Highland Springs football had no interest in watching another playoff opponent make a big comeback Saturday afternoon. And, as they did in four consecutive games in the heart of the regular season, the Springers defense put the clamps down on Indian River, holding them off the scoreboard in the final sixteen minutes to help clinch a berth in next Saturday's 5A State Championship with a 35-10 victory at Kreiter Stadium in front of a packed house.
The Springers will play for a State Championship for the first time since 1978. They last won a state crown in 1961.
"Our season started a week after the L.C. Bird loss," said Highland Springs head coach Loren Johnson in the weight room after the game, and after changing clothes to rid himself of his Gatorade-drenched game outfit. "We felt like we gave away something, and we knew we had to put ourselves in a position to be better."
Since a 21-20 overtime loss on opening night August 28th at home against Hermitage, the Springers have won 13 straight games. The twelfth win avenged the lone loss last week, a 42-35 win over the Panthers in which they held a 35-7 lead only to see Hermitage come back to tie in the final two minutes, but responded with a touchdown of their own with nine seconds to go to set up today's encounter with the Braves.
From the start, the Springers were aggressive, mirroring their earlier playoff starts. On offense, it was DJ Anderson (pictured below) gaining over 50 of his 122 yards on the afternoon on an opening drive ended by Anderson's six-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead just two and a half minutes into the contest.
Indian River, who made the 5A South Region final by upsetting unbeaten Hampton the week before, answered with a 42-yard field goal to cut the margin to 7-3. But that is as close as they would come on this day.
On the ensuing kick, Greg Dortch was pinned to the opponent's sideline at his 26. Rather than reverse field, he trusted his speed and his teammate's blocking, racing down the sideline, then veering right to beat the kicker for a 74-yard touchdown return to up the lead to 14-3. Six minutes later, quarterback Juwan Carter found Dortch wide open in the left end of the end zone from 34 yards, and, briefly, it looked like the rout was on.
But just like the second Hermitage encounter, things slowed down for awhile. The Braves cut the margin to 21-10 before halftime on a 15-yard touchdown run. The message from Johnson to his team, before the game and again at intermission, was very simple.
"Finish," Johnson noted.
The defense led the way. Aaron Motley and Tavien Blackwell made big plays, keeping Tyre Givers-Wilson on the run most of the afternoon, having to flee the pocket. When the Braves were threatening in the third quarter, trying to cut into a 28-10 margin, an overthrown pass from Givers-Wilson was grabbed by K'Von Wallace on a diving grab in front of the scoreboard in the back of the left end zone to end the last best hope for Indian River.
Then, early in the fourth quarter, Wallace provided the dagger, again laying out in the same end zone, this time on the right side to grab a low Carter pass for a 15-yard touchdown to make it 35-10. The earlier touchdown was scored when, on fourth and short, the Springers opted for a wide receiver screen, and Dortch ran untouched from 40 yards out when it looked like the Braves assumed a flag had been thrown and essentially stopped playing the play. It seemed to briefly confuse Dortch himself, who slowed down for a half second, then took off to the end zone.
Carter went 17-for-25 for 217 yards and three touchdowns, while Dortch had 151 receiving yards and three total touchdowns. Anderson rushed for 122 yards, 82 of them in the first half.
Highland Springs now sets their sights on 5A North Region champion Stone Bridge, who started the season 4-4, but have won their last six, including upset wins over the top two seeds in their region, both previous unbeaten, knocking off Massaponax and last year's North Region champion Tuscarora in back-to-back weeks, scoring 104 points in the process.
However, they've also given up 90 points in the last two games, a fact that should be Springers fans hope that they could see one last explosive performance from the likes of Dortch and Wallace before they head off to Wake Forest and Cincinnati respectively.
And, again, expect the message from Johnson and his staff to be simple: finish.
--As soon as we receive ticket information for the game, we will post it here as well as on Twitter at @henricosports. Tickets will be $10.
--The game will be available on television and radio for fans who cannot make it to Charlottesville. On TV, Comcast Mid-Atlantic will have the game on their "Plus" channel, which is FiOS 78 (578 HD) and Comcast 10. Fox Sports 910 will broadcast the game beginning at 11:30am.
--Of course, RVA Sports Network will have live tweet coverage from Scott Stadium on Saturday beginning after 11am on our @henricosports feed.
--New Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente was in attendance today, taking in the entire game.