Trailing by one with 20.8 seconds left and facing third-and-long in the red zone, Albemarle had several options to ensure a shot at a game-winning field goal. All out of timeouts, a 3-yard pass to a receiver far from the sideline was not one of them.
Western Albemarle’s defense made the tackle in bounds, sending the latest installment of the cross-county rivalry into a chaotic finishing sequence. Media and game officials sprinted to the back of the endzone, anticipating a rushed field goal attempt at the horn. Instead, personnel confusion on the home sideline ultimately resulted in a spike, thereby turning the ball over on downs with 3.5 seconds left and securing a 21-20 victory for the visitors from Crozet.
“Our motto is, ‘keep making them snap it’; they might make a mistake, and that’s what happened,” said Western senior Joey Burch.
It was the second red zone stand for the Warriors’ defense as it protected a one-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“Defense is our team,” said Western sophomore Nathan Simon. “We knew coming in that Albemarle was going to be a spread team. Amaje really blew up the C-gap and got a lot of yards, but we were able to contain him in the end.”
Both squads were without key senior playmakers, with running back Eb McCarthy out for AHS and tight end/linebacker Carson Tujague for Western. Amaje Parker dazzled quarterbacking the Patriots’ offense with 145 yards on the ground and 182 through the air, while the Warriors leaned on their offensive line and stable of backs to keep pace, at least on the scoreboard, with Albemarle’s spread attack.
“It was our line; the boys up front, they killed in the trenches and we were able to consistently get yards,” said Simon.
Albemarle jumped out first midway through the opening quarter after junior Isaiah Grevious set up the offense by snagging a low line-drive punt near midfield and returning it to the Western 33. Parker opened with a 20-yard completion, despite a deflection, to senior TaeVeon Wilson. Three plays later, they connected again as Wilson ran a slant in front of two defensive backs and snagged a pass at his ankles for a 9-yard score
Western answered with a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run from Kyle Keyton on the first play of the second quarter. Keyton, Kaden Morrow, and Dakota Howell traded carries throughout the drive as the Warrior offense operated predominantly out of a three-back, no flanker set.
“Our guys up front demonstrated their grit,” said Western coach Ed Redmond. “Albemarle is just so athletic that I felt like our strength was going to be the offensive line. We basically handed the game to those guys and our two fullbacks and let them go to work.”
AHS answered right back with its own 80-yard drive. Parker flipped the field with a 50-yard dash to the WA 15, but AHS needed seven more plays from there. Parker finally powered across the goal line on fourth down from one yard out to make it 14-7 with 8:18 left in the second.
“What he’s doing we’re not surprised by,” said Albemarle coach Brandon Isaiah of his sophomore quarterback. “He played a great game tonight, and we’re going to lean on him and watch him grow.”
Western junior Bubba Shiffett set up the offense with great field position after a 37-yard return of the ensuing kickoff out to the 48. After a run for no gain on first down, Western dialed up something different.
“I looked at coach and asked if we could run our pass play,” said Simon. “We rolled out and I delivered a ball to Joey that he took all the way. It was a big changer in the game.”
Burch made the catch and turned it into a 52-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
“I was pretty excited [when they called the play],” said Burch. “We’re missing a couple big people in our receiving game, like Carson, so I knew we were going to try and pound the ball. But that opened up the pass because they kind of got lulled to sleep.”
The score was tied 14-14 at the break and through the first half of the third quarter after the offenses traded turnovers. Albemarle pulled ahead with an eight-play drive propelled by key receptions by Wilson and Jake King. Parker covered the last 12 yards on the ground, but the PAT caromed off the left upright leaving the score 20-14.
A facemask on the kickoff return then gave Western excellent field position. Now operating with more spread looks, Simon converted a fourth-and-4 with an 11-yard completion to Howell. Two plays later, he found Burch deep again for a 33-yard pickup to set up first-and-goal. The Warriors needed all four downs, with Keyton tallying his second touchdown from 2 yards out. Embry Pulich converted the extra point to put Western ahead 21-20 with 10:37 left.
King returned the ensuing kickoff 45 yards down to the WA 37, and five straight Parker runs had the Patriots facing first-and-goal at the 2. Parker and company thought they scored on his next run, but neither official on the goal line signaled touchdown and the ball was spotted inches shy. Western stuffed Parker on second down back to the 1, and then an errant third-down shotgun snap forced Albemarle to settle for a 39-yard field goal attempt, which sailed wide left with 6:31 remaining.
“We make them snap it again, that’s our goal, and I think the kids demonstrated their trust in that philosophy,” said Redmond. “The last line is the most important and until they cross that last line, we’re going to dig in.”
Western drained nearly five minutes off the clock with its next drive, which was extended when an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on AHS moved the chains after a 5-yard run on third-and-17. Still, the Patriots burned their last two timeouts and forced a punt to give the offense one last chance. Starting at their own 4 with 1:40 to play, Parker hit Wilson for 19 yards and then ran three times for 11 yards. Then, Parker found Noah Grevious down the middle for a 49-yard gain to the WA 17 with 53 seconds still on the clock. Parker was stuffed in bounds for a loss of 2, and followed that with a pass to Wilson, who had space deep along the right edge of the end zone but could not make the grab. That left 20.8 seconds and a third down call that the home sideline would very much like to do-over.
“There was a lot of stuff happening, fast,” said Isaiah. “You have it in your mind as a coach the way it’s going to go, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen that way. That’s my fault. My mind is always trying to put them in a better situation than what they’re in currently, and that one just backfired on us.”
Wilson led the Patriots with six catches for 80 yards. After Parker, Grevious was the only other ball carrier on the night, rushing 13 times for 33 yards.
Morrow led the Warriors with 108 yards on 23 carries. Keyton rushed 10 times for 26 yards and two touchdowns, and senior fullback Dakota Howell added 15 yards on eight touches. Simon completed 4-of-8 passes for 108 yards, with Burch his top target (3 catches, 97 yards).
Western (6-0, 3-0) returns home next week for another Game of the Year as it hosts Louisa (5-1, 3-0, vs Orange on Saturday). Albemarle (4-2, 2-1) will prepare for an old city-county tilt as it heads across town to face Charlottesville (1-5, 0-4).