Falcons end as state runners-up

Published 8:48 pm Monday, November 19, 2018

Fuqua School’s varsity football team took the field at William Fleming High School’s Colonels Stadium in Roanoke on Friday night aiming to topple two-time defending state champion Roanoke Catholic School in the VISAA Division III state title game. But the top-ranked Celtics proved just as formidable as expected.

The No. 3 Falcons struggled against the talent Roanoke Catholic assembled on the field as the Celtics took a 20-0 lead after the first quarter, a 40-0 lead at halftime and a 53-0 lead after three quarters en route to a 61-8 victory.

“It’s amazing that they’re in our division,” Fuqua Head Coach Ben Manis said of the undefeated Celtics.

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Across 10 games this year, Roanoke Catholic averaged 54.6 points per game and won by an average of 42.9 points against a group of opponents that included teams from the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association’s (VISAA) Division II and III and the Virginia High School League’s Class 1.

“We just got outgunned,” Manis said. “You don’t play a state championship game 61-8 without something going on.”

The coach was referring to the Celtics’ tendency in recent years to draw new talent to their team from outside their school.

“It’s not like our kids quit,” he said, expressing high praise for his players’ effort in the face of the Celtics’ persistent dominance Friday. “Our kids played with character, and they played well. Sometimes you’re just outmatched, outgunned.”

Despite the loss, a key highlight for the Falcons came with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when junior quarterback Drew Osborn sent the ball downfield with a deep, arcing pass that caught his twin brother, junior wide receiver Matt Osborn, in stride amid a group of defenders for a 58-yard touchdown. Drew completed a pass to sophomore running back Jackson Allen on the next play for the two-point conversion.

The Osborns, who did not play football last year, were among the players who returned to help Fuqua’s small-in-number program.

“It was good to have those guys back out,” Manis said. “I’m proud of our boys and what we’ve built here. A lot of our kids have been here since kindergarten and first- and second-grade, and they’ve been in the program since sixth- and seventh-grade, almost all of them.”

The Celtics featured significant size and speed, scoring most of their points with their powerful run game that included standout athletes like sophomore running backs Kawuan Ray and El-Amin Shareef.

“Each year, they know what they lose, they know what they need,” Manis said of the Celtics and their ability to fill positions of need.

Including Friday’s game, the Celtics have now won 31 straight games, including three consecutive VISAA Division III state championships. They won a Division IV title in 2014.

In recent years, Roanoke Catholic has consistently stood in the way of Fuqua either winning a state title or advancing in the postseason. In 2017, an experienced Falcons squad gave the Celtics a serious challenge before ultimately falling 51-36 in the state final. In 2016, the Celtics topped Fuqua 52-30 in the state semifinals, and in 2014, the Falcons fell to Roanoke Catholic narrowly in the title game, 24-20.

With Friday night’s loss, Fuqua finished the 2018 season with an overall record of 5-6 after starting the year 1-4. The young team featured only four seniors: Christian Adams, Frankie Denaro, Isaac Drummond and D.J. Williams.

“We’ve got a big group of sophomores, a fairly decent amount of juniors,” Manis said. “Yeah, we lose four seniors. It’s going to be hard to replace all four of them. Frankie really worked his way into being a big-time ballplayer, Christian’s always been kind of our spark-plug guy, D.J.’s really worked himself in the o-line and d-line and so has Isaac. Great kids, we’ll miss them, but it’s four, not 13 of them.”

The Falcons had 13 players graduate after their 2017 season and nine after their 2016 campaign.

“We’ve got to start building from the bottom and go up, so we’re still going to be working on that,” Manis said.