The football teams at Lafayette and York both fell short of a Region I Division 3 championship game both optimistically felt they would be a part of. The difference in their levels of disappointment will be huge, however.
York exited with a 28-21 semifinal loss at defending champion James Monroe feeling it had left everything on the field, and that its opponent was simply a play or two better. Lafayette will look back on a stunning 19-14 upset loss to Park View of South Hill knowing it put too many unwanted things on the field: 12 penalty flags (for 106 yards) and five fumbles (three lost) to go with two interceptions.
The Rams difficulties actually began in one of the season's best moments: the 43-19 win over Poquoson two weeks ago that clinched them a share of the Bay Rivers District title. Star running back Jahlil Green suffered a high ankle sprain in that game, while quarterback Brendan McGinty broke the index finger on his throwing (right) hand.
Green would carry the ball only twice in the second half, tweaking the ankle late in the first half with 104 rushing yards and a 32-yard TD run already in the bank. McGinty, an accurate passer throughout the season, was hampered throwing the ball, going 2 for 5 passing with two interceptions.
No single factor explains the Rams' defeat to a team they beat by 36 points in last year's playoffs. The accumulation of penalties, turnovers and big plays — the Dragons scored on two 58-yard runs and set up a third score with a 54-yard pass — took their toll.
A big turning point came late in the first quarter and early in the second, after Lafayette had opened up a 14-0 lead with easy touchdown drives of 84 and 79 yards. Terrie Pettus' 58-yard score two plays after Lafayette's second touchdown cut the Rams lead to 14-7.
Then, after giving up two first downs, the Dragons forced a Lafayette punt, signaling a fight in their defense that would never waver thereafter. The defeat nothwithstanding, the Rams' future is bright and they could even open next season as district favorite.
Green (1,546 yards rushing, 19 TDs) and McGinty (791 yards passing) lead a deep group of returning skill players. The offensive line loses four starters and the defensive line three, but talented Darren Patton is among the returners and no program in the district reloads as quickly or effectively as the Rams (9-2) do in the trenches.
The Falcons rallied from 14 points behind to tie James Monroe 21-21 in the third quarter, giving themselves the chance they'd hoped for since losing 45-7 to the Yellow Jackets in last year's regional final. James Monroe responded with a touchdown drive to take the lead, then used field position advantage and its usual solid defense to hold on.
"Both teams played their butts off," York coach Doug Pereira said. "Our defense played well, but not well enough.
"They hit a few big plays on us."
But far fewer than the Yellow Jackets (10-1) hit on York (9-3) a year ago. The Falcons had allowed only 176 yards and 13.5 points per game heading into the semifinal, and the defense looks good for next year.
Linebacker Marcus Wakelyn, who tallied 137 tackles in the first 11 games, should star again in the middle. The Reynolds brothers, Darius and Malcolm, are the top returning talents on what should be an experienced defensive line. Devin Campbell, a revelation as a freshman, is a potential Division I talent in a secondary that should return intact.
Offense is another matter. The Falcons lose four starting linemen on the interior — including James Madison recruit Cody Hendrickson —and both tight ends. Skill losses include effective option quarterback Austin Norman, but freshman JoMari Becnel leads a group of receivers and running backs that will reload with depth.
The bottom line is that York must rebuild big-time on the offensive line. If it does, another top three finish in the Bay Rivers is likely.
"We've got a lot of work to do and we have a busy offseason coming," Pereira said. "I'm confident the kids will put in that work."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun