A week ago, Bruton High quarterback Elliott Rice awoke in the morning to find himself featured in the local newspaper as the Bay Rivers District Mid-Season Most Valuable Player. With 280 yards rushing for 11 touchdowns, and another 458 yards and three touchdowns passing, Rice was clearly a huge key to the Panthers' four consecutive wins to open the 2010 season.
The evening would not be so kind. Rice was knocked out of the game against Grafton on the third play with a sprained ankle, and watched thereafter from the bench.
Minus Rice's steady hand, the Panthers turned the ball over six times and lost 14-9. The Panthers had entered the game without two two-way starters because of injury.
"We don't have depth like they do in other places," said Tracy Harrod, head coach of Bruton, the district's smallest school. "When we lose a guy, he's usually going both ways and we lose him on three or four special teams as well."
Bruton, which is also without two-way lineman Dominique James ( broken leg) and team captain Scott Frazier (injured shoulder), is not the only team beset by key injuries. Injuries are epidemic in the Bay Rivers this season, and are claiming some of the district's biggest names.
Start with Tabb linebacker Ian Haislip. Labeled the district's best returning defensive player in the preseason, Haislip missed the Tigers' game against Smithfield with a knee ligament sprain. The Packers rolled to 313 yards rushing and won 46-10.
"They ran the ball on us quite a bit," said Tabb coach Matt Lawson, who has gotten Haislip back but is minus injured standouts Cody Norris and Sam Barber. "I'm not saying we'd have won that game with Ian, but we'd have probably given up fewer points and yards."
Jamestown has been hit perhaps the hardest by injury among district teams. A defense that graduated nine starters in 2009 has lost starting linebackers Sam Kitson and Alex Peck for the season to injuries.
Peck, considered the Eagles' best player, was also leading the leading rusher. Starting quarterback Alex Hunter missed almost two full games with a mild concussion, but is expected back for tonight's Bruton game, while John Paul Ewan and Johnny Yang, two of the Eagles best linemen, have missed games with injuries.
"Now I know how Kevin Montini felt last year," Jamestown coach Ryan Turnage said of the former Grafton coach, whose team started 4-1 in 2009, but lost its final five games after sustaining a rash of injuries. "We're playing a lot of sophomores now, and it's going to help us the next two years.
"That's not as good for the next five weeks."
Several of Lafayette's best players are playing through pain.
Leading rusher Will Capers separated his shoulder in August and re-aggravated the injury recently, but still has rushed for 501 yards. Peter Hurst is starting, and playing well, on both sides of the Lafayette lines despite a painful shoulder injury.
Thomas Smith, the Rams' 6-foot-3, 221-pound college prospect, has played most of the regular season with a cast on his hand, making it difficult for him to operate at his usual position of wide receiver. So the Rams have moved him to wingback, and he's run for 135 yards and three touchdowns the past two games.
"When we had 115 guys in the program, we didn't worry as much about injuries," Lafayette offensive coordinator Andy Linn said. "Now if you get one injury, you go, `Holy Moly!' "
Smithfield has lost two starting linemen for the season to injury. Poquoson, by contrast, has not suffered a major injury to a star, is unbeaten in district play and should ride a wave of momentum into its Oct. 22 showdown with Bruton.
Bruton hopes Rice will be back by then, but is prepared to play with the hand it's dealt.
"We're not just sitting up here licking our wounds," Harrod said. "We're rallying the troops and are looking to play better this week.
"We hope to get people healthy down the road and contend for the district championship."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun