Behind 396 yards on the ground and a key third-quarter interception, Massaponax avenged last year’s home loss to Louisa County with a 33-14 triumph on Friday night.
“[A win like this] makes them believe in what we’re doing and supplies a lot of confidence,” said Massaponax coach Eric Ludden. “When you play confident, you can really play fast.”
The Panthers started the game with scoring drives of 56, 53, and 81 yards, each capped by touchdowns from different rushers, to build a 20-0 lead at the 11:17 mark in the second quarter, all before the Lions picked up a first down.
“They run that flex-bone pretty perfect,” said Louisa County coach WIll Patrick. “They’ve got a good fullback; good, fast wings; and a fast quarterback, so they’re pretty dangerous. You can’t simulate that in practice. You get it about two drives in.”
But the young Lions did not fold and let the game get out of hand. After a 90-minute lightning delay in the middle of the first quarter, the offense finally snapped out of its funk with a 10-play, 84-yard drive. Patrick called on freshman quarterback Jahiem Jackson to convert a fourth-and-2 at Louisa’s own 23 with a four yard keeper. Four plays later, senior Isaiah Haywood swept around the left edge and raced 51 yards for six, putting Louisa on the board with 5:35 left in the first half. The Panthers’ next drive stalled in the red zone and a 28-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left, keeping the score 20-7 heading into the break.
“We didn’t execute at the end of the half, and that concerned me because I thought it gave [Louisa] a little momentum,” Ludden said.
Louisa made things even more interesting in the third quarter. Samuel George returned the opening kickoff 40 yards to set up the offense in plus-territory, and five plays later Jayden Seaberry plunged in from a yard out. The defense then came up with the game’s first turnover, falling on a loose ball in the backfield after Massaponax drove to Louisa’s 30 yardline.
WIth the offense back on the field with a chance to grab the lead, the Panthers’ defense needed to rekindle its first-quarter dominance. After reaching midfield, Massaponax derailed the drive by blowing up a screen pass for a loss of six. Patrick dialed up a fake punt that looked promising, but the pass down the middle hung in the air long enough for defenders to close on the intended receiver. The Louisa sideline clamored for an interference flag to no avail.
The Lions’ defense came right back with another big stand, stopping a fourth-and-6 run two yards shy of the sticks. With the score still 20-14 at the 2:44 mark in the third, Louisa took over at its own 20 and again advanced near midfield, thanks to a juggling third-down reception by Haywood to pick up 25. Two plays later, Jackson launched a deep pass into double coverage. Although one Panther defender appeared to start tackling the receiver before the ball arrived, penalty flags again remained in the officials’ pockets as the other defender made the interception.
“We had two chances there with the ball down by six and just couldn’t get it going on offense,” Patrick said .
Rolling into the fourth quarter, the Massaponax offense got back on track and marched 78 yards in 11 plays. Early on, senior quarterback Isaiah Shook went to the air to convert a third-and-7 with a 19-yard completion to Malik Turner-Gutierrez.
“I thought that third down pass completion was a key moment in the game and getting the kids uplifted again,” Ludden said.
The Panthers kept it on the ground from there, with Shook plunging in on a one-yard sneak to make it 26-14 with 7:35 remaining. After a quick Louisa three-and-out with poor field position, Massaponax iced the game with a 28-yard touchdown run by Donavan Phillips, his second on the night.
“They’ve got some big linemen, and I”ve got a bunch of puppies on the field,” said Patrick. “We fought hard, and that’s what I’m proud of.”
Senior William Wiggins led Massaponax (2-1) with 129 yards on 20 carries, both game-highs, despite not finding the endzone himself.
“[William]’s got really good vision,” said Ludden. “He was finding the creases and that was another improvement from last week[‘s 10-7 loss to Glen Allen].”
Sophomore fullback Joe Sanders also cracked the century mark for the Panthers with 104 yards and one score on nine carries. Shook scored twice and tallied 61 yards on eight rushes. He also completed 3-of-6 passes for 32 yards.
Haywood and Seaberry led the Lions with 59 and 31 yards, respectively. Jackson ran six times for 21 yards and completed 10-of-19 through the air for 91 yards.
Louisa (2-1) heads into its bye week before opening Jefferson District play in the Jungle against Western Albemarle (0-2) on Friday, September 22nd.