Hitting the trenches for Jack: Goochland tops Buckingham with big night from its lineman

Photo: Ryan Yemen

There’s a luxury to being a coach at Goochland. Not to many Class 2A programs have the roster depth the Bulldogs have. It gives you an opportunity to play with your depth chart. At most other schools, linebacker Sam Brooks takes a lot of snaps on offense. Not at Goochland. What the Bulldogs showed on Friday was a staple of how this program has gone on to play past Thanksgiving so many times and a throwback to how this team prepares for playoff caliber teams.


Facing an ever-improving Buckingham team that has found its identity in physicality, Goochland rotated in different sets of defensive linemen to keep its top unit fresh. When the Bulldogs needed a stop, they got it, and they did so on a soggy field behind a defense that paved the way for a 21-8 win at home after a 16-day layoff.


“We are fortunate to have two, almost two and half lines of kids that we can work in,” said Goochland coach Alex Fruth. “It’s not like the skill level is all the same but we have more than enough guys that can do the job and that pays great dividends. It really pays off in practice but it’s a great thing when it can pay off here in the game.”


In a game where the clock started and basically only stopped between scores, quarters and timeouts, things where close early. Buckingham had a near eight-minute drive in the first quarter but was forced to punt. Goochland’s offense was stymied early so Bulldogs defense set the tone in the second quarter with linebacker Kindrick Braxton picking up a botched toss by Buckingham to the right side of the field. Braxton scooped it and ran it back 25-yards over to the left side of the field to make it 7-0 with 10:05 until the break.


“Before the play someone (said) watch the super power to wide side behind and to make a play,” Braxton said. “So the snap, it’s off his hands and all I was thinking was ‘Oh my gosh I have a chance.’”


After a three and out and a shanked punt, the Bulldogs got a very short field and on the first play from scrimmage Connor Popielarz got a huge hole up the middle to run through untouched 25 yards for the score to make 14-0 in just under three minutes of action. That score held going into the break.


The Bulldogs got another special teams gift late in the third on a botched snap on a punt that led to a block from Raheem Wilson to set up a short field. Goochland quarterback Devin McCray found Chase Smith just a few plays later for a 17-yard TD reception and it was 21-0 with 1:17 left in the third.


“We went into this week knowing we could do something on special teams,” Fruth said. “We only have two goals and don’t really preach it that much as coaches but we’re thinking it — it’s win the turnover margin and win the stinking game. Tonight, we won the turnover margin and won the stinking game so that’s kind of check and check.”


Buckingham made things interesting right from that point on though. The Knights got yet another kickoff return for a touchdown from Deshawn Bartee, this one from 95 yards out and with a successful 2-point convert, it was 21-8.


“He’s explosive and a playmaker that reads his blocks well and man, we needed that there,” said Buckingham coach Seth Wilkerson. “We’re getting better each week and that’s the main thing. We just have to keep going.”


The Knights were also able to put together a long drive together with Walter Edwards and Xavier Copeland getting things going on the ground to set up shop in the Bulldogs redzone. On fourth and short though Goochland’s defensive line stepped up and came up with a stop to end the threat. The Bulldogs then went on a seven minute drive into Knights territory before punting. Goochland’s defense finished the job in the final minute of play to keep it at 21-8.


“It just comes down to what we talked about going into this, that you can’t turn the ball over to a team like that because 80% of the time they’ll score,” Wilkerson said. “I thought our guys played hard through the whole game and showed some character because at 21-0 you can see a team folding the tent and they didn’t. Far from it. I was proud of that. These kids don’t quit.”


Goochland improves to 5-0 for the third straight season and extends its James River District winning straight to 29 games as it heads to play Cumberland. Buckingham falls to 2-4 and gets a bye week to prepare for that same Cumberland squad.


Bulldogs honor Jack Ridolphi on Coach to Cure Muscular Dystrophy week


It’s an annual tradition in the last week of September. The American Football Coaches Association and Parent Project for Muscular Dystrophy have teamed up to for the largest MD charity in effort to raise awareness and funding to find a cure for the Duchene’s strain MD. Fruth and former coach Joe Fowler before him have been a part of the Coach to Cure Muscular Dystrophy efforts for years as they have gotten to know Jack Ridolphi.


“I think it is the best thing that we do here,” Fruth said. “Obviously it’s such a great cause but for our guys to be around such a great young man like Jack and understand how lucky they are to have the opportunities they have and see Jack who goes about his business with a smile on his face, always excited, always fired up —  it’s just amazing. It’s been amazing to watch him grow up and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been at Goochland for long enough to remember his first time he came out here with the team as a young kid. Now he’s a freshman in high school. He’s just amazing.”


Each year since the Ridolphi family has joined the co-op between the PPMD and AFCA, the Bulldogs have worked him into that last game in September. They’ve also worn Coach to Cure Muscular Dystrophy patches on their arms and staff wide did so again on Friday. In years past Ridolphi’s done a little bit of everything. He’s presented the game ball in post game ceremonies, he’s given speeches. This year, the Goochland captains and Ridolphi took to midfield for the pre-kickoff meeting with officials together, Ridolphi in the middle between the four Bulldogs and he got a hearty hand shake from each of the Buckingham captains. For Fruth and his squad, it’s an inspiring opportunity to help someone they know and love so well.


For more information about the CCMD project sponsored by the PPMD and to donate to the cause, click here.