By Drew Goodman / Scrimmageplay.com contributor
Prior to crucial third and fourth down plays on offense, it is common for Fluvanna head football coach Steve Szarmach to see how the opposing defense is lined up, call a timeout, and have offensive coordinator Mitchell Pace make an adjustment based on what he sees on the field.
On a key third down and nine from the Madison 17 yardline in the second quarter, however, Pace instructed his troops to lineup in the exact formation they were in prior to the timeout, and called the same play that he had initially signaled in before.
Even after a frustrating pre-snap penalty to move the ball back to the 22, Pace stayed the course and trusted his troops to break the 7-7 tie.
Quarterback Ethan Graves then rewarded his coach’s patience by rolling out to the right and hitting sophomore Prophett Harris for a jump ball in the end zone.
“We just kept the same [formation]. Coach [Pace] had faith in it so we just stuck to it,” said Harris of the go-ahead strike. “There was a lot of tension around with the penalty before; it brought us back, but we were able to keep our cool… and I was able to get past the corner for the big play for the touchdown.”
Despite a scare late in the third quarter, Fluvanna never relinquished the lead for the rest of the game.
It was not always clean, but Szarmach, Pace, and, the rest of the Fluvanna coaching staff pushed a lot of the right buttons in Friday’s non-district finale against Madison. Four different Flucos scored touchdowns and Fluvanna allowed just one late offensive touchdown in its 28-14 triumph over the Mountaineers on Friday night.
For the second consecutive home game, Fluvanna lived by the bend-but-not-break mantra on the defensive side of the ball. After watching Madison running back/defensive back Jamar Turner celebrate a 65-yard fumble return for a TD on the first series of the game, the Flucos didn’t let the visitors anywhere near the end zone until Turner scored a meaningless touchdown in the game’s final minutes.
Both Harris and Austin Craig notched interceptions, and the Fluvanna front seven made life miserable for both Turner and quarterback Eliajh Lewis all night long.
“We played excellent defense,” Szarmach said. “We’re fast to the ball and we’re understanding what our reads are and what our keys are. When you do that, it works really well.”
The Flucos dominated the time of possession and used a big game from running back Nathan Smith to grind their way to effectively wear the visitors down. Smith carried the ball on nine of Fluvanna’s first 18 offensive plays, including an 80-yard scoring drive, in which he was responsible for all but six of those yards.
The senior capped off the methodical march with a six-yard touchdown run up the middle to tie game at seven a piece. Smith took a small break in the third quarter, but the bulky tailback was virtually unstoppable when at full-strength, both up the middle and on the edges.
“[Smith] is really becoming a workhorse for us,” Szarmach noted. “We have a lot of speed and our line did a great job blocking tonight… “We have a lot of guys that run track and are out here. They’ve worked hard and we’re just trying to use all of our weapons.”
Speaking of speed, with the running game taking up the bulk of the snaps, Fluvanna’s primary weapon, Joey Vandkye stayed quiet through the entire first half and almost the entire third quarter.
With just 3.6 seconds remaining in the third frame, Graves dialed long distance and found a wide-open Joey Vandyke for a 19-yard scoring strike, and the subsequent two-point conversion essentially put the game out of reach for the struggling Mountaineer offense.
Vandyke’s touchdown marked the end of a brutal four-minute stretch for the visitors from Madison County.
Following their second consecutive positive drive, the Mountaineers were sitting on the Fluvanna 16 yardline hoping to tie the game at 14.
After failing to get any closer, senior Cameron Covington entered the field to attempt a 33-yard field goal. Unfortunately for Madison, issues with the snap prevented Covington from ever getting a clean look, and a host of Fluco defenders broke through the line for the easy block.
From that point on, the Mountaineers could never recapture the momentum on offense sans a nifty 42-yard touchdown with Turner late with Fluvanna already having iced the win.
“There’s improvement, but the good doesn’t outweigh the bad; we didn’t do enough good things tonight,” Madison head coach Chandler Rhoads said. “We stalled out three times in the redzone. We’ve got to understand and learn how to finish.”
The Mountaineers (0-3) will travel to rival William Monroe next Friday night to face a Dragon team that is still in search of its first win as well.
As for Fluvanna, the Flucos have surpassed their win total from all of last season, and will enter next week’s Jefferson District opener at Monticello with a winning record and a lot of positive energy around the program.
“It feels great,” Harris said. “It feels like the juniors that were on JV last year were able to make a difference up here and just hold it down.”