Football Notebook: Prince George, Hopewell Enjoy Fast Starts
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Sep 13, 2012, 12:08
Reagan Davis (35) follows blocker Eric Finney (8) on a kick return for Thomas Dale on Friday. L.C. Bird scored in the final minute to defeat Thomas Dale in Chester (photo by David Breidenbach).
The Hopewell High School football team did on Friday what it struggled mightily to do last year – protect a lead.
Cosby quarterback Aaron Birnbaum engineered a 65-yard touchdown drive that pulled the Titans to within two points with 32 seconds remaining, but Hopewell senior Reggie Butler broke up a two-point conversion attempt to seal the 21-19 win.
In doing so, the 5-9, 182-pound defensive back reversed a troubling trend. The Blue Devils lost seven games in 2011, five of which they led at some point.
“We talked about it all year,” said Hopewell coach Ricky Irby. “We talked about it at halftime. We said, ‘We have the lead, now let’s finish.’”
The victory put an end to Hopewell’s five-game losing streak against Cosby and gave the Blue Devils their first season-opening win since 2004.
By virtue of its 14-7 comeback win over Clover Hill, Prince George also finds itself at 1-0 for the first time since 2007.
The Royals trailed 7-0 after the first quarter but scored two touchdowns, forced three fumbles and quelled a late drive from the Cavaliers to preserve the result.
“We just told our kids to try to go 1-0 every week,” said Prince George coach Bruce Carroll. “It’s certainly nice to get the win. Clover Hill is a well-coached football program and it’s a feather in our team’s cap. That is something that they can grow from.”
All four area football teams – Hopewell, Prince George, Thomas Dale and Colonial Heights – started their new campaigns with fresh faces under center.
Hopewell senior Octavious Taylor completed three passes for 88 yards and a touchdown in a winning effort over Cosby. He also rushed for 55 yards, but the six-foot, 172-pound signal caller’s largest contributions came on special teams.
Sprung by a block from Moses Tolbert, Taylor returned a first-quarter kickoff to the Titans’ 21-yard line and blocked a field goal in the fourth quarter before scooping up the ball and returning it for a timely score.
“I’m telling you, he’s an athlete,” Irby said. “He really made the play of the game when he blocked the field goal.”
Prince George quarterback Kameron Smith also won in his debut against Clover Hill. The junior completed six of 13 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown as the home-standing Royals rallied. The bulk of his yardage came on a 49-yard, game-tying touchdown toss to senior Bailey Williams with 10:31 remaining in the second quarter.
Carroll said he thought Smith managed the game well after fumbling in the first quarter.
“He made the routine plays and did some things that maybe weren’t quite so routine,” Carroll said. “But he managed the offense, and for a young man making his first varsity start, I thought he handled it quite well.”
Thomas Dale senior John Ford, who transferred to the Chester school from Prince George last year, and Colonial Heights sophomore Brian Gwaltney lost in their first games, but both threw a touchdown pass.
Ford hit senior running back D.J. Reid – a Division I prospect sought by Virginia Tech and South Florida, among others – on a post route for a 47-yard touchdown that accounted for Thomas Dale’s only points in a 14-7 loss to cross-town rival L.C. Bird.
Gwaltney connected with senior Robert Dubberly for a 43-yard score that cut Thomas Jefferson’s lead to 10-6 on Aug. 31. The visiting Vikings went on to win 24-6, snapping a 41-game losing streak.
Fielding a new-look offense that scored early and often throughout the preseason, Irby was not surprised that his team scored first on Friday.
What surprised him was the manner in which the squad posted its first points of 2012.
After a defensive stand forced the Titans to punt from their own end zone, the Blue Devils took a 2-0 lead when the fourth-down snap sailed over the punter’s head for a safety.
“I think the safety helped us,” Irby said. “Because it gave us the lead and some momentum.”
Despite holding a sizable advantage in time of possession and running 24 more offensive plays, Clover Hill gained three fewer yards than Prince George on Friday (186-183).
Much of the credit for limiting the Cavaliers’ triple option offense belongs to the Royals’ linebacker tandem of Kyle Poweroznik and Caleb Johnson.
Poweroznik, a junior, had a hand in 15 tackles: eight solo efforts and seven assisted. A First Team All Central District selection last year, Johnson followed suit with 10 tackles – five unassisted, five assisted – and a sack.
“Once our kids got used to [the triple option], we kind of bounced back,” Carroll said.