High School Football: Fuqua Falcons see growth from young team

They broke through last week. After an 0-2 start to the season, where they were outscored 128-10, the Fuqua Falcons put it all together against Quantico. Playing at the military base on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, the Falcons won 7-0 to improve to 1-2. The defensive shutdown was so complete that Quantico as a team only completed two passes for 16 yards the entire night. Heading into this week’s matchup against Broadwater, Fuqua head coach Tyler Cristo said his team is starting to come together. 

“You have to remember, we didn’t have a scrimmage,” Cristo said. “We went in with the ‘Super Bowl champions’, so to speak, with Covenant for our first game. These teams we’ve played have been in eight man for a while.” 

That’s been part of the challenge for Cristo this season. He’s not just been installing a new system. He’s been teaching them about an entirely new way to play. Fuqua made the switch this year to a new league and a new type of football, 8 vs. 8. The width of the field for 8-man competition is 40 yards. That’s about 13 1/3 narrower than the traditional field, which is 53 1/3 wide. All of that translates to a much faster game than regular high school football. That can take time for players to adapt. Cristo feels the Falcons are starting to pick it up.  

“I think we’ve been progressing since the Chincoteague game, but we got behind the 8-ball early in (that game) and just couldn’t overcome that,” Cristo said. “I saw some positives and it rolled over. I was super super impressed with our defense against Quantico.” 

That result made for a much happier three-hour road trip back home, Cristo added. 

Fuqua Falcons start to grow

Another thing to recognize about Fuqua is this isn’t just a team learning a new style, it’s an extremely young one. There are five seniors on the 18-man roster, only three 11th graders and one 10th grader. That means the bulk of this year’s assignments fall on nine freshmen. Starting with a young core group means that you’ll have leaders who have already been through the system next year and the year after. They’ll be able to help the next group develop and so on. More than just a football season, this year’s about building the culture, Cristo said. 

“They’ll know the system better, they’ll know the importance of the offseason,” Cristo said. “That’s where you get stronger. I’ve already had several say they’re excited to hit the weight room after football season ends. That’s where it starts.” 

But already, Cristo is seeing improvements, as evidenced in the Quantico game. 

“The main thing is we’re starting to gel,” Cristo said. “Our chemistry is starting to come together, we’re starting not to make mental mistakes, we’re starting to shore all that up a little bit.”  

That growth includes expanding the playbook a bit, as team members get more confident in their roles. For example, Cristo switched things up against Quantico, bringing in 6’4 ft., 230 lb. fullback and middle linebacker Tyler Holland as a lead running back. 

“He’s a guy you can’t be afraid to tackle or he’ll make you pay,” Cristo said. “He had some monster runs.” 

Seeing that success, Cristo said it’s likely the team will be switching to a two-back combo. They had previously been running shotgun with just one back. The new style opens up some more options, both in the passing and power running games. More shifts could happen as the team continues to develop. 

“I like where we’re going,” Cristo said. “We’re still playing catchup but we’re making progress.” 

The Fuqua Falcons go on the road to the Eastern Shore this weekend, taking on 2-2 Broadwater Academy on Saturday, Sept. 23. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. 

Cumberland falls against Nelson

Things started off well for Cumberland on Friday, as the Dukes drove down the field for an early score. But Nelson County responded quick and often, dominating the first half. The Governors put up 35 points in the first quarter, en route to a 42-6 win, dropping Cumberland to 0-4. But there’s still plenty for the Dukes to take from this loss. 

As we’ve seen throughout the year to this point, Cumberland adapts. On the surface, they’ve given up 181 points over four games, an average of 45. But the majority of those points get scored before halftime. In the 44-8 loss to Parry McCluer, McCluer scored 32 in that first half, adding points off a Cumberland interception in the fourth quarter. The same was true this past Friday against Nelson County. After that first quarter barrage, the Governors scored only once the rest of the game. We’re seeing the Dukes develop on defense. Once they put it all together for a full four quarters, this could be a solid team. 

Up next, Cumberland goes on the road to take on a struggling 0-4 Randolph-Henry team. The Statesmen were torn apart 46-0 by William Campbell on Friday and have been dealing with issues on the defensive front. Kickoff in Charlotte Court House is set for 7 p.m. 

Kenston Forest stays undefeated

Last season was a rough one for the Kenston Forest Kavaliers. Going 3-7, the team gave up 126 points more than they scored. None of that is true in 2023. The team is undefeated at 4-0 and a big part of that is a rock solid defense. That defense was on display Friday night, as the Kavaliers beat their rival school Blessed Sacrament 20-12. 

This week was also a bit of a comeback story. Kenston Forest struggled starting out, going into halftime down 6-0. The Kavaliers exploded out of the gate in the third quarter, however, making adjustments and outscoring the Knights 20-6 the rest of the way. 

“They faced adversity early and fought back,” Kenston Forest coach Joe Kaiser said. “(It was) a hard fought win, a solid conference victory.” 

Just like the Fuqua Falcons, Kenston Forest plays 8 vs. 8 football, which can be a much faster game. And appropriately, the story on the offensive side was about speed, mainly the Kavaliers’ ground game. Junior running back Zain Queen put up 141 rushing yards on 22 carries, with sophomore Devin Dunn adding 91 yards on 15 carries. Kaiser also praised his offensive line, which freed up running routes for the backs all game. That included a mix of freshman Cale Boyd, senior Blake Bolter, senior Zach Cline Oakes, sophomore Nathaniel Schodt, sophomore TJ Watters and junior Tucker Warren. 

But as we mentioned at the beginning, this game was about the defense. Senior Gergo Hudak, who doubles as a tight end, had 7 tackles and 2 sacks, including one in the fourth quarter that forced a fumble. Sophomore defensive end Steve Nash picked up that fumble and ran it back 24 yards to seal the win. Nash had 7 tackles and one other forced fumble on the night. Senior linebacker Ben Hite and Cale Boyd both added 9 tackles. 

Up next, Kenston Forest will stay home this Friday, playing host to Southampton Academy. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. 

Beyond Fuqua Falcons, other games coming up 

For those wondering why we didn’t cover Prince Edward, it’s because they had a bye week. Now the 0-3 Eagles will be on the road this week, taking on 3-1 Northumberland. Undefeated Lunenburg will face 3-1 Buckingham at home this week, while 0-4 Nottoway plays host to Amelia County. 

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