A high-stakes rematch

Published 1:05 pm Thursday, November 8, 2018

No. 3 Fuqua School (4-5) will visit No. 2 Blessed Sacrament Huguenot Catholic School (7-2) in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division III varsity football state semifinals on Friday at 7 p.m. Saturday is the option if inclement weather interferes.

“But they don’t want to do that,” Falcons Head Coach Ben Manis said of the Knights and the reschedule date. “I would rather not do that. It probably gives them an advantage to play in the rain more than it does us. But we’re ready for whatever we need to do.”

Though inclement weather has frequently led to compressed schedules and reduced prep times this year, Fuqua has had a full week to prepare for facing the Knights again this season.

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“It helps just to have an extra day to get healthy,” Manis said. “It helps to have an extra day to kind of work on stuff and just being able to be around each other to polish some things up, both on defensive assignments and as offensive schemes go. That’s going to be huge for us.”

Fuqua hosted Blessed Sacrament Huguenot on Sept. 7 and led 6-0 at halftime before falling 26-6.

“That’s just the deal with depth and our youth,” Manis said. “We have a little bit more experience now than when we played them the first time. Hopefully that fares better for us. We, hopefully, can hold our own now. Our kids played well in the first half and just kind of ran out of gas.”

The Falcons played that game without junior quarterback Elijah Warner, who is now back from injury.

With Warner on offense this time, “we get a chance to kind of open up,” Manis said.

Sophomore Maureon Tisdale-Couch had been filling in for Warner back in September, and the coach noted he did not ask for execution of the entire playbook from Tisdale-Couch, who did not have anywhere near the time Warner has had to learn the offense. Tisdale-Couch showed promise and athleticism, though, and was also an impact player on defense, but he was later sidelined for the season by a shoulder injury.

“It’s going to hurt not having him on defense,” Manis said. “It’d be great to have him back, but I’m happy that he can make it back for at least basketball season.”

Aside from Tisdale-Couch and sophomore quarterback Luke Gee, who is sidelined with a leg injury, Fuqua is healthy and ready to go.

Strangely enough, Friday’s playoff game will be Senior Night for the Knights. However, the unusual scheduling of such an occasion is perhaps fittingly paired with an unusual team. The Knights have a distinctly memorable way of playing run-heavy football.

“They are what one would call a Fumblerooski Single Wing,” Manis said. “They roll the ball on the ground. Probably 80, 90 percent of their snaps get rolled to who the ball carrier is. They don’t play a true tailback, true quarterback, true fullback. It’s all kind of a mire in there. They’re all crouched down, kind of hidden behind the offensive line.”

Manis has been able to study Blessed Sacrament Huguenot some more on film, though he noted it was significantly poor quality film because of the location of the camera.

“It’s filmed at the top of their bleachers, so you’re not really up high,” he said. “They’re doing a few things, a little different wrinkles, but they’re basically doing the same thing that they’ve been doing.”

Knights sophomore Trevor Parker and senior Michael Kemp “have both become very good at taking those off-tackle plays,” Manis said. “They’ve run some more two-wing ordeals there, some two-wing formations that they counter and they counter trap off of it, and they’ll throw the ball a little bit to that single receiver. I believe (No.) 12, I guess you’d call him their quarterback. He’s gotten a little bit better.”

No. 12 is senior Kemper Roudabush.

The Falcons expect to add a few minor changes to their own game plan.

“We’ve been kind of working towards some different installs because of what they give us both on offense and defense, but you’re not going to stray too far from what’s gotten you where you’re supposed to be,” Manis said. “There’s no magic play that you can come up with to score every time you do it. If I had that, I’d be able to sell it. We’re going to do kind of what we do, kind of what’s gotten us here. We’ll put a few little wrinkles in there, but nothing major.”

Fuqua has perspective on the VISAA Division III playoff field that no other Division III squad has.

“We’re the only team in our division that’s played every team in the playoffs,” Manis said.

Defending state champion Roanoke Catholic School (8-0) holds the No. 1 seed and is hosting No. 4 Portsmouth Christian School (3-5) at Vinyard Park in the other Division III state semifinal game.

Manis highlighted one thing that is likely true of all four playoff teams.

“We’re all probably a little bit better than the first time we saw each other,” he said.

Early this season, the Falcons appeared a far cry from being capable of replicating what the senior-heavy 2017 squad did in advancing to the state championship game against Roanoke Catholic. But the much younger 2018 Falcons recovered from a 1-4 start to finish the regular season at 4-5, clinch a playoff berth and are now one game away from a return trip to the state title game.

“It’s really about the resiliency of the assistant coaches and the resiliency of the kids,” Manis said of the turnaround. “Whether they’re up by 100 or down by 50, they’re going to play the same.”