Knights' Tough Schedule Breeds A Tough Team
By Ryan Lazo
Sep 20, 2013, 10:05
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
CHESTER — When Thomas Dale’s head football coach Kevin Tucker looked at the 2013 schedule a few months ago, he had to let out a laugh. No, he wasn’t laughing about the schedule being filled with easy games, but just the opposite.
The Knights’ schedule, especially the first three contests, could easily be mistaken as the 1927 New York Yankees and their murderer’s row assortment of hitters. Heck, Thomas Dale might as well be playing the Washington Redskins because of how difficult it looked.
Yet, these Knights did not wilt under the pressure. While a 1-2 record is not the start of a dream season, it is highly respectable due to the quality of the opponents faced. In fact, the formidable threesome of Cosby, L.C. Bird and Varina combined to go 63-11 since the 2011 season. It’s a fact not overlooked by Tucker.
“Our schedule the first part of the year, it was brutal,” Tucker admitted.
But most importantly, each one of those games told a story about Thomas Dale and the way the team will react in future situations. Start with the Cosby match-up.
The Knights jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead, playing flawlessly in the process. The defense was stout and the offense could not be stopped because of the domination in the trenches. Then, Cosby struck back and pulled to within a touchdown, putting pressure on a young defense.
And they prevailed, leaving the Knights with a lesson they can fall back on for the rest of the season.
“I thought we really dug down in that fourth quarter and got the defense to hold it down,” senior C.J. Reavis said. “It gave us a good test to see if we have the ability to hold it down when we need to and it will serve us well.”
Then, this Thomas Dale squad marched into Bird’s home field in The Battle of Chester. The Knights were a combined 5-15 against Bird since the 1999 season, but that did not matter once they took the field.
The gutty Knights managed to keep themselves in the game and seemed to be right back in the mix of the things after a safety was called. Then, it was reversed. A backbreaker for a team which continued to suffer injuries throughout the game.
“We lost our quarterback at halftime and it was still 14-6, still in the game,” Tucker said of the match-up with the defending state champions. “They overturned the safety and it was all downhill after that. It was kind of good in an eye-opener way that we had to play good for four quarters.”
It’s a lesson many teams learn over the course of the season. However, not many of the teams are able to take the lesson and turn it into results right away like the Knights did against Varina.
Thomas Dale watched, almost in awe, as Varina scored 14 points within two minutes of the game’s start. But reaching back into the past week, the Knights’ players knew the game was not over yet.
They started to play Thomas Dale football — physical in the trenches with a powerful running attack. And by sticking to the game-plan, the Knights were able to stay in the game.
“Like I said, we were able to stick with them for awhile,” Tucker said of Varina. “We had them at 17-14, but Varina’s a good football team. That’s why they play for regional championships every year and they came back with four minutes to go and put two touchdowns on the board.”
And it’s a stretch such as this where big-time players step up and show what they can truly bring to the team.
Dealing with an outbreak of injuries, Tucker did not have enough cornerbacks for the game against Varina. He didn’t have to go far to find someone to jump in. Reavis, normally a safety, abandoned his normal position for the good of
Not surprisingly, Reavis did well — picking off a pass and returning it for a touchdown. But the Virginia Tech commit also learned a lesson himself, perhaps helping him turn into a better player over the last seven games.
“I took a gamble earlier in the game and it paid off,” Reavis said of playing cornerback. “I took another gamble later and it didn’t work out, so I just learned to keep my fundamentals, especially when it’s late in the game and I’m a little tired.”
The same can be said of a team which fought and battled through three difficult games while winning one of them. It showed Tucker the mentality of the football team he leads.
“We learned a lot about their character and that’s one of the things we were happy with,” Tucker said. “At Cosby, they didn’t quit. At Bird, they lost a bit of their competitive edge, but it was nice to see them shake off the big loss and play Varina competitively.”
The Knights’ have already improved from their victory over Cosby to their loss
against Varina, showing themselves and their coach what they are capable of.