Colonels Edge ‘Cats 28-26

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Missed Two-Point Conversions Prove Costly

The Rockbridge County High School football team’s fourth-quarter comeback attempt came up short, as the Wildcats dropped their home opener to William Fleming 28-26 on Friday night in Lexington.

The Wildcats (1-1), who are a Class 3 school, led 20-14 at halftime against the larger Class 5 school, thanks to two touchdown runs by Gage Shafer and a 19-yard TD pass from Miller Jay to Jailik Lynch with just over a minute left in the first half. The Colonels (2-0) answered back in the third quarter with two TDs scored by Deaquan Nichols, one on a 1-yard run and the other on a 20-yard pass from Dashawn Lewis, putting the visitors up 28-20.

RC’s final TD came on a 5-yard TD run by Bret McClung with 3:12 left in the game. Mc-Clung then attempted a two-point conversion run but was stopped by the Colonels, who had also stopped a two-point conversion run in the second quarter. Fleming then ran the ball and milked the clock for the remainder of the contest.

“The people that were here, they saw a great high school football game tonight,” said RC head coach Mark Poston. “You’re upset with losing, but I’m not really that upset.” He noted that Fleming, ranked 10th in Timesland this week, had beaten another Class 5 school, Harrisonburg, 52-25 in its season opener. “Our kids came out and just played their tails off, and I couldn’t be prouder.”

The two-point conversion run attempt in the second quarter came after WF was called for a penalty on the initial PAT play. On the two-point attempt, Jay fumbled on a running play, leaving the Wildcats with a 13-7 lead about two-and-a-half minutes into the quarter. Taking responsibility for the decision to attempt a 2-point conversion, Poston said, “I tried to snakeye on them and sneak an inch or two in there and try to get up eight, and we had it. It was there, and we just slipped on it.”

The game started well for the Wildcats, who scored on their first drive. After Jay made a series of passes and the Colonels were called for a facemask penalty, Shafer ran in for a 7-yard TD. McClung then kicked in the extra point to put RC up 7-0 with 8:08 left in the quarter. McClung was stepping in for Daniel Cunningham, who was sidelined for the game.

It was a strong night overall for McClung, who led RC with 63 rushing yards on seven carries, including one carry in the second half when his shoe fell off, and was 2-of-2 on PAT kicks.

The Colonels responded quickly, as quarterback Deaquan Nichols completed a series of passes before making a 4-yard TD run, and TeiTu Lian’s extra point kick made it 7-7 with 4:27 left in the first quarter. Lian made all four of his PAT attempts. For the game, Nichols completed 10-of-15 passes for 106 yards, and ran for two TDs

and caught one TD pass in the third quarter from Dashawn Lewis, who played quarterback at times and completed 5-of-7 passes for 50 yards.

The Wildcats took the lead again in the second quarter when Gage Shafer broke free of the defense and sprinted into the end zone for a 26-yard TD, but the failed two-point conversion run kept the score at 13-7 with 9:32 left in the first half.

WF relied mostly on its running game on the next drive, and Sae’quan “Deuce” Bannister capped off the possession with an 18-yard TD run. Lian’s PAT put the visitors up 14-13 with 7:42 left in the half. Bannister led the Colonels with 71 rushing yards on six carries.

The Wildcats got into Colonel territory on their next drive, but Jay was intercepted at the WF 10-yard line. The Colonels couldn’t celebrate for long, as they fumbled several plays later, and McClung recovered the ball at the WF 21. The Wildcats fumbled on the next play, with WF recovering the ball, but WF then fumbled after a reception.

Commenting on the turnovers, Poston said, “It’s been my experience, when two high school teams are getting after each other, sometimes it happens like that. A guy makes a great tackle, ball pops out, and the other side gets it.”

After the Colonels’ fumble, the Wildcats took better care of the ball, and Jay found Lynch for a 19-yard TD pass, with McClung’s PAT putting RC up 20-14 with 1:09 left in the half.

For the game, Jay completed 21-of-33 passes with three interceptions for 241 yards.

“I thought Miller did fantastic,” Poston said. “With the game plan that we had to establish tonight, we were going to go with five wide receivers. For him to do what he did, with the pressure that we had to put on him, was fantastic.”

Lynch led RC’s receivers with six catches for 86 yards, Luke Mayr caught four passes for 35 yards, and Elijah Poindexter made two catches for 25 yards.

It was the first game for the Wildcats since quarterback Ty Ruley transferred to Parry McCluer earlier in the week. A week earlier, Ruley rushed for 110 yards and three touchdowns in the second half of the 62-0 win over Parry McCluer. Last year as the starter, he threw for 2,811 yards and 27 TDs

In the second half, the Colonels had a strong first drive, mixing passes with runs before Nichols ran in for a 1-yard TD, and a PAT by Lian gave WF a 21-20 lead with 6:28 left in the third quarter.

The Colonels sacked Jay on the Wildcats’ next drive and RC turned the ball over on downs, setting up WF’s next TD drive, which ended in a 20-yard pass from Lewis to Nichols. Lian’s PAT extended the Colonels’ lead to 28-20 with 37.3 seconds left in the third quarter.

Jay was intercepted on the Wildcats’ next drive, but the Wildcats stepped up on defense and put themselves in good position when Luke Mayr blocked a WF punt. The Wildcats made it to the WF 10 before an incomplete pass on fourth-and-5.

Strong defense, including a tackle made by Anthony Marando, got the Wildcats the ball back in Colonel territory, leading to the game’s final TD by McClung with 3:12 left.

“I want to give a shout-out to our offensive line because we locked it up and went jumbo the last drive of the game,” said Poston.

“Tonight’s score will open up a lot of eyes because a lot of people didn’t know how good we can be,” the coach continued. “In all honesty, I think we can be very good if we can stay healthy, and that’s going to tell the tale with us. If we can stay healthy, we have the opportunity to be pretty good.”

The Wildcats were hurt by several injuries, as both lineman Austin Doyle and wide receiver Turner Cook, who had caught a TD pass against Parry McCluer a week earlier, were sidelined most of the game. Wide receiver Elijah Rogers was also out with an injury.

The Wildcats will continue nondistrict action this Friday at Alleghany (1-1) at 7 p.m.

Looking ahead to the matchup with the Mountaineers, who are coming off a 54-14 win over Bath County, Poston said, “That’s always tough. Coach [Gary] Burdette will have those kids ready to play. …That’s a hard place to play, and we’ll get their best shot.”

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