Wildcats Hold On, 34-29

Wildcats Hold On, 34-29

RC RUNNING back Gage Shafer tries to break free of a tackle as teammate Bryce Donald falls to the ground. Shafer led all players with 138 rushing yards and ran for two touchdowns. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

Wildcats Hold On, 34-29

WILDCAT JAILIK Lynch (1) leaps to make an interception, beating Harrisonburg’s Malachi Davis (3) to the ball. RC made three interceptions in the game. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

Wildcats Hold On, 34-29

THE WILDCATS attempt to score as the Blue Streaks try to hold them back in Saturday’s thriller on Zane Showker Field at James Madison University’s Bridgeforth Stadium. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

Wildcats Hold On, 34-29

RC HEAD coach Mark Poston (blue shirt) embraces assistant coach Heath Glass, who is in charge of the Wildcats’ offensive line, after the victory. (Stephanie Mikels Blevins photo)

Wildcats Hold On, 34-29
Wildcats Hold On, 34-29

The Rockbridge County High School football team battled to a 34-29 win over Valley District rival Harrisonburg on Zane Showker Field in James Madison University’s Bridge-forth Stadium on Saturday afternoon in Harrisonburg. This was the Wildcats’ third consecutive win, and it clinched a home playoff game for RC.

Playing on the turf field in the second game of the Shenandoah Valley Football Classic, with plenty of fan support on hand, the Wildcats (7-2 overall, 3-1 district) were leading 34-22 late in the fourth quarter. The Blue Streaks (5-4, 3-1) did not fold, as Tyrell Foster made a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:52 left. Harrisonburg then recovered a Wildcat fumble, but RC got the ball back when Isaiah Poindexter intercepted Glago at the Harrisonburg 41-yard line. After a couple of runs, the Wildcats took a knee to end the game.

Breathing a sigh of relief after the game, RC head coach Mark Poston said, “We don’t make it easy.”

RC jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the first half. Bret Mc-Clung scored RC’s first two touchdowns, on a 1-yard run midway through in the first quarter before catching a pass from quarterback Miller Jay and maneuvering around defenders for a 46-yard TD about four minutes into the second quarter. After the first touchdown, the Blue Streaks got the ball to the RC 2-yard line, but they were pushed back by the RC defense and did not score. That was one of several defensive stops that made a difference in the game.

The Wildcats stepped up to stop running back Kwentin Smiley from taking charge, as he has for much of this season. They held Smiley to 19 rushing yards on 10 carries.

“Defense played great,” Poston said. “Defense bailed us out all day long.” Poston noted that Harrisonburg kicker Mateo Peric gave the Wildcats long fields the whole game. “We were coming in backed up on offense all day,” he said.

Harrisonburg cut the lead to 13-2 when Trevon Whetzel scored a safety by tackling Mc-Clung following a snap into the end zone. On the ensuing drive, Harisonburg’s Keenan Glago completed a 14-yard TD pass to Malachi Davis.

RC answered back when Gage Shafer made a 16-yard TD run, and Daniel Cunningham’s extra point kick extended RC’s lead to 20-8 with 1:17 left in the first half. Shafer led all players with 138 yards on 23 carries, rushing for two TDs.

Addressing his team’s dominant running game, racking up 152 rushing yards while holding the Blue Streaks to 58,

Poston said, “We wanted to see how tough Harrisonburg was and go after them a little bit.”

Shafer made a 2-yard TD run late with 4:17 left in the third quarter, and a Cunningham PAT extended RC’s lead to 27-8. Harrisonburg scored again when Jose Ayala-Castro intercepted Jay and returned the ball 85 yards for a TD, and a PAT by Peric cut RC’s lead to 27-16 with 2:39 left in the period.

The Blue Streaks then stole the ball after a long pass from Jay to Turner Cook, Glago made a 20-yard TD pass to Davis, and Peric’s PAT cut RC’s lead to 27-22.

RC scored its final TD four seconds into the fourth quarter when Lynch caught a 28-yard pass from Jay, and Cunningham’s PAT extended the Wildcats’ lead to 34-22. For the game, Jay completed 15-of-21 passes with one interception for 254 yards and two TDs. “Miller did a fantastic job,” Poston said.

Lynch was Jay’s most effective target, making seven catches for 116 yards and a TD, and Cook caught three passes for 59 yards.

The Wildcat defense did a good job containing Glago, who completed 6-of-21 passes for 128 yards and two TDs but was intercepted three times.

In addition to Poindexter, Lynch and David Allio each made an interception, and Allio made several big tackles and sacked Glago. Both McClung and Shafer contributed to the defense by contributing a lot of tackles.

“We were cruising, man, and then things kind of went south,” recalled Poston of the tense moments down the stretch. “We had another couple controversial play calls against us.”

Poston stressed that the Wildcats need to prevent turnovers. They had two turnovers in the second half, affecting the momentum of the game. Penalties were also a problem, with the Wildcats racking up 85 penalty yards on nine penalties, while Harrisonburg had 45 penalty yards on four penalties.

The Wildcats will conclude the regular season when they play host to Valley District rival Turner Ashby (6-3 , 2-2) this Friday at 7 p.m. Before the game, the Wildcats will honor their 11 seniors.

The game will have playoff implications, as RC and TA are battling for playoff seeding. Looking ahead to the matchup with the Knights, who had close losses to district leader Spotswood and Harrisonburg but cruised in their two district wins, Poston said, “It’s going to be another war.”

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