Both Fork Union and Woodberry Forest came into their respective regular season finales dinged up and missing key components. It was a solid back-and-forth between the two Prep League rivals but the Tigers were able to adjust after falling into an early hole to dig out a 27-17 victory to secure their fifth straight Prep League head into its bowl game with Episcopal next week riding a four game winning streak.
“Fork Union deserves a lot of credit, their guys and that coaching staff for getting ready and playing their hearts out,” said Woodberry coach Scott Braswell. “Of course I’m obviously proud of our guys and how we responded. We kept fighting back and made a lot of big plays to seal the deal. We’re excited to win a Prep League championship, go undefeated in the league to that and now we’re ready for the big game.”
With Fork Union’s Mike Hooper coaching in his final game, the Blue Devils were inspired early. FUMA was able to take the lead with quarterback Drue Hackenberg leading a drive into the redzone where Will Stupalsky was able to hit a 31-yard field goal with 8:03 in the first to make it 3-0. Woodberry answered in kind with a drive led by its quarterback, Ben Locklear to set up a 30-yard field goal from Wills Thompson to tie things up at 3-3 with 11:50 to play in the second.
“I thought the kicking game was big, getting those two field goals in the first half and then going 3-for-3 on the extra points, you have to have those in close games like this,” Braswell said.
Fork Union immediately reclaimed the lead with Hackenberg hitting senior receiver Larry Elder with a touchdown pass just 21 seconds later. The 68-yard connection put the Blue Devils up 10-3.
“We believed in the guys and knew they could come and play well in this one,” Hooper said. “It was just a matter of putting it all together.”
Playing without top target Dequece Carter at receiver, Locklear was dialed in with tight end Kyle Bilodeau, particularly in the first half. The two helped to set up another field goal from Thomspon, this one from 22 yards out to cut it to 10-6 with 7:52 remaining the second. Then an 8-yard strike from Locklear to Bildodeau put Woodberry up 13-10, a score that would hold up going into halftime.
In the second half, the Tigers wasted little time getting the passing game going. With 9:51 in the third, Locklear found a wide open Asa McManamy running a post route. The freshman hauled in the deep ball and ran it into the endzone for a 51-yards touchdown to make it 20-10.
“Ben can put the ball on the money,” McManamy said. “So you just have to catch the ball. That’s about it.”
Fork Union managed to rally, despite losing Stupalsky to concussion protocol early in the second half. The Blue Devils got an 81-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Hackenberg to Daniel Reynolds to cut the deficit to 20-17 with 10:06 to play.
Back up kicker Xavier White was then able to come up a fumble on a tackle on the ensuing kickoff. However Fork Union was unable to turn the gift at midfield into points with the Woodberry defense coming up with a fourth down stop.
“Being able to stop teams from running the ball with a 5-man or 6-man box, that’s scary,” said Tigers linebacker Logan Bowers. “If we keep doing that, we’re going to be fine. Bill Clark, John Harris and Davis Smith have really stepped up and played amazing upfront. Bill’s taking on double teams and still getting through. When he’s lined up, he’s got two guards and a center looking at him and he’s making our jobs much easier playing at linebacker, teams are so worried about him they’re not getting the blocks on us. This is just an unselfish defense right now.”
To make matters worse, Reynolds was knocked out with an injury short thereafter, putting the Blue Devils in an even tighter spot with its the depth chart.
“We came in missing a pair of receivers, one to injury, one to poor decision making and then Will gets dinged up, Daniel gets dinged up when we’re already pretty thin,” Hooper said. “It’s really hard to win when so many of your best players are on the bench, but you still got to go out and play. It was a good effort but we just came up short.”
Woodberry went back to work with one last scoring drive midway through the fourth. Locklear set the Tigers up in the redzone before hitting McNamany again, this time for a 25-yard touchdown to get some breathing room at 27-17.
“It was awesome,” McNamany said. “It was really my first game back being ready and healthy to play. The first pass, they just had broken coverage. The second pass, Ben just threw a beautiful ball.”
The Blue Devils responded with a big pass from Hackenberg to Elder again put set up shop in the redzone. However, Jax Hill was able to ice the game with an interception at the goalline with 1:53 to play. Woodberry was able to end the game taking a trio of knees at midfield.
“We’ve seen it all year the way the guys rally behind eachother,” Bowers said. “Jax has a big play on him early in the game but then he comes back with the game saving pick in the redzone.”
Fork Union finishes its season at 2-8. Woodberry Forest (5-2) heads home for “The Game” on next Saturday at 2 p.m. And given the rivalry, Braswell expects to have a healthy roster.
“The momentum has got to help,” Braswell said. “Winning one like this and Episcopal coming up, all of the sudden the aches don’t quite hurt as much. For some of it we’ll just need some magical healing but all these guys want to come out Monday and practice.”