High School Football Notebook: Central looks ahead to championship

Published 5:57 pm Monday, November 21, 2022

And then there were two. After months of competition, with teams pouring blood, sweat and tears into the games, we’ve reached the end of the high school football season. After picking up a win on Friday, Nov. 18, Central Lunenburg moves on to face Riverheads in the Region 1B state championship.

But to get there, first the Chargers had to stage a comeback, trying to avoid history repeating itself. Trailing Buffalo Gap 14-7 after three quarters of play last Friday, it looked like the perfect dream season was coming to an end for Central Lunenburg. However, the Chargers had some magic left in them, scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter, hitting the Bison with a trick play on a go-ahead two-point conversion, and then holding on in the closing moments to stage a memorable 15-14 victory in the semifinals of the Region 1B playoffs.

For 48 minutes, the two squads exchanged blows and fought tooth and nail with neither getting up more than a touchdown on the other. The win served as a sweet taste of revenge for the Chargers, who last year saw their season come to an end in a 44-20 loss at Buffalo Gap in the regional semis.

“A lot of defense and a lot of tackling,” said Central coach Will Thomas of the 2022 postseason rematch. “There were a lot of three-yard gains by both teams, but not too many turnovers. We fumbled once and stopped them on downs one time on fourth down in their own territory, which is how we got one of our scores. Our boys played good and I’m super proud of the effort.”

It now puts Lunenburg at 11-0 overall for the first time since 1993, when they made it all the way to Pearisburg before falling to Giles in the State Championship.

Buffalo Gap arrived to Charger Stadium in Victoria late, but it didn’t keep them from jumping out to the early lead. In fact, the Bison used a reverse pass to set up one of their two touchdowns.

“They’re so well-coached. They made some incredible passes and we were covering them,” Thomas noted. “They ran a sweep, handed it off to the split-end and he threw it down the field to get inside the five. It couldn’t have been a prettier pass.”

The Chargers were able to get to half-time tied at 7-apiece, thanks in large part to junior running back Thomias Morrison busting off a 50-yard touchdown run up the middle.

Morrison finished with 65 yards on three carries. Seniors K.J. Watson (12 rushes for 58 yards) and Bam Jones (11 rushes for 57 yards) complimented him in the running game. It would take the defense stepping up and stopping Buffalo Gap when they decided to go for it on 4th-and-3 from their own 35-yard line in the fourth quarter.

With under seven minutes to play, Bam Jones scored a touchdown with under seven minutes to play to pull the Chargers within a point. Rather than tie it up, Thomas decided for a gutsy gamble that paid off with a fake extra point, where senior Antwaun Jones ran in the two-point conversion to give them a 15-14 lead.

Lunenburg tried to run the clock out with a one-point lead when they got the ball back, but was stopped on fourth-and-short inside the 20 of Buffalo Gap. On the next play, the Bison completed a 65-yard pass, where the Chargers had to make a shoe-string tackle to prevent a touchdown.

Buffalo Gap reached the Lunenburg 16-yard line. Yet, the Lunenburg defense rose to the occasion. Instead of opting for a 33-yard field goal, Buffalo Gap left their offense on the field in hopes of scoring a go-ahead touchdown in the closing seconds.

“When we didn’t see the field goal kicker come out on the field, we said, ‘Well, here we go.’ We did call a time-out just to get our stuff straight because we knew they didn’t have any time-outs left,” Thomas stated. “So they threw it to the end zone, we fortunately knocked it down and pulled it out.”

Outside linebacker Seth Bishop led the defensive charge with 13 total tackles, two for loss. Fellow senior Jamel Alexander added 12 tackles, one for loss. Bam Jones and Antwaun Jones had 11 total tackles apiece. Senior DB Lattrell Johnson, who added 10 stops and one for loss, deflected the fourth down pass in the end zone.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME LOOMS FOR CENTRAL LUNENBURG

Next up for Central is a trip to Riverheads (9-1), winners of six straight state titles and 26 consecutive playoff games, for the Region 1B crown. The Gladiators responded from falling behind early against Sussex Central to win comfortably, 47-20 in the regional semifinals.

“We know it’s going to be tough. Basically, if you stand a chance, you have to play mistake-free and catch a break. They’ve not been beaten by a Single A team since Galax in 2015. We’ve lost to them twice and people tell us you can’t beat them, but it’s not like anybody else has beaten them either. They’re phenomenal, well-coached and have tough kids,” Thomas commented.

“We usually don’t do that well against those Shenandoah teams and have scrimmaged against some of them here and there. But we finally beat one, even though it isn’t Riverheads. Sussex took some chances the other night and ended up scoring on them. When you get this far, nothing is for certain. We’re going to have to play lights out.”