After a first half that saw Orange County’s offense run just 14 plays for 107 total yards, their modest 13-0 margin on the scoreboard had the crowd at Monticello wondering if there might be homecoming magic in the chilly late-October air.
The Hornets’ third-quarter performance dispelled those notions. Amassing 179 yards on three drives capped by Christian Simpson touchdown runs, Orange County kept its postseason hopes alive with a 35-0 shutout.
“Right now, we’re doing everything we can to find a way into the playoffs,” said Orange County coach Jesse Lohr. “I’m proud of these kids. Even though we’ve got some senior leaders that play pivotal roles, like Paul [Poirier], we’re young, so every game is another chance for us to find that solid footing and learn something about ourselves to apply to next week.”
Orange junior Naziere McIntosh got things going with a long return of the second-half kickoff down the home sideline, which even after an illegal block penalty set up the offense near midfield. The Hornets covered the distance with four runs. Senior quarterback Paul Poirier, who accounted for 51 of the team’s 80 rushing yards in the first half, continued to be a driving force as the offense surged. On the third play, he rolled out to his right and kept right on rolling for a 33-yard gain down to the 1. He repeated the feat on Orange’s third drive of the quarter and picked up 25 yards down to the 2.
“I just wanted to get the ball down there and then let Christian do the rest,” said Poirier, as Simpson cashed in with a pair of one-yard runs. “In the first half, we definitely started slow. In the passing game, I just kept trying to take shots every play and was overthinking, so we wanted to set up the run on that first drive [of the third quarter]. Then I was able to spread the ball around passing as they were kind of loading the box.”
On the other third-quarter drive, Poirier completed four passes for 46 yards, including a 13-yard toss to JaePharoah Carpenter to convert fourth-and-11. Simpson capped that one with a 12-yard run.
“We just had better blocking by the o-line so you’ve gotta say thanks to the linemen,” said Simpson, who finished the night with 58 yards on nine carries.
On the other side, Monticello’s offense struggled after the break despite threatening multiple times in the first half. After punting to start the game, the Mustangs’ next four drives all progressed into Orange territory, with two reaching first-and-goal situations. Junior quarterback Matt Dixon completed 13-of-18 passes to five different receivers for 129 yards and also led the ground attack with 20 yards. The Mustangs’ dominance of time of possession (controlling 18 and a half of the opening 24 minutes) was effective in constraining the Hornets’ offense, but yielded no points.
“We only had 14 snaps in the first and they had close to 40, so they found rhythm and we didn’t have it,” said Lohr. “We had one okay drive and one big play, so that was pretty much our offense. We played more like ourselves in the third quarter and picked up the tempo a little bit.”
After Poirier hit senior tight end Robert Kent for a 9-yard touchdown to open a 7-0 lead for Orange with 5:44 left in the first, Monticello’s ensuing 12-play drive lasted nearly six minutes but ended early in the second quarter with a 26-yard field goal attempt from the left hash falling short and wide of the right upright. Their next series ended on the ninth play when the Hornets’ defensive front converged on Dixon deep in the backfield and yielded a sack-fumble, which junior lineman Chase Rollins recovered at the MHS 41. Poirier raced 41 yards on the ensuing snap for Orange.
“It was a turning point,” said Lohr, as the Hornets opened a 13-0 lead with 6:28 left in the half. “Our defense has played well the last couple weeks. They made some key stops and big momentum plays, so hats off to Coach Ferguson and his defensive staff for having some things planned and go right for us.”
Dixon led the Mustangs’ attempt to answer with a 21-yard keeper of his own and completions to Elijah Fields and Brandon Herring that set up first-and-goal at the 4. However, a penalty, two sacks, and an incompletion left fourth down back at the 13, and Dixon’s pass into tight coverage was intercepted by Sheldon Robinson in the endzone.
Monticello’s final possession of the half began at midfield but ended after three plays at the Orange 33 as the first-half clock expired. In the second half, the Mustangs punted twice and did not cross midfield until the final play of the third quarter. Their two fourth-quarter series ended on downs. Both teams cycled in second-string players with a running clock.
Poirier finished 8-of-14 passing for 87 yards and rushed 7 times for a game-high 116 yards. Sheldon Robinson was his top target with four receptions for 39 yards.
“Now it’s just trying to find consistency in play and build that continuity of doing what it takes to be a winning football program,” said Lohr. “You can’t have a quarter here and there, a series here and there; if we’re going to be the team that we should be moving forward, we’ve got to be a little bit more consistent about what we do. My message to them is it’s about us, not about you, individually.”
That task becomes much more critical as Orange (5-3, 3-2) heads home for back-to-back games against winning teams to close its regular season; first up will be Goochland (5-3, 3-2) next Friday night. Monticello will travel to Crozet to face Western Albemarle with the Mustangs still looking for their first win.