Louisa County had trailed in just one game this season, and briefly at that, way back on September 22nd against Albemarle.
So when they went into halftime trailing Courtland, a team the Lions had outclassed at the beginning of the season, by a score of 13-7, something had to change.
Senior quarterback Malik Bell, who had been held in check by the Cougars’ defense in the first half, put the Lions ahead 14-13 with a three-yard run midway through the third quarter and the Lions never trailed again in a 35-13 victory in the Class 4, Region B quarterfinals.
“Coach said we had to grow up, we had to play at an elite level,” running back Job Whalen said. “We faced some adversity, but we have a lot of leaders on the team. We have the best senior class ever.”
Despite the lead change, it was Bell’s next touchdown that changed the complexion of the game.
After the Louisa defense, which held Courtland’s offense out of the end zone after the Cougars’ first play from scrimmage, forced a three-and-out, Courtland lined up for the go-ahead field goal. It sailed wide left and the Lions took over on their own 20. On the first play of the drive, Bell took a snap and moved around right end.
Ten seconds later, he was dancing in the end zone to cap off an 80-yard touchdown run at the end of the third quarter, making the score 21-13 and bringing to life a home crowd that had been rather quiet up until that point, by Louisa standards.
Then it was another senior’s turn to dazzle the crowd as Whalen blocked a 22-yard field goal by Courtland’s Ryan Lynch and fell on the ball, giving Louisa possession at its own 16-yard line. Then with 4:08 remaining, Whalen dashed 47 yards to paydirt to give Louisa some breathing room.
“It was tough,” Louisa head coach Mark Fischer said of the halftime deficit. “We weren’t at all used to it. We struggled with it at the beginning. We had to get ourselves back together as a family, as a team, and focus on what the objective was.”
Louisa’s defense capped off the effort, sacking Courtland quarterback Shyheem Lewis on consecutive plays. Raquan Jones put the icing on the cake with a three-yard touchdown run with 30 seconds left.
The Lions scored on the game’s first drive on a two-yard plunge by Whalen, but Courtland came back and on its very first offensive play got a 59-yard touchdown run from Zin White, who racked up nearly 250 yards on the ground for the Cougars, a run-heavy, wing-T offense that had many similarities to that of the Lions.
Courtland, which fell behind 41-0 in the last meeting between the teams, took a 13-7 lead when a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage fell into the hands of defensive lineman Jaekob Vollbrecht and the big man rumbled 10 yards into the end zone. But that would be Courtland’s last highlight of the night.
“That’s a huge tribute to Courtland, they came out and schemed well, they had us scratching our heads,” Fischer said. “They came out and balled. They beat us up at the front. But we got some opportunities, we got some breaks, and the defense played well.”
Louisa will travel to Monacan next Friday in the regional semifinals. The undefeated Chiefs bounced the Lions from the playoffs last season.
“We’ve all been there. We’ve all been in tough games before,” Whalen said. “This class has done everything you can possibly think of, so we just have to move onto the next one.”