FG Lifts ‘Cats, 31-28

FG Lifts ‘Cats, 31-28

RC JUNIOR kicker Daniel Cunningham (second from left) and teammates Elijah Poindexter (3) and Cody Sensabaugh (70) watch as Cunningham’s last-second 20-yard field goal goes into the air. The field goal clinched the win for the Wildcats. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

FG Lifts ‘Cats, 31-28

WILDCAT SENIOR defensive lineman Noah Lawhorne tackles Turner Ashby’s Grant Swinehart, who led all players with 140 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. Lawhorne made several tackles in the game. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

FG Lifts ‘Cats, 31-28

RC SOPHOMORE defensive Isaiah Poindexter makes an interception in the third quarter while teammate Luke Mayr (10) watches. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

FG Lifts ‘Cats, 31-28

WILDCAT SOPHOMORE quarterback Miller Jay looks for a teammate to pass to. Jay completed 15-of-22 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

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Cunningham Boots Game Winner As Time Expires

Junior kicker Daniel Cunningham kicked a 20-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Rockbridge County High School football team to a 31-28 win over Valley District rival Turner Ashby in the regular-season finale on Friday night in Lexington.

With their fourth consecutive win coming in freezing temperatures, the Wildcats (8-2 overall, 4-1 district) claimed sole possession of second place in the final district standings, trailing only unbeaten Spotswood (10-0, 5-0).

Praising Cunningham for stepping up under pressure after his teammates got the ball down the field quickly for him, RC head coach Mark Poston said, “We always tell him, you never know when your number’s going to be called. Keep kicking every day, and keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Your teammates are going to need you, and tonight was the night his teammates needed him, and Danny split it, and it looked good.”

The Wildcats had led 28-21 before TA recovered its third fumble of the game, setting up a C.J. Haskins 39-yard TD pass completion to tie the score at 28-28 with 1:35 left. RC sophomore quarterback Miller Jay completed several quick passes to get the Wildcats down the field, with Jailik Lynch and Luke Mayr making the catches, and a 7-yard run by Bret McClung got RC to the TA 7-yard line. A couple of penalties got the Wildcats even closer, and Cunningham came through in the clutch.

Reflecting on his heroic moment, Cunningham said, “When your team puts you in that position, you can’t get any closer than that. We went the length of the field. My team put me exactly where we needed to be. I haven’t had the best year, but [Coach Poston] had the most faith in me, and I kept my composure.”

Addressing his nerves prior to making the field goal, Cunningham said, “My heart was racing, but great feeling, great team win.”

The Wildcats’ record secured them the third seed and a home game in the Region 3C quarterfinals, where they will play host to sixth-seeded Brookville (4-6) this Friday at 7 p.m. Admission is $8. This will be the Wildcats’ first home playoff game since 2012, when they defeated Liberty (Bedford) 52-40 in the regional semifinals before falling at Brookville 28-24 in the regional finals. Brookville would go on to win the state championship that year. A ninth win would tie RC’s record for most wins in a season.

Before last Friday’s game, the Wildcats honored their 11 seniors: Lynch, Treyce Mc-Cormick, Gage Shafer, John Fortescue, Anthony Marando, Austin Doyle, Matt Nicely, Bryce Donald, Noah Lawhorne, Dillon Higgins and Cody Sensabaugh.

Poston, whose first season as the Wildcats’ head coach was the seniors’ freshman year, reflected after the game on what those seniors have accomplished. Three years ago, the Wildcats went 0-10. Since then, they have made the playoffs three consecutive years, with winning records all three seasons. “Those guys hung around when it wasn’t cool to be a Wildcat,” Poston said. “They’ve won 20 games in the last three years. A lot of progress. We’re filling the stands, and it’s cool to be a Wildcat.”

The Wildcats took a 7-0 lead just over a minute into the game, after Jay passed to Turner Cook, who sprinted away from defenders for a 67-yard TD, followed by a Cunningham extra point. The junior kicker converted all four of his extra point attempts. Two plays later, Grant Swinehart, the star running back for the Knights, made a 70-yard run and a 2-yard TD run, and a PAT by Spirollari tied the game at 7-7. Swinehart led all players in rushing with 140 yards and three TDs on 19 carries, and the Knights amassed 232 rushing yards while holding RC to 166. Gage Shafer led the Wildcats with 76 rushing yards on 10 carries.

RC went up 14-7 early in the second quarter when Jay completed an 11-yard TD pass to Lynch, the first of two TD catches by Lynch. On the night, Jay completed 15-of-22 passes for 260 yards, and Lynch made six catches for 95 yards.

A 2-yard TD run by Swinehart, followed by a Spirollari PAT, tied the game at 14-14 with 5:21 left in the first half.

After RC’s Isaiah Poindexter intercepted TA quarterback Haskins, the Wildcats took the lead again when Jay made a 51-yard TD pass to Lynch with 3:27 left in the third quarter. Poindexter had an interception in the Wildcats’ previous game to seal a 34-29 win over Harrisonburg. The Wildcats stretched their advantage to 28-14 when Elijah Poindexter made a 61-yard TD run with 10:14 left in the game.

TA wasn’t done battling, though, as Swine-hart had a 1-yard TD run with 4:59 left in the game to cut RC’s lead to 28-21. The Knights then recovered a Wildcat fumble, and Haskins found Peake in the end zone to tie the game.

From then on, Jay and his receivers, along with McClung’s run, set up Cunningham’s winning field goal.

Going over the last few minutes of the game, relieved that his team overcame a late fumble, Poston said, “We will find a way to lose and win a game four times in a half, and I told our guys on the sideline on [the Knights’] last touchdown, I said, ‘They scored too fast. They left too much time on the clock.’”

“I think, if we cut the turnovers, we’ll be just fine,” Poston added.

“It’s not like we’re trying to do it,” the coach continued, referring to the three lost fumbles. “Guys are playing their tail ends off. The kids are giving us everything they’ve got. We’re just so fortunate to have the kids that we do.”

Stepping up defensively with some big tackles for the Wildcats were Lawhorne, David Allio, Bret McClung Nicely, who recovered a TA fumble early in the second half.

Praising his defense, Poston said, “Our guys did a fantastic job because that’s a good football team over there, a hard-hitting football team. … The Swinehart kid’s the real deal.”

Poston said he and his assistant coaches and players are blessed to be continuing on to the playoffs. “The biggest tribute that you can have as a coach from your players is when they tell you during the week that they don’t want it to be over, and they can’t believe how quick the season is,” he said. “And our guys say that every day. They come in our office. They come in the equipment room. I’m telling you, we’re very fortunate to have the kids that we have at Rockbridge and just blessed. It’s easy to coach those types of kids because they are good kids.”

Looking ahead to the playoffs, Poston said the Wildcats will look to fix their mistakes, especially turnovers. “We simply cannot turn the ball over and expect to advance in the playoffs,” he said. “We’ll work on it this week. I hope we get good weather so we can have a week of practice outside. … We’ll enjoy tonight, and tomorrow we’ll go back to work. We’ve got a good thing going here. The kids are playing their tails off.”

TA 7 7 0 14 28

RC 7 7 7 10 31

First Quarter

RC – Cook 67 pass from Jay (Cunningham kick)

TA – Swinehart 3 run (Spirollari kick)

Second Quarter

RC – Lynch 11 pass from Jay (Cunningham kick)

TA – Swinehart 2 run (Spirollari kick)

Third Quarter

RC – Lynch 51 pass from Jay (Cunningham kick)

Fourth Quarter

RC – Poindexter 61 run (Cunningham kick)

TA – Swinehart 1 run (Spirollari kick)

TA – Peake 39 pass from Haskins (Spirollari kick)

RC – Cunningham 20-yard FG

TA RC First downs 16 10 Rushes-yards 35-232 23-166 Passing yards 190 260 Comp-Att-Int 12-21-1 15-22-0 Fumbles-lost 2-1 4-3 Penalties-yards 11-80 4-21

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING – TA, Swinehart 19-140, Haskins 12-81, Peake 2-11, Quintanilla 2-0. RC, Shafer 10-76, E. Poindexter 3-61, McClung 6-18, Jay 3-13, Team 1-(-2).

PASSING – TA, Haskins 12-21-1 190. RC, Jay 15-22-0 260.

RECEIVING – TA, Peake 5-86, Valle 1-37, Quintanilla 1-18, Onestak 2-17, Swinehart 2-14, Eppard 1-14, Simmons 1-7. RC, Lynch 6-95, Cook 2-79, Mayr 3-56, Looney 2-20, I. Poindexter 1-3, Shafer 1-(-1).

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