlikely thorn in their side.
The Patriots hadn’t tasted victory at John Marshall since 2007. Then came Saturday. Spotting the Justices a 6-0 lead, the Patriots cranked up the running game, scored 48 unanswered points, and ruined John Marshall’s homecoming with a 48-14 win. It was only the second win for the Patriots over the Justices in their last six meetings.
“It’s a good confidence builder for us stringing two wins in a row together,” said Patriots head coach Jonathan Clark. “Our offense senses the things we’re doing are definitely starting to work, and being able to finish a game like today like we feel like we should do all the time.”
Reminding Patriot fans of days gone by, it was a steady stream of pounding the rock that led Patrick Henry to victory. Bender Vaught, who rushed for 222 yards in the Thomas Jefferson victory a week earlier, didn’t have to carry the load himself, though he did lead Patrick Henry with three touchdown runs. Michael Bruce, Josh Polezhaev at fullback, Daquan Morris, even Parrish Gordon taking the handoff while in motion, all broke off big runs contributing to an offense the Justices simply couldn’t stop.
The Patriots (2-6) found the end zone five times before intermission, and Connor McKee fought the gusty winds for four of five point-after conversions for a 34-6 halftime lead. Patrick Henry’s defense stood tall, as the Justices crossed midfield six times, but only scored twice, once early for their only lead, and a touchdown in the game’s waning moments long after the Patriots had freely substituted.
“The offensive scheme worked, the offensive line is getting better, I mean literally, every day in practice,” Clark noted. “We see tremendous growth in them, and being able to get off the ball, knowing what the guy next to them is doing. Everything is paying off right now.”
Though postseason hopes are mathematically possible in Class 5A North, they are slim. But they are also not Clark’s focus. He and his team are laser focused on a trip Friday to Deep Run, another struggling team, who, at 1-7, just picked up their first win of the season Saturday at Thomas Jefferson, 17-6. The “Camouflage Bowl,” as the game has become known over its decade-long existence, may have lost luster this year in the bigger picture of area high school football, but for the Patriots, it’s a critical game.
“We’re not going to worry about [the playoffs], we’ve got two tough games ahead of us,” Clark opined, mentioning their season finale Nov. 8 when 7-1 Douglas Freeman comes to Ashland for Senior Night, likely looking to clinch home-field for two playoff games in Class 5A South.
But, after finally putting a full game together Saturday, the Patriots have given themselves a fighting chance in both of their final games, and, suddenly, a tremendous opportunity to build momentum for 2014, with an important core of juniors returning, and a talented group of players itching to advance from JV to help continue the rebuilding work on the gridiron in Ashland.