Falcons soar to state title game

Published 8:12 pm Tuesday, November 13, 2018

No. 3 Fuqua upsets host No. 2 Knights with 33-point win

This looked to be a rebuilding year for the young and undermanned Fuqua School varsity football team, and perhaps it was, but the Falcons rebuilt fast enough to put themselves right back where they were last year — in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) Division III state championship game.

No. 3-seeded Fuqua upset host No. 2 Blessed Sacrament Huguenot (BSH) Catholic School 58-25 on Friday night in the state semifinals.

“We had a lot of kids graduate last year, a lot of great players, a lot of kids playing in college,” Falcons Head Coach Ben Manis said. Nevertheless, this year, “the fact (that) we got kids who haven’t played in a couple years that came out and kids that busted their tail all year, I’m proud of what they did. A lot of the seniors were like, ‘Man, we didn’t think we’d ever be here.’ The kids’ mental ability to handle tough situations, it doesn’t phase them.”

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With Friday’s victory, the young Falcons improve to .500 on the season, holding a record of 5-5, and for the second straight year, Fuqua will face No. 1 Roanoke Catholic School in the state championship game. The Celtics (9-0) defeated visiting No. 4 Portsmouth Christian School 50-6 on Friday in the other state semifinal game, setting up the final which will be held this coming Friday at 7 p.m. at Vinyard Park in Roanoke.

The Falcons lost 26-6 at home to Blessed Sacrament Huguenot during the regular season, but they were less experienced then and were playing without junior quarterback Elijah Warner, who was out during the early part of the season due to injury.

It was clear early on during Friday’s rematch that it was a different Fuqua team compared to the one the Knights faced before. While the Falcons led 6-0 at halftime in the first meeting, they were up 36-12  at the break on Friday.

After Fuqua’s defense forced a three-and-out for the home team, the Falcons produced points on their first drive as senior fullback Christian Adams ran for a 39-yard touchdown just more than four minutes into the game. In a two-point conversion attempt that did not follow the script, Falcons sophomore kicker Ryan McKay remained poised and made the conversion by completing a pass to Warner.

BSH Catholic asserted itself on the ensuing drive, using its potent run game that thrives on misdirection and power to make the score 8-6 with a little less than two minutes to go in the quarter.

But the Knights’ momentum was blunted on the kickoff, which Fuqua senior Frankie Denaro returned approximately 80 yards for a score.

The home team recovered, though, and continued to make the game competitive on its next drive, scoring on a five-yard run to make the score 14-12.

The Falcons moved the ball easily again on offense, fueled by runs from Warner, who then threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to junior Matt Osborn.

An interception by Denaro later set up a 15-yard touchdown run by sophomore Jackson Allen.

Another interception by Denaro set up a 67-yard scoring run by Warner, who also ran for a two-point conversion to bring the score to its 36-12 position at halftime.

Manis was thrilled with this team’s resilience.

“It is a great group of kids to coach, it’s a great group of kids to be around, it’s a great school,” the coach said. “These kids have hope. They always go into a game with hope. Earlier in the year, they beat us (26)-6. They outmuscled us, they outgunned us, but man, these kids don’t care. They just want to play, and that’s kind of the best ‘don’t care’ to have.”

He highlighted his team’s defensive line for its outstanding performance Friday.

“They might not have had a bunch of tackles, but they really clogged up what (the Knights) were doing in there,” he said. “And we had a chance to put some freshmen in early.”

Manis noted the defensive line included junior Colby Barton, junior Hunter Gibson, junior Josh Tharpe freshman Jordan Johns and freshman George Magnotti.

Isaac Drummond, one of only four seniors on the team, said that being able to play for a state title in his final year as a Falcon “means everything. We started off, yeah, it looked like a building year, but we came back, and we built, and we’re going to the championship again.”