It's been a long time coming.
One whisper heard in 2015 as the Highland Springs Springers marched to the 5A State Championship was, "they didn't have to play L.C. Bird."
The Skyhawks, who won the Group AAA state title in 2012, then the first two 5A state titles in 2013 and 2014, came to Kreiter Stadium Saturday for a 5A South Region Semifinal, a de facto 5A State Quarterfinal. A combination of Juwan Carter offense, an opportunistic defense led by Aaron Motley and Rell Coley, and three forced fumbles by the Springers in the second half led Highland Springs to a 34-20 victory Saturday to advance to 12-1 and to next Saturday's 5A State Semifinals against Norview, also for the 5A South Region Championship.
It was Highland Springs' first playoff win over the Skyhawks since November, 2006 in the old Division 6, Group AAA format.
Carter, who rushed for 56 yards, went 9-for-18 for 169 passing yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. But the senior Norfolk State commit also scored three times on the ground, first to get the Springers on the board with 53 seconds left in the first quarter to cut an early L.C. Bird lead to 8-6. Carter's other two scores, both in the fourth quarter, put the game out of reach for the Springers.
Isaiah Winstead caught four passes for 106 yards including a 44-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter which, combined with a 17-yard touchdown run from Shyrie McKeiver, gave Highland Springs a 20-point run for a 20-8 lead. The Skyhawks scored in the final minute of the first half to cut the margin at halftime to 20-14.
Rell Coley stripped the football twice in the second half, leading to two of three Highland Springs fumble recoveries, which severely hurt the Skyhawks' second half comeback opportunities.
Highland Springs will host Norview next Saturday at 1pm for the right to play in the December 10th 5A State Championship at Hampton University. The Springers won 27-14 when the two teams played on September 2nd.