Hanover Dismantles Hopewell in Region Title Game
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Nov 26, 2012, 13:49
Hopewell senior Octavious Taylor (5) is swarmed by Hanover defenders during the Central Region Division 5 championship game on Friday at Merner Field in Hopewell. The visiting Hawks cruised to a 35-7 victory (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
HOPEWELL – Hopewell’s dream season is over.
Hamstrung on offense by a relentless pass rush and bludgeoned on defense by a bruising quarterback, the third-seeded squad fell to No. 4 Hanover 35-7 in the Central Region Division 5 championship game on Friday at Merner Field in Hopewell.
Hanover quarterback Sam Rogers accounted for 289 yards of total offense in the rout, 189 more than the home team’s collective total. On defense, the Hawks brought pressure early and often in an attempt to neutralize the Blue Devils’ stable of playmakers.
Hanover quarterback Sam Rogers (10) looks downfield as Hopewell’s Tre Bryant gives chase during the Central Region Division 5 championship game on Friday (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
The strategy worked to perfection.
“We couldn’t get anything going on offense all night,” said Hopewell coach Ricky Irby. “We couldn’t get in rhythm and we couldn’t run the ball effectively, and that hurt us.”
Hopewell, which set a school record for points in a playoff game with 47 in a semi-final win over Dinwiddie one week earlier, rushed 23 times for negative 26 yards and completed 10 passes for 126.
Hopewell’s offensive woes gave Hanover an early edge in field position. The visitors started four drives in Hopewell territory in the first half alone and enjoyed the lion’s share in time of possession.
“We were pumped up,” said Hanover coach Josh Just. “The guys came out ready to play. Good attitude, good preparation. We talked all week about how we wanted to make sure our preparation was at a level that would allow us to win the game.”
The final whistle brought an end to the Central Region’s storied history on the gridiron. The current playoff format, which brackets teams on the basis of geography, will give way to an enrollment-based system next year.
As a result, Hanover and Division 6 winner L.C. Bird will be remembered as the final Central Region champions. The title is the fourth in six years for the Hawks, who have reached the region finale in every year since 2007.
Hanover played with the poise of a team that had been there before on this mild November evening. Rogers gave the Hawks a lead they would never relinquish with 7:11 remaining in the first quarter. The 6-foot, 210-pound senior found the end zone from six yards out on a play-action quarterback keeper that made the score 7-0.
Senior running back Lawrence Jones doubled the Hawks’ advantage in the second quarter, capping a 50-yard drive with a three-yard shuffle.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils’ normally explosive offense was bewildered by a well-blended batch of blitzes that forced quarterbacks Reggie Butler and Octavious Taylor to scramble on nearly every dropback.
“They’re very fast,” Just said of Hopewell’s quarterback tandem. “And we didn’t want [wide receiver Tabyus Taylor] to get the ball. So we knew if we blitzed, it would give us our best shot.”
Making matters worse for Hopewell, the Blue Devils played most of the game without starting right tackle Matt Crawford, who was sidelined with a leg injury. Irby said the unpredictability of Hanover’s defensive strategy made it difficult for his team to adjust.
“We tried to come up with an answer for it and we just couldn’t,” Irby said. “They brought pressure not only from the weak side, but they were mixing it in. They were bringing an inside and outside guy each time.”
Hanover nearly pushed the gap to 21-0 in the final minute of the first half, but Hopewell senior Shyheim Simpson stymied the threat with an interception that gave the home faithful a glimmer of hope.
The newfound optimism didn’t last long.
Rogers found a streaking Josh Harris in single coverage with a 53-yard scoring strike down the left sideline on the Hawks’ first possession of the second half. With 4:03 remaining in the third quarter, Lamont Stubbs scored the first of his two touchdowns to make the score 28-0.
Stubbs scampered in untouched from 20 yards to give the Hawks their largest lead at 35-0 early in the fourth quarter, but the Blue Devils responded with their lone breakthrough of the night on the ensuing possession.
One play after Butler earned a first down by drawing the Hawks offside on fourth and two, the 5-9, 182-pound senior delivered a pinpoint pass to Octavious Taylor on the right side of the field.
Taylor hauled in the offering with an over-the-shoulder grab and picked up 49 yards before being pulled down at the three-yard line. Hopewell junior Gabe Dupree took it from there, powering his way to pay dirt on the next play to provide the final margin.
“We fought hard tonight,” Irby said. “Unfortunately, we ran into a really good football team.”
Hanover (9-3), which will play host to undefeated Stone Bridge on Friday in the Group AAA D-5 semifinals, held an 18-8 edge in first downs. Rogers finished with 138 rushing yards and completed 12 of 16 passes for 151 yards.
“I think as a football player he’s one of the best, if not the best, in the state,” Just said. “We’re lucky to have such a great player like that who is selfless. And then you throw in all the other players we have on this team that just made play after play.”
Hopewell (8-4) wrapped up a season that produced five more wins than last year’s campaign. The team’s victory over Dinwiddie on Nov. 16 was its first in the postseason since 2004.
The loss put an end to the high school careers of 20 Hopewell seniors. Among them was First-Team All-Central District linebacker Terence Terry, who said playing for the Blue Devils “made me a better man.”
“It’s been a great feeling,” Terry said. “All I know is that I’ll love my teammates until the death. We really came out on top, and even though we lost I really believe we’re still winners.”
Irby echoed that sentiment and lauded this year’s senior class as a group that exceeded expectations.
“I’m just so proud of them,” Irby said. “It almost brings tears to my eyes. That’s what my message was to them afterwards: ‘Don’t let one loss determine your season.’ We had eight wins and I think most people predicted us to win two or three.”
Hopewell senior Reggie Butler (7) tries to escape a pass rush from Hanover’s Kendall Hatten (74) during the Central Region Division 5 championship game on Friday at Merner Field in Hopewell. The visiting Hawks cruised to a 35-7 victory (photo by Jacob Vaughan).