Saturday, November 21, 2015

PROFILE: Hermitage Defeats LC Bird

(RVA Sports Network correspondent Taylor Luck files this report)

The lights of Randolph Macon’s Day Field lit up on Friday night, as the college played host to a 5A South semifinal meeting between two very familiar opponents. For the sixth consecutive season, the Hermitage Panthers and the LC Bird Skyhawks met each other in the postseason. The reigning state champion Skyhawks came into the night having taken their previous three meetings, after dropping the first two to Hermitage in 2010 and 2011.

Hermitage controlled the pace of the game from the start. A deadly first half offense, highlighted by a 70 yard touchdown pass from Eli Odom to star wide receiver Kaelin Snead, put the Panthers up 21-0 at halftime; which would be more than enough thanks to a staunch defense that held Bird to under 200 yards of total offense on the night. The Skyhawks tried and failed again and again to get the running game going, and continually shot themselves in the foot with bad and inopportune penalties on both sides of the ball en route to their first playoff loss since the 2011 season.

Things looked good for LC Bird early, as Hermitage only managed a few plays on the opening drive of the game before an errant pass by Eli Odom was intercepted by Kier Townsend at the Bird 38 yard line. Jalen Elliott then connected with Waymond Pate to give the Skyhawks first and goal inside the Panther 10 yard line. One delay of game penalty and three plays of no gain later, and Bird’s attempt at a 37 yard field goal was blocked by Calvin Whitehead, handing Hermitage the ball at their 27. Odom found Snead for a 45 yard bomb to keep the drive alive inside the Bird 30, and a few plays later dove into the end zone on a 1 yard touchdown dive to put the Panthers up 7-0 late in the first quarter.

The Skyhawks got the ball rolling in the second quarter with a 10 yard touchdown pass from Elliott to Townsend. The ensuing extra point would be blocked by Calvin Whitehead, leaving LC Bird down 7-6. Not ten seconds later, Hermitage struck back on the first play of their next drive with a 70 yard catch and run from Odom to Snead, giving the Panthers a 14-6 lead. Bird would go three and out on their next drive, and a bad punt gave Hermitage great field position near midfield. A late hit penalty moved the Panthers inside the red zone and shortly after Odom ran for his third total score of the game, a three yard rush behind the blocking of star defensive lineman Sulaiman Kamara. Heading into halftime, Hermitage held a 21-6 lead, but would spend the second half trying to repel the expected Skyhawk comeback.

The second half was slow and with little action until late in the fourth when Bird took advantage of starting field position inside the Hermitage 42 yard line and mounted a drive resulting in a 5 yard touchdown run by Elliott. Needing a two point conversion to get within 8, the Skyhawks attempted a screen from the 2, but Elliott was hammered for a sack on the play, stopping any hopes for a comeback. Hermitage would hold on to their lead, and finally take down LC Bird, and move on to the 5A State Quarterfinals.

Eli Odom was the dominant force on the field for the Panthers. Despite an early pick, he rallied to score all three of his team’s touchdowns, completing 15 of 24 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown; and contributing 62 yards and 2 scores on the ground on 14 carries. Kaelin Snead grabbed 5 of those passes, for 156 yards, including the 70 yard touchdown reception.
Calvin Whitehead may well have won Hermitage the game with his field goal block and extra point block. His denial of those 4 crucial points kept the Bird two possessions behind in the final quarter.

Though Jalen Elliott proved effective while throwing the ball, the Skyhawks simply refused to pass. Elliott went 8 for 11 for 88 yards and a TD through the air, but the team remained one dimensional and kept running the football while behind, which proved fatal. Elliott, JB Wright, and Shedrick McCall combined for 35 rushes on the night for only 89 yards, a mere 2.5 yards per carry for the team.

Friday night was a huge win for Hermitage, who had been knocked out of the postseason by Bird each of the last three seasons. After the victory, Odom explained the team approaches each game the same no matter the opponent, and they take it one day at a time, but admitted Bird is a special challenge for the Panthers. “It’s a big feeling because we have to stay focused.” noted Odom, “They’re the team that takes us out all the time so it’s a big focus.”

Next week, Hermitage will pay a visit to Highland Springs for the 5A South title game, a rematch of a game they won two months ago, 21-20. The Panther’s defense looks stout, and ready to face the high powered Springers’ offense, who has averaged just over 42 points per game this season. Hermitage faced some severe offensive issues in the second half, only gaining 84 yards in the final two quarters; the defense may have been able to contain LC Bird, but it will likely take more than 21 points to stop Highland Springs this time around.

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