Falcons reach state title game

Published 6:20 am Saturday, November 11, 2017

Fuqua School’s varsity football team took on Roanoke Catholic School in the state championship four years ago, and on Friday night, the Falcons arranged a rematch.

Second-seeded Fuqua grabbed an early lead against visiting No. 3 Quantico Middle/High School on Friday and overcame four turnovers to hold on for a 20-6 victory in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) Division III state semifinals.

“We survived,” Falcons Head Coach Ben Manis said. “… We should have done much better. (Four) turnovers — we survived (four) turnovers, which is amazing. Most of the time when you have that many turnovers, you don’t win.”

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Both teams struggled at times maintaining possession of the football with the cold weather potentially playing a role.

“The weather might have, but that’s just another excuse, and we try to teach our kids not to have excuses,” Manis said. “We just should have done better than we did, just flat out.”

Sophomore quarterback Elijah Warner helped Fuqua take an early 6-0 lead when he scored on a three-yard run with five minutes and one second remaining in the first quarter.

Later, the Warriors fumbled the ball on a punt return, and the Falcons recovered. Senior running back Benjamin Bailey ran for a 14-yard touchdown with 1:14 left in the period to help make the score 13-0.

Many turnovers followed during the remainder of the first half. Bailey intercepted a Quantico pass near the end of the first quarter, but Fuqua fumbled the ball in the second with the Warriors recovering. Shortly thereafter, Falcons senior linebacker William French grabbed an interception and took it deep into Quantico territory. A Fuqua fumble later gave the ball back to the Warriors at their own 13-yard line.

Warner threw an interception in the second quarter, and both teams turned the ball over on downs at different points in the game.

Early in the third quarter, the Falcons appeared to add to their lead, but a touchdown catch by senior wide receiver Tyler Thomas was called back due to a holding penalty. Fuqua ended up having to settle for a field goal attempt, which flew wide.

Not long after, however, the Falcons had possession of the ball again, and Warner scored on a 41-yard touchdown run, making the score 20-0 with 3:31 remaining in the third.

The Warriors finally got on the scoreboard with 4:48 left in the game after a successful drive that was capped by a short quarterback sneak for a touchdown.

Quantico got the ball back looking to make it a one-score ballgame, but French helped seal Fuqua’s victory with an interception.

For the game, Warner went 5-for-9 passing for 107 yards and one interception, and he carried the ball 13 times for 70 yards and two touchdowns.

“We ran the ball well,” Manis said. “… Some of (our) simplest stuff worked well because they couldn’t come off the edge and get it.”

Bailey ended up with 18 carries for 87 yards and a score, and he also had two catches for 57 yards. Junior fullback Christian Adams gained 49 yards on eight carries and registered a seven-yard catch, Thomas had a 31-yard catch and French had five carries for 12 yards and a 12-yard catch.

“We probably should have gotten Billy the ball a few more times,” Manis said. “Elijah did alright. On defense, man, it’s awesome when you can say nobody did really great on defense, and they don’t score six till late. It’s just everybody swarming to the ball. I’m kind of proud of how the guys played on defense. In the past couple weeks, we’ve been doing well on offense and poor on defense. Hopefully next week we’ll put them both together.”

On Oct. 6, Fuqua hosted Roanoke Catholic and the result was the Celtics’ closest game of the year. They narrowly won 14-7.

Commenting on what it means to play for a state title as a senior, Falcons defensive/offensive lineman Warren Dabney said, “It means everything. I finally get to finish my story. I’ve been wanting this since (I was) a freshman. I remember my freshman year I started in the state championship against Roanoke Catholic, and we’re back, finally. I get my chance again. I’ve got unfinished business.”

Four years ago, the Falcons fell 24-20 to Roanoke Catholic in the state championship game.

“It’s something we’ve played for multiple times,” Manis said of the state title. “The biggest thing is, man, it’s just another game. We’ve got to play smart. We’ve got to play well. You kind of watch what they do, and you get some keys off of stuff. But they’re good at what they do. They’re very good at what they do. And I think in the past four years, this’ll be the fourth time that they’ve made it to the state championship. They beat us four years ago. A year after that they played Isle of Wight and lost, and they won last year.”

The No. 1 Celtics (10-0) did their part in setting up the rematch with the Falcons by routing visiting No. 4 Blessed Sacrament Huguenot Catholic School 61-6 on Friday.

“They’re thinking undefeated season and going back to back,” Manis said. “They could very possibly do that if we don’t play well. But if we play well, I think it’ll be a good upset.”

The VISAA Division III state championship game is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Vinyard Park in Vinton.