‘Great Night To Be A Wildcat’

‘Great Night To Be A Wildcat’
‘Great Night To Be A Wildcat’
‘Great Night To Be A Wildcat’
‘Great Night To Be A Wildcat’

ABOVE, The Wildcats gather around their trophy to celebrate winning the Valley District championship on Thursday at Turner Ashby, the first outright district title in program history. AT LEFT, RC senior running back Bret McClung finds space to run as senior offensive lineman Igor Lakićević (61) blocks for him. McClung rushed for 130 yards and scored all four of the Wildcats’ touchdowns. BELOW LEFT, Wildcat junior wide receiver Isaiah Poindexter moves with the ball and avoids a tackle. BELOW RIGHT, RC junior quarterback Miller Jay gets ready to pass the ball. Jay completed 16-of-27 passes for 170 yards and a TD. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photos)

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RC Wins Battle Of Unbeatens, Claims Valley Title

The Rockbridge County High School football team won the Valley District championship and completed the first undefeated regular season in program history by overcoming Turner Ashby 31-27 on Thursday night in Bridgewater.

The Wildcats (6-0 overall, 5-0 district) had tied for the district title before, but this was the first outright district title in program history. The win, followed by a trophy presentation and smiles and hugs among the RC coaches and players, also assured the Wildcats of a home game in the Region 3C semifinals.

The victory came with plenty of obstacles, as the game was a back-and-forth battle played in wintry conditions, with snow flurries falling in the first half and temperatures in the low 30s for most of the game. Coming into this game undefeated, the Knights (5-1, 3-1) gave the Wildcats all that they could handle.

“I give all the credit to TA’s coaching staff and their players,” said RC head coach Mark Poston. “Our guys found a way to win. … We got it done. … It’s a great night to be a Wildcat.”

The RC coach said the championship was “really special,” especially in a year when it was uncertain for a while if there would be a season due to COVID-19. “I think, in a lot of ways, this year will be more memorable because of all the distractions and everything,” said Poston.

On the road to winning the title, the Wildcats defeated all five of their district opponents, including winning three games on the road. “It ain’t a fluke,” he said. “We won this.”

TA, which has had close games with the Wildcats the last few years, scored first. Sam Shickel, who rushed for 254 yards and 24 carries, made a 33-yard TD run just over four minutes into the game, and an extra point by Marini Spirollari put the Knights up 7-0. Shickel rushed for all four of TA’s TDs, helping TA rack up 354 rushing yards.

On the ensuing drive, Bret McClung made several runs to get the ball down the field. After quarterback Miller Jay made a 13-yard run, Jay threw a 4-yard TD pass to McClung.

A PAT by Daniel Cunningham tied the game at 7-7 with 4:34 left in the first quarter. Cunningham made all four of his PAT attempts.

McClung, a senior running back who recently committed to playing Division III football at Emory & Henry College, scored all four of the Wildcats’ touchdowns and led them with 130 rushing yards on 20 carries. He also led RC with eight catches for 79 yards. The Wildcats had 151 rushing yards, with Jay rushing for 21 yards on two carries.

Reflecting on his and his team’s success this year, McClung said, “My offensive line makes it easy for me. They give me a hole, and I’m gone.”

McClung admitted that the Knights did a better job of stopping him in the second half. “They were an undefeated team, too, and they’ve got great kids, great players, and they were trying to win the district, too,” he said.

After McClung’s first TD, RC’s defense stepped up on TA’s next drive, keeping the Knights behind their own 30- yard line.

The Wildcats had excellent field position when they got the ball back. After a couple of passes and a short run, McClung scored on an 8-yard run to put the Wildcats up 14-7 with 49.3 seconds left in the first quarter.

TA responded quickly. The Knights were at midfield, but a pass interference penalty allowed them to advance 15 yards, and Shickel then had a 34-yard run for a TD, and a PAT tied the game at 14-14 just 25 seconds into the second quarter.

Cunningham missed a 36-yard field goal on the Wildcats’ next drive, but he bounced back and made a 25- yard field goal to put RC up 17-14 with 4:17 left in the first half.

TA got the last big play of the first half, though, when Shickel made a 7-yard TD run to put the home team up 21-17 with 55.4 seconds left before intermission.

The one turnover in the game came in the third quarter when RC’s Keswick Owens caught a 5-yard pass from Jay but then fumbled the ball. After RC’s defense stepped up to get the ball back, Owens seized the chance to redeem himself and help his team, catching a 43- yard pass from Jay to put the Wildcats at the TA 19-yard line. After McClung caught a 9-yard pass, Owens received a 7-yard pass, setting up McClung to run for a 3-yard TD to put RC up 24-21. Owens, a junior wide receiver who made four catches for 60 yards, said he was encouraged by his teammates after the fumble. “My teammates just kept picking me up,” he said. “They were saying, next play, and I knew I was going to make a play.”

For the game, Jay completed 16-of-27 passes for 170 yards.

On their next possession, the Knights got the ball deep in Wildcat territory before Igor Lakićević tackled Shickel for a 1-yard loss. The Knights were then pushed back by a 5-yard penalty, and they punted on fourth-and-17.

The teams traded possessions, and the Knights turned the ball over on downs at their own 40-yard line. From there, McClung made three runs that ended in what would be the winning TD, a 14-yard run into the end zone with 52.3 seconds left.

The Knights kept battling, with Shickel running the ball down the field and then making a 39-yard TD run as the clock expired.

Following their celebration on the field with their trophy, several of the RC seniors shared their thoughts on the win.

Allio, a powerful offensive and defensive lineman who has played with the Wildcats for two years after transferring from North Stafford, said, “Being a part of the team was a great opportunity. … I’m incredibly blessed with the teammates and coaches that I’ve got. I’m very thankful for everyone, and I’m so happy that we won the championship. We deserved it.”

The RC senior, who has signed to play Division I football a Virginia Military Institute, made some big blocks and tackle on Thursday.

Also making blocks and tackles consistently was fellow senior lineman Igor Lakićević, who said his teammates “feed u with their energy.”

Looking ahead to the playoffs, Lakićević said, “We’re no done yet. We’re just starting.”

The two linemen helped RC hold TA to 19 passing yards Other Wildcats consistently making tackles included McClung and Austin Higgins, while Turner Cook and Isaiah Poindexte provided excellent coverage to contain TA’s receivers.

Following the celebration, Poston praised his seven seniors for their leadership: Allio, Cunningham, Lakićević, McClung, Alex Hinkle, Luke Mayr and Nic Marando.

“They’re great individuals, very loyal people,” said Poston. “When I call them champions, I don’t use that word loosely. They’re champions, and they’ve been to the playoffs every year they’ve been in high school. That’s a testament to them, their hard work, their commitment to doing things the right way. We’re just so proud of them.”

First Quarter

TA – Shickel 33 run (Spirollari kick)

RC – McClung 4 pass from M. Jay (Cuningham kick)

RC – McClung 8 run (Cunningham kick)

Second Quarter

TA – Shickel 34 run (Spirollari kick)

RC – Cunningham 25 FG

TA – Shickel 7 run (Spirollari kick)

Third Quarter

RC – McClung 3 run (Cunningham kick)

Fourth Quarter

RC – McClung 14 run (Cunningham kick)

TA – Shickel 40 run (no attempt)

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING – RC, McClung 20-130, M. Jay 2-21 . TA, Shickel 24-254, Campbell 9-37, Villa-Lucio 7-34, Peake 4-20, Ochoa 2-13, Hoover 4-5, Ashkeba 1-3, Team 1-(-12).

PASSING – RC, M. Jay 16-27-0-170. TA, Hoover 2-8-0 19

RECEIVING – RC, McClung 8-79, Owens 4-60, Cook 2-16, Poindexter 1-10, Mayr 1-5. TA, Eppard 2-19.

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