Hosting the second playoff game in the school’s history, Chesapeake got the start it wanted, coordinating a methodical drive on their second possession to open the scoring and grab an early lead.
Their calculated drives unfortunately were undone by Long Reach’s big-play ability as the Lightning used several quick strikes to defeat the Cougars 27-24 in their Class 3A East Region semifinal on Friday night. With the win, the Lightning advance to their first region final, the furthest they have progressed since they were state quarterfinalists in 1997.
“That was the contrast of these two teams,” Chesapeake coach Rob Elliott said. “At any time they can hit it and go and we’re a grind it out team, we have to work for it down the field.”
After a strong early drive was negated by a fumble, the Cougars held the Lightning and caught a break when an apparent roughing the punter on fourth down was waived off after a referee conference, allowing Chesapeake (7-4) to retain the ball.
On the ensuing drive, the Cougars pounded the ball, throwing only twice but in crucial situations as they converted a fourth and four once and found the end zone when Dylan Young hit Russell Tongue for a 27-yard touchdown to open the scoring. Young finished 12 of 24 passing for 145 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Tongue caught two passes, both of them for touchdowns, for 50 yards. Hunter Davis caught five passes for 52 yards.
Long Reach (7-3) responded with a 18 yard touchdown pass from Tyler Moore to Quran Sims to tie the game at seven. Sims and Moore had connected for a 48-yard pass earlier in the drive to help the Lightning move down the field and showed their connection is getting stronger just at the right time.
“It’s something we just keep working on and today clicked,” Long Reach coach Jamie Willis said.” They are both very talented young men and they work really hard. With both of them being first year starters, it’s just taken us a while so every week we preach about getting better and today they made big plays, which was huge for us.”
The Lightning needed only one play on their next possession to take the lead as Kadarrian Booker took a shotgun draw play up the middle untouched for 52 yards.
A long kick return by Hunter Davis combined with a personal foul put Chesapeake on Long Reach’s 32 yard line to start their next drive and Tony Watkins' two yard plunge with Colton Spangler’s extra point put the Cougars back up, this time 14-13. Watkins carried the ball 15 times for 81 yards and a touchdown while Colby McNulty carried it 14 times for 57 yards.
On the next play from scrimmage, Moore hit Sims streaking up the middle, this time for 76 yards to put the Lightning back in front.
Chesapeake marched far enough to allow Spangler to kick a 36-yard field goal as time expired on the half to make it 19-17.
The Cougars held Long Reach on the the opening possession of the half and had marched into Lightning territory before a fumble stalled their drive.
After Long Reach used over nine minutes of the clock, their drive stalled deep in Cougar territory on a Tyler Kirk interception.
The Cougars took that momentum to go 90 yards in eight plays, capping it off when Young hit Tongue on a wide open flag route for a 23 yard touchdown.
Chesapeake attempted an onside kick but did not get it and Long Reach capitalized, using a few big catches from Sims to march half the field, finishing off the drive with a two yard touchdown from Booker to take the lead for good with 5:23 to play.
Chesapeake had one final opportunity but was unable to convert a long fourth down with just over two minutes to play. Long Reach got a first down with 1:05 left to ice the victory.
Chesapeake has now made the playoffs in two of the past three years after 41 years without an appearance and is clearly a program on the rise.
“I played at Chesapeake and the reason I am here is because all you'd ever hear was how bad Chesapeake was, we were the worst program in the county, if not the state,” Elliott said. “I’m extremely proud that people can’t just say that anymore. We might have a down year here and there but we are in a dogfight every week with every team we play and that was my goal.”
Long Reach 27, Chesapeake 24
CH — Tongue 27 yard pass from Young (Spangler kick)
LR — Sims 18 yard pass from Moore (Carbajal kick)
LR — Booker 52 yard run (kick failed)
CH — Watkins 2 yard run (Spangler kick)
LR — Sims 76 yard pass from Moore (kick failed)
CH — Spangler 36 yard field goal
CH — Tongue 23 yard pass from Moore (Spangler kick)
LR — Booker 2 yard run (two point conversion good)