Goochland’s run as the No. 7 seed in the Region 3B bracket came to an end at the hands of No. 3-seeded Warren County in a 21-13 loss on Friday night.
Making the hundred-mile trek up US-522 for the second straight week, this time the Bulldogs’ offense and special teams had a much rougher evening in Front Royal. Three turnovers and three blocked kicks proved too much to overcome against a Warren County ground game that racked up 282 yards and shifted from no-huddle to clock-draining mode as the Wildcats held the lead down the stretch.
“More games are lost than won, and it typically comes down to turnovers and special teams,” said Goochland coach Alex Fruth. “You don’t win a lot of games when you lose the turnover margin by plus two or three. I read a stat that you win 90 percent of games you block a punt in, so we’re on the other end of that tonight.”
After Jamason Pryor returned the game’s opening kickoff 30 yards into Wildcat territory, Goochland’s first snap from scrimmage ended up loose at the feet of the linemen and Warren County linebacker Dagan Wayland dove in and recovered. The Bulldog defense allowed just one first down before a chop block penalty set Warren County well behind the chains. After their ensuing punt deflected off the back of a blocker, Goochland’s offense had another prime starting spot at the WC 47. However, Pryor and the rushing attack could not get anything going. In fact, both offenses traded three-and-outs over the next four series and the first quarter ended with zeroes on the board.
The Bulldogs finally broke through on the first play of the second quarter. On third-and-six, sophomore quarterback Blayke Flaherty tossed a flanker screen out to senior Mason Gregory, who slipped one tackle and outran the pursuit down the right sideline for a 46-yard touchdown.
Warren County looked like it would respond as it put together a nine-play drive from its own 13 to the Goochland 13; however, senior defensive back Malachi Tyler intercepted Nicholas Foltz’s third-down pass in the endzone. The Bulldogs picked up one first down via an offsides penalty in punt formation, but the Wildcats forced another punt four plays later and then found paydirt on their next possession when sophomore Gavin Dodson broke loose on third-and-three for a 50-yard touchdown. The run put Dodson over the century mark (112 yards) on nine first-half rushes.
“[Senior lineman David] Rizzo sets the edge for us and Dodson just runs so hard,” said Warren County coach Jerry Sarchet, as Dodson finished the night with a game-high 176 yards. “That long one he busted, it was how it was drawn up and they just executed.”
An errant snap on the PAT kept Goochland in front 7-6 with 2:58 left in the half, but they would not be able to maintain the lead for long. The Wildcats’ defensive front got to Flaherty on third-and-12 and forced a sack-fumble. One play later, freshman Blaise Skube cruised in on a four-yard run to grab the lead. Fullback Ty Carter ran for the two-point conversion to make it 14-7 for Warren at the break.
“[Warren] did a good job when they showed up to the point of attack on a couple of those fumbles,” Fruth said. “They brought it.”
The Wildcats began the third quarter with an impressive drive, moving from their own 10 to the Bulldogs’ 31 on six runs. But momentum suddenly flipped to the visitors when freshman Jackson Bell intercepted an option exchange and raced 67 yards for a Goochland touchdown. In a sign of things to come, Warren County blocked the PAT to maintain a one-point lead.
The Bulldogs’ defense forced three-and-outs on the Wildcats’ next three possessions in the quarter, but the offense was unable to regain the lead. First, Flaherty was stripped at the end of a 19-yard keeper. Then, after Pryor finally found some creases for four double-digit pickups on an eight-play, 57-yard drive, the Wildcats blocked Tyler Black’s 40-yard field goal attempt. Finally, facing third-and-four at the Warren 42 early in the fourth, Goochland dialed up the same screen that worked in the second quarter, but Gregory’s plant foot slipped to the turf as he caught the pass, forcing the Bulldogs to punt.
“There were windows there [for the passing game], we just couldn’t make it happen,” Fruth said. “The run game, 20 (Elijah Frame) did a really good job taking away some of our stuff and causing issues on the back side that we really hadn’t seen.”
Although Black’s punt pinned the Wildcats at their own 3, the offense drained more than seven minutes off the clock with an 11-play possession. Warren’s punt pinned Goochland at its own 8 with 3:09 remaining. A second-down sack doomed the Bulldogs, but with two timeouts, they could still afford to punt on fourth-and-14. Disaster ensued as Black’s punt was blocked and recovered in the endzone for a Warren touchdown.
“It was just the same guys over and over making plays,” said Sarchet. “Elijah Frame, the kid that was making tackles-for-loss all night, blocked the PAT. Ty Carter blocked the punt.”
Now trailing by eight, the score wasn’t a game-clincher as Goochland got the ball right back with 1:42 to play. The Bulldogs reached the Wildcats’ 25 with still over a minute on the clock, but third- and fourth-down passes fell incomplete. The defense held one last time and gave the offense a final play from midfield, but Flahery’s deep pass fell incomplete.
“I can’t say enough about the defense,” said Sarchet, as the Wildcats held Goochland under 100 yards of total offense in both halves. “I gave the defensive coordinator the game ball. Elijah Frame and Ty Carter, those two just played lights-out.”
Pryor led the Bulldogs with 89 yards on 23 carries. Flaherty completed 5-of-15 passes for 61 yards and added 23 on the ground. Goochland (4-8) heads into the offseason with weight room work atop the agenda.
“The big thing will be learning from our mistakes and getting in the weight room,” said Fruth. “You can’t win football games where you’re not strong, and strength is a choice. We’re going to be leaning on even more young guys next year.”
For the Wildcats, after Dodson, sophomore Michael Hooper contributed 63 yards on nine rushes. Skube added 31 yards on 13 attempts.
“This program’s come full-circle since 2019,” said Sarchet. “We didn’t send a team to Goochland [then]. We’ve made some changes and now we come around and get a win over them. These kids worked so hard and the coaches did such a great job.”
Warren County (7-5) heads to top-seed Brentsville District (11-1) for the Region 3B championship game next week.