On one level, it was just another week at The Jungle: an 18th straight regular-season victory for Louisa, and another year staking claim to the Gordonsville Tastee-Freez over longtime border rival Orange.
“Tastee-Freez, Barbeque Exchange, whatever you want to call it,” said Louisa coach Will Patrick, possibly in a bid to expand the Lions’ territorial claims. “Hardees, 7-Eleven; I grew up over there so I know.”
But Patrick and his players would readily acknowledge there was significant room for improvement in their 36-12 win, especially on offense. In the first half, Louisa started three series in Orange territory that yielded no points.
“Offensively, I believe we can score at any given moment anywhere,” said Patrick. “We’ve got kids who can make plays; we’ve just got to get them the ball and we’ve got to block. In my offense, everyone has to block. We’re young, a lot of juniors and sophomores. We’ve just got to get it going.”
With a 7-6 score late in the second quarter, junior running back Jarrett Hunter and his blockers finally did get things going. After tallying just 42 yards on his first 12 carries to that point, he exploded for 159 on his next 14 touches.
“My o-line, they were telling me, ‘J, you’ve got to get going,’” said Hunter. “Any time those guys get on me, I know I’ve got to do better.”
The spark for Hunter seemed to come as he lined up beside quarterback Rob Allinder in shotgun when Louisa took over at midfield with 1:46 before the break. He twice took direct snaps and dashed 28 and 11 yards, sandwiching a personal foul that accounted for the drive’s other 11 yards. It took just fourteen seconds for the Lions to brighten the mood for halftime homecoming festivities with a 14-6 lead.
“We saw a few things they were doing with our motion, and he hit it hard,” said Patrick. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you call, or what the D is, you’ve got to block them and hit the hole. Sometimes you’ve got to make people miss, and that’s what he does, and he does it very well.”
It didn’t take much longer after returning from the locker room as Louisa’s Robert Morgan made a nice return out to midfield. Hunter promptly ripped off runs of 26 and 24 yards to open up a two-possession margin.
“Coming out of half, we needed to set the tone early,” Hunter said. “We made adjustments, realized what they were doing. We started sealing people off. We let them cut us; just go by, get upfield and get blocks in the second level.”
Penalties will be something else for Patrick and his staff to clean up in the weeks ahead. Orange was able to answer Hunter’s touchdown with a 70-yard drive, aided by two roughing the passer penalties. One came on a fourth-and-9 that otherwise would have ended the series on downs. Instead, Jaylen Alexander scored on a 12-yard run, his second touchdown of the game.
A short kickoff set up the Louisa offense at midfield yet again. This time, Hunter and his fellow backs Kalup Shelton and Gabe Cuozzo took eight plays to cover it, with Hunter scoring on a 14-yard run. He added a run for two points to give the Lions a three possession margin at 29-12 midway through the third.
“Hunter’s a slippery guy,” said Orange coach Jesse Lohr. “Tip your hat to Coach Patrick and those guys; they found something that worked in the second half and they stuck with it.”
Things did not get out of hand as Louisa’s offense drew a healthy quantity of yellow laundry, too, with five holding or block-in-the-back penalties killing momentum. In one sequence early in the fourth quarter after a muffed punt setup the Lions at the Hornets’ 15, two holding calls and a sack left them with fourth-and-31 and forced a punt.
Though the possession yielded no points, it did drain more than six minutes off the fourth quarter clock. Although Jaylen Alexander provided a quick-strike score with a 70-yard run midway through the second quarter, Orange’s offense this season has struggled to develop a passing game to quickly mount a rally. In this game, four different players took snaps at quarterback much as they did against Albemarle, including Alexander, Chris Washington, Walker Johnson, and Nathan Morris.
“Chris is pretty much playing everything, from punt return to kick return,” said Lohr. “He starts to wear down when you play every play. We bring Walker in to try run more of a pro-style, but people were just keying on Jaylen. Why not just go ahead and snap it to [Jaylen] and show that he is capable of throwing the football a little bit? We’ve been trying to find ourselves [at quarterback]. It’s giving us some ways to compete.”
After a three-and-out by Orange, Hunter rounded out the scoring with his fifth touchdown on an 11-yard run with 2:12 left in the game. He had opened the evening’s scoring late in the first quarter with a 3-yarder, which came one play after Alex Washington intercepted Johnson and returned it 50 yards.
Hunter’s 201 yards accounted for a sizable chunk of Louisa’s 296 yards of offense, a modest output by their usual standards. No one else had more than 29 yards on the ground. Allinder completed 4-of-10 passes for 40 yards.
“We played well enough to give ourselves some chances, but it was just the inability on the offensive side to get enough to threaten them,” Lohr said, as Orange managed just 217 yards of total offense.
Alexander led the Hornets with 132 yards on 29 carries. He also completed one pass out of five attempts for 31 yards. Johnson connected on 5-of-12 for 59 yards.
Louisa (8-0, 5-0) heads to Charlottesville (0-8, 0-5) next Friday, while Orange (2-6, 1-4) welcomes Monticello (1-7, 0-5) for senior night at Porterfield Park.