High School Football: Cumberland Dukes lay foundation despite injuries

Published 4:48 am Wednesday, October 25, 2023

It has been a rough season for the Cumberland Dukes. We’re not even talking about the team’s 0-8 record here. In fact, we’d argue that’s a symptom of the bigger issue, namely that they’ve been bitten harder by the injury bug than any team we’ve seen in a while. 

Cumberland has yet to play a complete game with their full roster. Instead, Dukes Head Coach Josh Fleenor has been mixing and matching, plugging players in to new positions in order to keep going. 

“This past week, I had a ninth grader that plays on the line, I had to get him to play wing just so we could make it through,” Fleenor said. “We had some kids that never came off the field. They played both offense and defense. But give them credit. Our guys fought. They’ve stuck with it. They haven’t quit.” 

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He’s referring to last week’s 48-6 loss at Central High. With a running clock for most of the second half, the Dukes were playing without some of their key members like senior tailback, cornerback and quarterback Austin Wise and Caleb Leach, who suits up as a safety and tailback. Leach rolled his ankle early on. 

Cumberland Dukes build up

But this isn’t a story about injuries. Instead, it’s about a coach and team laying a foundation that will resonate next year and the ones to follow. If there’s a positive about the injuries, it’s that young players, many of whom were scheduled to be backups and learn from the bench this year, have contributed quality minutes. In fact, minus a handful of players, Fleenor will return almost his entire roster next fall. Beyond that, he should have a full varsity and junior varsity team, the most in quite a while. 

“We’re looking at, if all the kids come back, 60 players next year (on jv and varsity),” Fleenor said. “That’s the most I’ve ever had. The future looks good.”

And that future’s been built for the Cumberland Dukes through recruiting. Fleenor said he’s gone through the community, working to get players not just to suit up now, but three, four and five years down the road. For example, he points to the middle school. 

“We’ve got a full group of eighth graders,” Fleenor said. “We’ve got young guys in a position to learn and improve.” 

And beyond that, Fleenor said the final score and current record don’t show the growth his team has gone through this year. 

“I’ve seen a tremendous amount of positive things,” Fleenor said. “We’ve competed this year. We put more points on the board than we have in five years. At Amelia, we put up 250 yards of total offense.” 

He also pointed out that despite the losses, the Cumberland Dukes have not been shut out this season. 

“Every week, we’re moving up the state rankings,” Fleenor said. “I’m more confident now about the program’s future than I was at the start of the season.” 

The Cumberland Dukes will play host to 7-1 Buckingham this Friday, Oct. 27, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. 

Cumberland Dukes

Central High eyes No. 1 seed

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball from last week’s Cumberland game, with the win Central High improves to 8-1 on the season. 

As a team, the Chargers ran for 343 yards and six touchdowns on 26 attempts. Connor Mattox led the way with 132 yards and 3 TD’s on 10 attempts. Amarion Moore also went over 100 yards on the ground with six rushes totaling 113 yards and twice found the end zone.

To close out the regular season, Central High will make a trip to James River District foe Amelia, a team they’ve beaten four straight times after back-to-back losses in 2017 and 2018. One of those wins was a 56-50 triple-overtime thriller in 2019.

“It’s not going to get any easier for us because Amelia will play us tough,” believes Chargers Head Coach Will Thomas, who sees both the pros and cons of having a bye week before the playoffs as it yields the long-debated rest vs. rust discussion.

“It gets you off your routine and we’re routine-driven folks. It might sound crazy saying this having already played nine games, but I think we’re much better than we were in Week 1, Week 2 or Week 3,” Thomas added. “And I think we still can get better.”

For now, their sights are on finishing on a high note and getting to 9-1 overall, where an opportunity to gain the top seed in Region 2A is a real possibility. If Poquoson (6-2) – which was slated No. 1 in last week’s Region 2A power ratings – slips up against Lafayette (6-2) or Bruton (5-3), then Central High will likely have home-field advantage through regionals and not have to go on the road until the state playoffs.

That’s a much different contrast from when they were in Region 1B with 10-time State Champ

Riverheads, which has knocked them out of the playoffs three times since 2015.

“There should be motivation and hunger to want to play in front of the home fans,” Thomas said. “To me, the best game we played all year was at home against Buckingham, which we lost. We play better at home.”

Kenston Forest secures playoff spot

Step one is finished. The 6-2 Kenston Forest Kavaliers have secured a playoff spot. They even have a date and time for the first game, as well as their opponent. Now it’s just a question of how they finish the regular season. Last Thursday’s 72-32 win over Richmond Christian showed that as things wind down, the offense is just hitting its stride. 

You could call it absolute domination. Senior quarterback Noah Cole went 15 of 24 for 255 yards and 5 touchdowns, running for another two scores and 158 yards on the ground. Junior tailback Zain Queen added 159 rushing yards of his own on 18 carries and sophomore tailback Devin Dunn got into the action as well, providing 77 yards on 8 carries. 

If you add in a 2-yard pass from Queen, that adds up to a combined 651 yards of offense. It’s a welcome change and a return to form after two straight losses, a 60-0 hammering by Brunswick Academy and a 48-18 loss to Broadwater Academy. 

The offense isn’t the only thing that got back on track against Richmond Christian. The defense also picked up, with Queen serving as a dual-threat, collecting two interceptions against Richmond Christian and recording 5 tackles. Gergely Hudak also has caught fire as a dual threat for the Kavaliers. The senior defensive end recorded 10 tackles Thursday, while catching 5 passes for 83 yards and 2 touchdowns as a tight end.  

“I am very proud of this hardworking group of boys and my coaching staff,” said Kavaliers Head Coach Joe Kaiser. 

Now the team heads into Senior Night this Thursday, playing host to the 1-7 Fuqua Falcons. Kaiser said the group is just focused on building that momentum and carrying it into the playoffs.

“We are looking forward to finishing the season strong and we are looking forward to a positive and productive playoff,” Kaiser added. 

The first round of the playoffs for Kenston Forest begins on Thursday, Nov. 2, on the road for a second time against Brunswick Academy.