Highland Springs pulls away from a pesky Trinity Episcopal team to win their third consecutive Times-Dispatch Invitational Tournament Championship Monday night, defeating the Titans 79-59. In the boys title game, Varina could not survive a 21-0 Trinity Episcopal run in the second quarter en route to a 79-51 win for the first T-DIT title in school history. Varina is now 0-2 in T-DIT finals, also falling in the 1996 title game to John Marshall.
The RVA Sports Network is proud to bring you a quadruple-header of games from Championship Monday of the 22nd Annual Times-Dispatch Invitational Tournament live from the Richmond Coliseum!
CLICK HERE or click below on the embedded YouTube page to listen, starting at 3:30pm, to the Boys and Girls Championship and 3rd Place games only from The RVA Sports Network!
Today's T-DIT Schedule (County Teams in Bold):
Girls 7th Place Game: Deep Run vs. Huguenot, 9am
Boys 7th Place Game: Hopewell vs. St. Christopher's, 10:30am
Girls 5th Place Game: Midlothian vs. Cosby, 12pm
Boys 5th Place Game: Hanover vs. Highland Springs, 1:30pm
THE FOLLOWING GAMES HEARD LIVE ON THE RVA SPORTS NETWORK:
Girls 3rd Place Game: St. Catherine's vs. Hopewell, 3:30pm
Boys 3rd Place Game: John Marshall vs. Benedictine, 5pm
Girls Championship: Highland Springs vs. Trinity Episcopal, 6:30pm
Boys Championship: Varina vs. Trinity Episcopal, 8:30pm
Senior quarterback Juwan Carter (pictured below) is named Group 5A State Offensive Player of The Year, while his head coach at Highland Springs, Loren Johnson, is named State Coach of The Year as the Group 5A All-State Football team is announced Thursday by the Virginia High School League (VHSL):
OFFENSE: QB: Juwan Carter, Highland Springs
C: Louie Mihota, Massaponax
OL: Dillon Carey, Stone Bridge OL: Mekhi Becton, Highland Springs
OL: Anthony Craig, Norview OL: Khari Edmundson, Hermitage
RB: Meech Hembry, Broad Run
RB: Kevin Marks, Norview
RB: Joshua Breece, Stone Bridge
WR: Kaevon Chase, Potomac Falls
WR: Benyeal Hill, Brooke Point
WR: Anton Ashby, Norview
TE: Daniel Thompson, Stone Bridge
K: Tommy Martin, Hickory
KR: Devonte Williams, Salem All-Purpose: Tanner Dobrucky, Douglas Freeman
DL: Daniel Renaud, Stone Bridge
DL: Nana Asiedeu, North Stafford DL: Akeem Smith, Henrico DE: Aaron Motley, Highland Springs
DE: Aiden McFarlane, Stone Bridge
LB: Rayshard Ashby, L.C. Bird LB: Jordan Wall, Highland Springs
LB: Isaiah Johnson, Norview
LB: Trajan Anderson, Massaponax
DB: Dohnavyn Jefferson, Stone Bridge DB: Rell Coley, Highland Springs DB: D'Andre Walker, Henrico
DB: Tiavonte McLaughlin, Brooke Point P: Alex Burton, Hermitage
PR: Davonte Williams, Salem
All-Purpose: Jeremiah Owusu, Bethel
QB: JaQuan Anderson, Albemarle
C: Marshall Hicks, L.C. Bird
OL: Jacob Boone, Broad Run
OL: Donovan Beaver, Massaponax
OL: Aaron Pappy, Stone Bridge
OL: Jeb Boswell, Lee-Davis
RB: Damone Drew, Brooke Point
RB: Shedrick McCall, L.C. Bird
RB: Nathan Evans, Lee-Davis
WR: Kevin Hamilton, Jr, R.E. Lee/Alexandria
WR: Jeremiah Owusu, Bethel WR: Nasir Hines, Hermitage
TE: Jalen Hargrove, Lee-Davis
K: Roberto Argueta, Falls Church
KR: Dakwandre Marshall, Falls Church
All-Purpose: Ben Maffe, Briar Woods
DL: Erik Davenport, Broad Run
DL: Derrick Eason, Norview DL: Nick Ackies, Douglas Freeman DE: Jahmol Robinson, Hermitage
DE: Bryan Giron, Falls Church
LB: Mike Arrington, Broad Run LB: Mateo Jackson, Hermitage
LB: Zykal Foster, Albemarle
LB: Joey Nameth, Stone Bridge
DB: Tre Watkins, Massaponax
DB: Mondell Hampton, Stafford
DB: Taeyonn Reynolds, Salem
DB: Anton Ashby, Norview
P: Parker Davis, Patrick Henry
PR: Terrance Oxendine, Patrick Henry
All-Purpose: Jeremy Sampson, Tuscarora
5A State Offensive Player Of The Year: Juwan Carter, Highland Springs 5A State Defensive Player Of The Year: Rayshard Ashby, L.C. Bird 5A State Coach Of The Year: Loren Johnson, Highland Springs
For those of us in the media who have been covering Highland Springs for several seasons, we well remember the edict of their head coach, Loren Johnson, as training camp began in August that 2016 would be a different year, to put the success of 2015 away and begin a new hunger for a new trip to a state championship.
No one could ever imagine just how different this season would be. But, in the end, the result was exactly the same, as the Springers, one final time, found a way to win, defeating Stone Bridge for the second straight year, this time by a 35-29 count, for their second 5A State Championship, and their third crown in school history.
The Springers (14-1) began the season defeating Hermitage, something the 2015 team did not do. But after a win over Norview came a hiccup, a surprising 8-7 loss to Meadowbrook. A bye week, and a wake-up call later, the regrouping and regathering began.
We first saw Highland Springs on a Monday night make-up game at Atlee. We were left with the impression that while the Springers were still very good, they weren't at championship level yet. Under two weeks later, the Springers defeat Lee-Davis in an ugly game, a game that left Johnson frustrated in multiple ways. But in that win, there was a big difference in the overall performance of the team. You could see it coming together.
By the end of the regular season, Highland Springs had, again, earned the number one seed in 5A South. A win over Deep Run began the postseason journey. Then, everything changed.
After a valiant battle with cancer, team mom, and the mother of wide receiver Chris Thaxton, Angie Johnson passed away. Teenagers trying to focus on repeating as state champions now had to deal with grief and loss. Some teams could not overcome that. Highland Springs channeled it.
They pulled away from Douglas Freeman in round two. They played their best half of defense in the second half of the region semifinal win over L.C. Bird on a day that was overcast until the very first play from scrimmage when, suddenly, the sun brilliantly revealed itself over Kreiter Stadium. It was a message.
The next week, in the 5A South Region Championship, it took every measure of their resilience and fortitude to hold off an improved Norview team 28-25 to punch the ticket to Hampton University, a different state championship site than 2015. On Saturday, Stone Bridge made sure it was also a different type of championship game.
The Bulldogs went with the short kicking game, recovering a fumble on the opening kick and cashing it in for a 7-0 lead on the first of three Bradley Block one-yard touchdown runs. His second upped the lead to 13-0 with 2:27 left in a first quarter where Highland Springs seemed lost at times.
Then, sensing an opportunity to deliver a big blow to the Springers as was does to them early in the game a year ago, Stone Bridge goes for it on 4th down....at their own 33 yard line. Highland Springs stemmed the tide, got the ball, and, two plays later, 33 seconds into the second quarter, Juwan Carter sliced up the middle for a 19-yard touchdown scamper. It's now 13-7, and the Bulldogs just cracked the door open. Instead of pinning a struggling team deep, the Springers completely regrouped, and it was game on.
It would be over twenty minutes of game time before there would be another score, when Carter found Isaiah Winstead from 13 yards to give Highland Springs their first lead at 14-13 with 3:17 left in the third quarter. Stone Bridge had not scored in nearly two quarters, and now was on the ropes. The Bulldogs responded like a heavyweight fighter knowing they are down two points with two rounds to go.
Josh Breece, who rushed for 213 yards, more yards than the entire Stone Bridge offensive output in the 2015 game (184 yards), scored on a 22-yard run in the first minute of the final quarter, then scored the two-point conversion for a 21-14 lead. But on their first play from scrimmage, Willie Harkless took off, breaking a tackle, then outracing the secondary to the end zone on a 62-yard touchdown run reminiscent of D.J. Anderson's touchdown race early in the 2015 game. In one play, it was 21-21.
The Springers forced a Stone Bridge punt, the only one of the game by either team, taking over with 9:33 left. Three plays later, Carter found James Jackson, who raced to the end zone for a 48-yard touchdown, and it's suddenly 28-21. Stone Bridge saved their best offensive work for the next drive, as they confidently ran the ball down the field after an early flirtation with the pass, producing a 16-play, 80-yard drive taking 7:13 off the clock.
Block scored his third touchdown, it's 28-27 with 1:22 left. The Bulldogs gamble, and go for two, and Leland Girdy found the front pylon. Stone Bridge led 29-28, but there was time left. Time left for a miracle.
This is where Hollywood would look at the proposed script and say, well, no, this simply isn't believable.
First, Billy Kemp returns the kickoff 35 yards to the Stone Bridge 34. A false start penalty backed the Springers up to the 39. Carter ran for six yards, then found Thaxton for 12 yards and a first down at the Stone Bridge 21 as the final minute began. Then, in a play Carter said after the contest was designed to go elsewhere, he saw an advantage.
"I saw they had one on one coverage with my man and I knew if I put it up, he'd get it," Carter said.
He was Winstead, who caught the jump ball at the three-yard line. It's first and goal with 30.5 seconds left. The time had come for a final appearance from the spirit of Angie Johnson.
On a day bathed in sunshine at Hampton University, Carter went back to pass, and found a second option, a streak of purple appeared in the middle of the end zone. It was Chris Thaxton. Carter threw a fastball, and Thaxton squeezed the football like he never had before. Touchdown Highland Springs with 26 seconds left.
Springer fans experienced cheers and tears in unison as the storybook ending unfolded. But there was one chapter left to be written. Stone Bridge began their final drive at their 40, but forced to do what they aren't comfortable doing: pass the football. It took over 31 1/2 minutes for the Springers to force Stone Bridge into a corner, but when they did, they seized on the opportunity.
After an intentional grounding call, a pass to midfield was easily intercepted by Billy Kemp. Sheer elation engulfed Springer Nation as Bulldog fans fell to the seats in disbelief. The Springers jumped, danced, even a backflip once the clock hit 0:00.
Some thoughts now on today, and the season:
1) When asked about linebacker Justin Hopkins, who had eight solo tackles, six assists and 1.5 tackles for loss in the victory, Johnson described him as the "runt" of his family when compared to his brothers, but much bigger with his team.
"We had to find linebackers," Johnson noted. "Justin is an unsung hero. He may not be all-region or all-state, but he's everything to us."
2) As was the case last year, Glaster Ellis' leg was key in kickoffs with multiple touchbacks, while Jack Notley nailed all five of his extra point attempts.
3) Rell Coley went out with a bang with six solo tackles, 12 assists and an interception. In a game where the Springers had to bend and not break, Coley led the way, Hopkins right beside him.
4) When asked about the influence Johnson has had on his players, defensive lineman Aaron Motley was quick to answer that question.
"It's been an incredible ride with Coach," Motley said. Thaxton chimed in.
"Coach should star in a reality show," he added.
5) The Springers have now gone 28-2 in the past two seasons, two seasons with two divergent paths to the same goal, a goal that has galvanized a community that well deserves it.
Video of the Thaxton game-winning touchdown is below as well as one of the post-game celebration:
CLICK HERE to listen live as the number one team in The RVA Sports Network's Top 10 Boys Basketball Poll, the L.C. Bird Skyhawks, travel to Varina to battle the fourth-ranked Blue Devils in a Conference 12 showdown!
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What: The 5A State Football Championship
When: Saturday, December 10th, 12:07pm kickoff
Where: Armstrong Stadium, Hampton University
Tickets: $10, available at the gate
Parking: CLICK HERE (there could be a fee)
LIVE TWITTER COVERAGE: @henricosports from The RVA Sports Network, 11:00AM
TV: Currently None, Watch Online From VHSL (for a fee) by CLICKING HERE
Radio: WRNL, Fox Sports 910, 11:30AM
Here are the top results from this weekend's Central Virginia Wrestling Classic which took place at Glen Allen High School (results courtesy of TrackWrestling.com):
1st Place Riley Starcher (Grassfield) 42-14, So. over Joseph McMillin (Powhatan) 28-15, So. (Dec 7-4). 3rd Place Kevin Velez (Clover Hill) 26-10, So. over Bruno Alveres (Brooke Point) 4-2, Fr. (Fall 4:44). 5th Place Cameron Chicella (Ocean Lakes) 15-22, So. over Cole Gorvett (Westfield) 2-3, Fr. (For.).
1st Place Will Lisenby (Westfield) 3-0, Jr. over Evan Buchanan (Atlee) 3-1, Fr. (SV-1 9-7). 3rd Place Carson Tinsley (Mills Godwin) 31-9, Sr. over Elijah Jordan (Powhatan) 38-14, Sr. (Fall 3:29). 5th Place Jordan Smith (Hanover) 21-18, So. over Justus Jones (Brooke Point) 21-12, Sr. (Dec 5-3).
1st Place Bobby Quinones (Westfield) 5-0, Jr. over Josh Montague (Brooke Point) 20-13, Jr. (Fall 5:43). 3rd Place Brycen Martz (Ocean Lakes) 28-17, Sr. over Jacob Mills (Grassfield) 36-20, Sr. (Dec 13-12). 5th Place Mariano Hornedo (Atlee) 44-20, Sr. over Anthony Commuzi (Atlee) 36-18, Jr. (Fall 3:22).
1st Place Aaron Freidhof (Prince George) 4-0, Sr. over Sam Slate (Benedictine) 7-2, Fr. (Fall 1:46). 3rd Place Brandon Bye (Millbrook) 5-1, Sr. over Josh Epperly (Hanover) 3-2, Fr. (Fall 3:51). 5th Place Brenden Lugo (Grassfield) 18-6, Sr. over Brett Reid (Douglas Freeman) 14-13, Sr. (Fall 1:50).
1st Place Collin Gerardi (Powhatan) 44-6, Jr. over Zachary Gillette (Grassfield) 47-10, Sr. (Fall 1:40). 3rd Place Joseph Knight (Brooke Point) 32-4, Sr. over Nate Hackman (Ocean Lakes) 34-15, Sr. (Fall 2:10). 5th Place Caleb Bland (Hermitage) 31-10, Sr. over Oleg Johnson (Westfield) 4-3, So. (Dec 6-5).
1st Place Aidan Murphy (Ocean Lakes) 5-0, Sr. over Garrett Plummer (Lee Davis) 38-14, Sr. (Fall 1:55). 3rd Place Michael Dew (Glen Allen) 35-10, Jr. over Daniel Goodwin (Grassfield) 44-17, Sr. (Dec 6-3). 5th Place David Hoover (Hanover) 24-13, Jr. over Eric Hogge (Midlothian) 24-11, Sr. (Dec 11-10).
1st Place Jeffrey Hoyt (Powhatan) 24-20, Jr. over Jonathon Conrad (Lee Davis) 35-8, Jr. (Fall 3:21). 3rd Place Ian Baker (Monacan) 34-7, Jr. over AJ Deutel (Brooke Point) 14-7, Sr. (Inj. 0:00). 5th Place Ben Hillard (Ocean Lakes) 8-8, Jr. over Sebastian Cobb (Hanover) 5-3, Jr. (Fall 3:37).
1st Place Carson Allen (Hanover) 36-9, Jr. over Fisher Evans (Lee Davis) 46-12, Jr. (Fall 3:19). 3rd Place Samuel Tomlinson (Powhatan) 32-14, Jr. over Braxton Fell (Grafton) 3-2, Sr. (Dec 9-4). 5th Place Ibram Bector (Hermitage) 27-12, Jr. over Cal Cochran (Westfield) 22-28, Jr. (Fall 2:27).
1st Place Alex Britto (Collegiate) 34-14, Sr. over Andy Aldridge (Lee Davis) 3-1, Fr. (Inj. 0:00). 3rd Place Jacob Kennedy (Prince George) 5-1, Jr. over Austin Pitts (Mills Godwin) 28-17, So. (Fall 0:58). 5th Place Jack Drimer (Mills Godwin) 5-2, Jr. over Jeremiah Vivero (Grafton) 3-3, Sr. (Dec 4-3).
1st Place Andrew Anthony (Lee Davis) 33-9, Sr. over Xever Lemieux (Millbrook) 6-8, Jr. (Dec 3-2). 3rd Place Wallace Canada (Prince George) 4-1, So. over Will Sayegh (Midlothian) 26-8, Jr. (Inj. 0:00). 5th Place Cohen Call (Atlee) 36-18, Jr. over Logan Pettorini (Brooke Point) 13-9, Sr. (Fall 3:51).
1st Place Stephen Burrell (Grassfield) 47-11, Sr. over Edward `Ned` Anthony (Lee Davis) 42-7, Jr. (Dec 9-5). 3rd Place Jacob Sinsel (Ocean Lakes) 34-15, Sr. over Gabe Neaverth (Millbrook) 22-19, Sr. (Fall 1:39). 5th Place Luke Armstrong (Grafton) 4-2, Sr. over Brandon Whitton (Westfield) 26-22, Sr. (Dec 10-4).
1st Place Cody Roundtree (Clover Hill) 31-10, Sr. over Martiese Phipps (Monacan) 17-12, Jr. (Dec 6-5). 3rd Place Fabrizio Lazo (Westfield) 20-15, Jr. over Hunter Beck (Lee Davis) 3-2, Jr. (MD 8-0). 5th Place Emanuel Torres (Hermitage) 3-2, Fr. over Austin Yogi (Amelia) 15-19, Sr. (For.).
1st Place Yates Carrier (Ocean Lakes) 4-0, Sr. over Sari Maksad (Lee Davis) 25-15, Sr. (Fall 1:02). 3rd Place Xavier Brown (Monacan) 25-16, Sr. over Jackson Burkey (Clover Hill) 3-2, So. (Fall 0:47). 5th Place Zeke Elswick (Mills Godwin) 3-2, Jr. over James Walters (Deep Run) 2-3, Jr. (Fall 1:48).
1st Place Trevor Burns (Grassfield) 39-11, Jr. over Ramses Montalvo (Brooke Point) 17-6, Jr. (SV-1 4-2). 3rd Place Justin Spencer (Mills Godwin) 19-3, Sr. over Robbie Adelstein (Atlee) 21-10, Jr. (Dec 3-2). 5th Place Tavon Blowe (Millbrook) 19-15, Jr. over Jack Oppenheim (Deep Run) 3-3, Sr. (Dec 5-4). TEAM FINALS: 1) Lee-Davis: 220.5 2) Grassfield: 184.5 3) Powhatan: 153.5 4) Westfield: 149 5) Ocean Lakes: 143.5
7) Mills Godwin: 109.5 8) Prince George: 108 9) Atlee: 102.5 11) Clover Hill: 94.5 12) Hanover: 92 13) Monacan: 61 14) Collegiate: 60.5 15) Glen Allen: 58 17) Hermitage: 50.5 18) Thomas Dale: 42.5 19) Midlothian: 40 20T) Deep Run and Douglas Freeman: 38
It's a far different road this season. Each road to a championship opportunity always is. But, ironically, the final hurdle remains the same.
After taking the very best shot the Norview Pilots had to offer, the Highland Springs Springers finally were able to punch their return ticket to the 5A State Championship Game, relying on one final defensive stand to win 28-25 and get a rematch with Stone Bridge, who won the 5A North Region title over top-seeded Massaponax 27-21 Friday night, in next Saturday's game at Hampton University.
For the Springers (13-1), it was a pensive afternoon, filled with opportunities, but never able to shake Norview like they did Indian River in the 5A South Region Championship a season ago. The Pilots' defense stepped up in the second half, holding the Springers to just 119 yards of total offense after surrendering 241 in the first half as Highland Springs built a 21-13 lead.
Norview steamed down the field to open the third quarter, scoring on a five-play, 67-yard drive capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback D.J. Mack to Jamal Deaton. Even though there was over 22 minutes left, the Pilots, who saw an extra point blocked in the first half, went for two to tie the game, and Mack was denied on the quarterback keeper. Norview would never draw closer.
Highland Springs struggled to find the end zone, finally doing so with 6:25 left as quarterback Juwan Carter ended a thirteen-play drive with an 11 yard run to give the Springers a 28-19 lead. Beforehand, a field goal attempt had been blocked, putting the Springers essentially in "all or nothing" mode once they returned to the red zone.
Norview answered immediately, spreading the field, allowing Mack to elude the rush and either hit big plays with his arm or using his feet. Five plays and 72 yards later, Mack found Kavon Lawson from 12 yards to cut the margin to a field goal at 28-25 with 5:15 left.
With the Pilots scoring with such ease, it became imperative for the Springers to try to score again and run down as much clock as possible. They accomplished one of two tasks, running the clock down to 1:48, but a Carter pass on fourth down was wide, and Norview took over with no timeouts at their own 24.
A defensive holding call gave Norview a free first down at their 34. A six-yard pass on second down made it third and four at the 40 as the clock approached 1:00. A would-be first down pass in Springer territory was dropped, bringing up fourth down. Mack completeed a pass just into Highland Springs territory to move the chain at :57.3 left.
Then, a combination of timely Springer defensive moves and a costly decision by Mack closed the door on the Pilots. Michael Greene led a sack of Mack, who quickly got his team to the line, then spiked the ball, apparently. But, being in the pistol formation instead of under center, the officials ruled the spike a forward pass, and Mack was flagged for intentional grounding. The loss of down was the most critical, making it third and 26. After an incompletion, the Pilots were down to one play. Mack was flushed out of the pocket, the Springer back seven masterfully in coverage. Aaron Motley caught up to Mack, bringing him down, and sending Springer Nation back to the promised land.
Carter was 5-for-9 for 144 yards and a touchdown pass, plus two touchdown runs. The Springers had 360 yards of total offense, was only three for eight in third down conversions, and, admittedly, did not have their strongest performance Saturday. But it was enough to secure the victory.
Now Highland Springs turns their attention to Stone Bridge, a team they turned one-dimensional early in last year's championship game en route to a 27-7 victory and the school's first state football title since 1961 and first ever won on the field. The Bulldogs will obviously work the revenge factor, but what they may not realize is the 2016 Highland Springs Springers are not the 2015 edition. They know they must improve. They are not on a roll in terms of execution.
But they are on an emotional roll, experiencing events in recent weeks that teenagers shouldn't have to worry about when they take to the solace of a football field. The Springers will, indeed, be "Angie Strong" when they arrive at Hampton University.
NOTE: The 5A State Championship begins Saturday, December 10th at 12:07pm. Tickets are $10, the game is at Hampton University this season, a new site predetermined by the Virginia High School League.
Follow @henricosports on Twitter for the most comprehensive social media coverage of Highland Springs next Saturday!