Make no mistake, some of the same issues that plagued Albemarle in the first four games of this season reared their head again Friday night.
This time though, the Patriots played through that adversity.
“It was very frustrating,” Albemarle quarterback DaQuandre Taylor said of a lack of early offensive rhythm, penalties and critical turnovers. “But we all came together as a team and we got through it. Obviously a big night for Mahki (Washington) and Forest (Warner) made a big play and we got rolling.”
While Washington rushed for 134 yards and two second half touchdowns on 19 touches, it was Warner’s play that ended up being the difference maker for the Patriots. With 8:21 left, the Patriots went down 15-12 on a Chance Williams touchdown catch as part of a wild start to the fourth quarter. With the ball at midfield, Albemarle ran a play they’d used all night, looking to quickly find Bruce McClain and Myles Ward immediately off the snap, with the other receiver blocking. This time though, Warner slipped his block and wheeled up the sideline. Taylor dropped it in to a wide open Warner, who beat the safety and got dragged down at the Orange 5-yardline.
“They were anticipating the smoke pop pass so I was acting like I was blocking but I just went and there was no one out there,” Warner said. “Then I just ran as far as I could.”
The play worked flawlessly, benefitting from a game-long setup that led to a wideopen chance.
“All credit goes to Quadre and Forrest,” said Albemarle coach Brandon Isaiah. “They executed and made a big play for us. Might be the biggest play of the game for us.”
Three plays later, Washington sprinted in for a 6-yard touchdown and after the extra point, a 19-15 lead over Orange. The Hornets refused to go away quietly, with Walker Johnson hitting Chris Washington for a 48-yard pickup as part of a huge night for the senior who also had a 71-yard kick return and played wildcat quarterback. That put Orange just outside the redzone but then things came undone for the Hornets. A trio of errant snaps ending plays before they could even get started as the drive went backwards and ended with a turnover on downs.
“That second half proved it was going to be survival of the fittest, it was a who was going to have the ball last kind of thing,” said Orange coach Jesse Lohr. “We had some opportunities and they had some opportunities. We’ve just got to figure out a way to overcome some adversity at times and not let the situation get worse.”
Snap issues plagued the Hornets much of the night, putting them behind the sticks in key situations several times. Orange employed four different quarterbacks, including playing star running back Jaylen Alexander there for stretches. Alexander rushed for 74 yards on the night, caught two balls for 43 yards and threw a 10-yard touchdown to Kyrie Carter that put the Hornets up 7-6 with 34 seconds left in the third quarter.
Albemarle’s Jake Romback also had one of the night’s most crucial plays. Late in the second quarter, the defensive end was around a pile up on an Orange County run and a fumbled ball squirted out toward him. Romback scooped it up and raced 75 yards for a touchdown and a 6-0 lead. Romback is one piece of a defense that, despite Albemarle’s 2-4 record, has quietly played very well.
“We’ve been losing a lot of games but we’ve (surrendered) like five or six pick sixes already on the season,” Isaiah said. “That’s not counting fumbles…we’re just putting them in bad situations. You’ve got Donovan (Berry), Jon Barber, Marquan (Jones), Bryce Reid is back and young guys like Noah Pittsinger and Kedrick Washington.”
They held Orange to 260 total yards and came up with two turnovers, Rhomback’s scoop and score and Noah Pittsinger’s interception. They also got solid play from Alex Kiel against the run, one of several players who’ve stepped up in a big way for the Patriots against a usually prolific run game for the Hornets.
“Our coaches did a really good job preparing us and we stayed motivated even though they were up,” Kiel said. “It really just came down to heart and we kept driving off of that.”
A dustup on the sidelines in the third quarter led to several flags and a handful of ejections.
“What I love about my kids is they have spunk, they have fight — they don’t quit,” Lohr said. “Whatever you may call all that, that’s just them fighting for their teammates. At the same time we’ve got to have better composure.”
The Patriots will travel to take on Charlottesville looking to make it three in a row while Orange will host Western Albemarle.