Taylor, Hopewell Topple Thomas Dale
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Oct 8, 2012, 12:51
Thomas Dale running back D.J. Reid (7) is dragged down by a host of Hopewell defenders, including Tyler Smith (55), Shyheim Simpson (21) and Mike Hampton (34) (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
CHESTER – Hundreds of spectators watched with bated breath as Hopewell wide receiver Tabyus Taylor and a Thomas Dale defensive back leaped side-by-side in the end zone for a lofted pass in the waning seconds of a Central District football game on Friday.
But one onlooker watched with unwavering confidence.
Hopewell coach Ricky Irby said there was no question in his mind that Taylor would haul in the jump ball to give the visiting Blue Devils a 14-7, come-from-behind victory over the Knights.
“When it was in the air, there was never a doubt about whether he was going to catch it,” Irby said. “I saw that it was a good ball and that he had separation on the corner. I knew he was going to go up and get it.”
Taylor did just that, and the Blue Devils secured their first district win of the season. Hopewell’s triumph in the Route 10 rivalry, its second in a seven-year span, came in spite of a 143-yard rushing performance from Thomas Dale senior D.J. Reid.
The Blue Devils scored both of their touchdowns in the final nine minutes. What’s more, the late-game surge came one week after the team conceded 28 fourth-quarter points in a loss to Meadowbrook.
“I think it was important for our morale to be able to finish,” Irby said. “We knew we could play with them. We feel like we can play with anybody.”
While the Hopewell offense was explosive down the stretch, the Blue Devils would not have been in contention without a stellar showing from a redemptive defensive unit.
Senior Reggie Butler came up with two second-quarter interceptions in the end zone to keep the Knights off the scoreboard.
“I was just doing what my coach taught me to,” Butler said. “I try to read the quarterback’s eyes. If they get big, the ball is coming.”
Irby deferred the credit to the 5-9, 182-pound cornerback, who he touted as “one of the best players in the region.”
“I think he has five picks already this year in five games,” Irby said. “He has a sense of football awareness that not many kids have.”
The Thomas Dale defense was equally as stubborn and the first half yielded five turnovers but no points. The offensive production picked up in the second half, but the scoreless deadlock persisted into the fourth quarter.
The Knights struck first with 11:09 remaining in the game. Reid, who recently committed to play at Virginia Tech next year, capped a 10-play, 6:05 drive with a nine-yard touchdown run that made the score 7-0.
Hopewell responded on the ensuing possession. Senior quarterback Octavious Taylor – Tabyus Taylor’s cousin – ran three times for 13 yards and found Butler with a screen pass that netted 16. Junior Gabe Dupree powered through a would-be tackler on the goal line to score from two yards out with 8:56 left to play.
The game-tying drive was kept alive by a pair of personal foul penalties against the Knights.
“It’s been our Achilles heel all year,” Reid said. “We’ll be rolling and a penalty will pop up.”
Thomas Dale appeared to be well-positioned to regain the lead when an unsuccessful fake punt gave the Knights first and 10 on the Blue Devils’ 39-yard line with 3:08 left to play. Much to the home fans’ chagrin, the Knights turned the ball over two plays later on a wayward pitch.
Moments later, Octavious Taylor ripped off a big gain on a quarterback keeper and found Butler for a 13-yard completion on third and seven. The fleet-footed signal caller gained a dozen more on two carries to give the Blue Devils first and 10 from just outside the 10-yard line with 10 seconds on the clock.
Irby said his confidence in Tabyus Taylor made the subsequent play-calling quandary an easy decision.
“We thought about running the ball and setting up a winning field goal,” Irby said. “But I said let’s just win it right now.”
The game-winning score was made possible by a deceptive formation. The Blue Devils took the field with three receivers to the right and Tabyus Taylor isolated on the left side, a ploy that ultimately resulted in single coverage for the 6-1, 195-pound junior.
“The safety went to the right, and that left me by myself,” Tabyus Taylor said.
Tabyus Taylor ran a fade route, prevailed in the aerial duel and corralled the ball near the back left pylon with six seconds left.
“We just finished,” Irby said. “We believed in each other and learned from our mistakes last week.”
Sophomore Marco Carrabotta and junior Raun Hall combined to tally 23 tackles for the Thomas Dale defense. Senior John Ford, who started the season at quarterback but transitioned to wide receiver after the first game, had four catches for 66 yards.
The loss ended a two-game winning streak for the Knights, who fell to 2-1 in district play (2-3 overall).
“Hopewell wanted it more than us,” said Thomas Dale coach Kevin Tucker. “That’s all there is to it.”
With the win, Hopewell improved to 1-1 in the district, 3-2 overall.
“Our kids have committed to working hard and doing the things it takes to be a good football team,” Irby said. “We’ve already exceeded the expectations of most, I think. So we’re going to keep it going.”
Hopewell 0 0 0 14 – 14
Thomas Dale 0 0 0 7 – 7
A referee signals for Hopewell's go-ahead touchdown as Tabyus Taylor (22), Reggie Butler (7) and Shyheim Simpson (21) celebrate in the background. Taylor scored with six seconds remaining to give the Blue Devils a 14-7 win (photo by Jacob Vaughan).