Blazers Scorch ‘Cats

WILDCAT WIDE receiver Seamus Looney runs with the ball after making a catch while Spotswood’s Ethan Barnhart (24) and Quentin Hayes (4) approach. Looney caught two passes for 17 yards. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

WILDCAT WIDE receiver Seamus Looney runs with the ball after making a catch while Spotswood’s Ethan Barnhart (24) and Quentin Hayes (4) approach. Looney caught two passes for 17 yards. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

ABOVE, RC’s Bret McClung (center) battles a Spotswood player for the ball while teammates help out. McClung rushed for 29 yards on 11 carries and made several tackles. AT RIGHT, Spotswood quarterback Ryan High looks for a teammate to pass to while RC linebackers Matt Nicely (center) and Gage Shafer move in to sack him. High completed 5-of-10 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photos)

ABOVE, RC’s Bret McClung (center) battles a Spotswood player for the ball while teammates help out. McClung rushed for 29 yards on 11 carries and made several tackles. AT RIGHT, Spotswood quarterback Ryan High looks for a teammate to pass to while RC linebackers Matt Nicely (center) and Gage Shafer move in to sack him. High completed 5-of-10 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photos)

Blazers Scorch ‘Cats
WILDCAT QUARTERBACK Miller Jay runs with the ball while wide receiver Seamus Looney (left) attempts to hold Spotswood’s Quentin Hayes (4). Jay completed 17-of-29 passes with five interceptions for 160 yards, and he was held to three rushing yards. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

WILDCAT QUARTERBACK Miller Jay runs with the ball while wide receiver Seamus Looney (left) attempts to hold Spotswood’s Quentin Hayes (4). Jay completed 17-of-29 passes with five interceptions for 160 yards, and he was held to three rushing yards. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

RC WIDE receiver Elijah Poindexter returns a kickoff while teammates block for him. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

RC WIDE receiver Elijah Poindexter returns a kickoff while teammates block for him. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

Miscues Mar Ending To Rockbridge County Football Season

The Rockbridge County High School football team saw one of its most successful seasons conclude with a 42-0 loss at Spotswood in the Region 3C semifinals on Friday night in Penn Laird.

The third-seeded Wildcats (9-3) committed five turnovers in the loss, all on interceptions of RC sophomore quarterback Miller Jay. The Wildcats had met second-seeded Spotswood (12-0), the Valley District champions, at RC during the regular season on Oct. 11, when the Blazers cruised to a 55-10 win while forcing two RC turnovers. Friday’s game was Wildcats’ only scoreless outing of the season.

Reviewing the game, RC head coach Mark Poston said, “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Spotswood. Spotswood played hard. … They didn’t do one thing that they didn’t show on film, and that’s the sign of a confident football team. You just cannot turn the ball over in playoff football.”

Leading Spotswood and giving the Wildcat defense problems all night was running back Ethan Barnhart, 5-foot-10-inch, 195-pound senior who was this year’s Valley District player of the year. Barnhart rushed for 191 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries. Spotswood quarterback Ryan High completed 5-of-10 passes for 146 yards and two TDs. With 218 rushing yards, the Blazers amassed 364 total yards of offense. Spotswood only had six first downs, while the Wildcats had 10, but the Blazers scored so quickly that they didn’t need many first downs.

The Wildcats struggled against the powerful Spotswood defense, finishing with 239 total yards, including just 79 on the ground. Jay completed 17-of-29 passes for 160 yards, but his career-high five interceptions were costly. Luke Mayr led RC’s receivers with 63 yards on seven catches, and Jailik Lynch and Bret McClung each had 34 receiving yards. Gage Shafer led the Wildcats with 47 rushing yards on nine carries, while McClung was held to 29 rushing yards on 11 totes.

Praising his team for containing the Wildcats, Spotswood head coach Dale Shifflett said, “Our defense played tremendous. There were times that [the Wildcats] had bad field position, and we stepped up and stopped them and forced the turnovers. Our guys did a great job. Our staff executed the game plan.” Shifflett said the Blazers’ defense did a good job of reading the Wildcats’ spread offense, which he admitted can be hard to defend.

The Blazers wasted no time in getting their offense going. Just 20 seconds into the game, High passed to Robert Smith for a 70-yard TD, and kicker Fernando Rivas Martinez made the first of six successful extra points to give the home team a 7-0 lead. Smith led Spotswood’s receivers with three catches for 88 yards.

The crowd would get used to hearing the cannon fire after a Spotswood score, as the Blazers scored against less than two minutes later. Following an interception by Smith, Barnhart ran for a 9-yard TD to extend the Blazers’ lead to 14-0 with 9:53 left in the first quarter.

Jay got off a couple of passes to Mayr on RC’s next drive, but Spotswood’s John Van Huss intercepted Jay and ran the ball back to the RC 40-yard line. From there, High made a 40-yard TD pass to Ryan Shonk to extend Spotswood’s lead to 21-0 with 7:27 left in the first quarter.

On the Wildcats’ next drive, Jay made a nice pass to McClung, who ran to the Spotswood 16 for a 34-yard reception. Mc-Clung made several short runs to get RC six yards from the end zone, but Jay’s attempted TD pass was intercepted in the end zone by Spotswood’s Cole Myers.

The Wildcats’ defense cooled the Blazers’ down for a while, but RC was unable to generate offense. Late in the half, Spotswood took advantage of a short punt that gave the Blazers excellent field position. After a couple of strong passes from High got the Blazers one yard from the end zone, Benjamin Conahan ran in for a TD to extend Spotswood’s lead to 28-0 with 1:58 left in the half. Smith intercepted Jay in the final minute of the half, but the clocked expired before the Blazers could add any more points.

With a mixture of passes and runs, the Wildcats put together a solid drive to start the second half, but Jay was intercepted by Myers, who ran the ball back to the Spotswood 48. A couple of plays later, Barnhart bolted past defenders for a 43-yard TD to extend the Blazers’ lead to 35-0 with 7:44. The large lead meant that the teams played with a running clock for the rest of the game.

On the Wildcats’ next drive, a series of passes and runs got RC to the Spotswood

18. On a fourth-and-2 play, Spotswood tackled McClung for a 2-yard loss and got the ball back. Before the Wildcats had time to think, Barnhart powered threw defenders and sprinted away for an 80-yard TD to stretch

Spotswood’s lead to 42-0 with 10:16 left in the game.

With Barnhart resting after that point, neither team threatened to score for the rest of the game.

Several of the Wildcats stepped up defensively, with Shafer and Anthony Marando sacking High. Marando and his brother Nic made tackles for RC, as did Noah Lawhorne and Matt Nicely.

The Blazers, who have 19 seniors, advanced to the regional championship and will play at top seed Heritage (11-1) this Friday at 7 p.m. Spotswood advanced past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in program history. The Blazers went 5-0 in Valley District action this season, while RC finished second with a 4-1 record.

The loss was somewhat familiar for Poston and many of the Wildcats, as RC had traveled to Spotswood two years ago, with the Blazers winning 42-35 in the Region 3C quarterfinals.

“We’ll learn from it, as we do,” said Poston, completing his fourth season of coaching the Wildcats. “We’ve been knocked to the mat three or four times here. We’ll go back to work, we’ll get better, and we’ll move on, and there will come a time when we are celebrating on this field. I don’t know when it is, but I know it’s going to happen because I believe in our kids.”

It was a strong season for the Wildcats, who matched their school record for wins in a season and earned their first playoff win in seven years – a 24-14 home win over Brookville in the regional quarterfinals on Nov. 15. The Wildcats also went 4-1 in nondistrict action and had crucial wins late in the season over district rivals Harrisonburg and Turner Ashby to secure themselves a high seed and a home playoff game. “That’s a lot of positive stuff to build on,” Poston said.

Although Jay had an off night last Friday, he had a productive season in his first year as a starter, passing for 2,530 yards and 22 TDs. Lynch finished the year with 1,237 receiving yards and 13 TDs. On the ground this season, Shafer rushed for 779 yards and 14 TDs, and McClung rushed for 624 yards and scored 12 TDs.

Evaluating the season, Poston said, “It’s been a great year. It’s a learning year. We’re young in a lot of positions. We’ve got a lot of people coming back, and excitement’s high. The biggest thing that we’re going to do in the offseason is ask, what did we learn? Not just for tonight but for all season. We’re going to self-examine.”

The Wildcats will miss their 11 seniors: Lynch, Shafer, Lawhorne, Nicely, Treyce McCormick, John Fortescue, Anthony Marando, Austin Doyle, Bryce Donald, Dillon Higgins and Cody Sensabaugh.

Proud of his seniors, who were freshmen when he started coaching the Wildcats, Poston said, “We inherited a 3-27 football team, 3-37 after our first year. We’re getting it squared away. Since that time, we’ve won 21 football games and have made three straight playoff appearances. The hurt tonight will be temporary. … Our seniors will go on and do tremendous things. Several of them will go on to play on Saturdays, and the ones that choose not to will have success in whatever field [or] endeavor [they pursue].”

RC 0 0 0 0 0

SHS 21 7 7 7 42

First Quarter SHS – Smith 70 pass from High (Martinez kick)

SHS – Barnhart 9 run (Martinez kick)

SHS – Shonk 40 pass from High (Martinez kick)

Second Quarter SHS – Conahan 1 run (Martinez kick)

Third Quarter SHS – Barnhart 43 run Martinez kick)

Fourth Quarter SHS – Barnhart 80 run (Martinez kick)

RC SHS First downs

11 6 Rushes-yards

25-79 24-218 Passing yards

160 146 Comp-Att-Int

17-29-5 5-10-0 Fumbles-lost

0-0 0-0

Penalties-yards 1-15 1-10

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS RUSHING – RC, Shafer 9-47, McClung 11-29, Jay 5-3. SHS, Barnhart 11-191, Conahan 4-23, Holsapple 5-10, Myers 2-4, High 2-(-10).

PASSING – RC, Jay 17-29-5 160. SHS, 5-10-0 146.

RECEIVING – RC, Mayr 7-63, Lynch 5-34, McClung 1-34, Looney 2-17, Cook 2-12. SHS, Smith 3-88, Shonk 2-58.

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