Monday, November 30, 2015

REVIEW: Thomas Dale Wins Defensive War; Moves To State Semifinals

(RVASN Correspondent Taylor Luck files this report from Friday's 6A State Quarterfinal win for Thomas Dale over Cosby....)

Fans packed the seats of Thomas Dale High School Friday night in anticipation of a 6A South quarterfinal matchup between two Chesterfield county rivals, the Thomas Dale Knights and the Cosby Titans. Both teams parlayed 6-4 records into postseason berths, and both came alive in the playoffs, upsetting higher ranked teams on their way to this showdown, a rematch from August 28th won by the Knights 30-17.
Thomas Dale controlled field position for the majority of this defensive struggle, forcing Cosby to start inside their own 20 time and time again. One of the game’s few big yardage plays, a 69 yard touchdown pass from Matt Lawton to Brian Bullock with 1:59 to go in the first half, helped give the Knights a 13-7 victory and a date with Oscar Smith Saturday in the 6A State Semifinals.
Cosby went three and out to start the game, and Thomas Dale found themselves with great field position at their own 45 on their opening drive. On their second offensive play, Davonte Russell took a sweep 50 yards down the left side to the end zone to put the Knights up 7-0. Neither team was able to put a scoring drive together for the next 17 minutes.
Cosby finally got some momentum late in the half when Trent Williams fumbled a punt inside the Thomas Dale 40, with the Titans falling on it at the 36. Cosby managed to move into the red zone with 4:38 to play, the first trip inside the 20 for either team all night; soon after Joe Hunt punched it in from 2 yards out, tying the game at 7 at four minutes to the half. The Knights immediately responded, as Lawton found a wide open Bullock for their 69 yard strike. A missed extra point kept the lead at six, 13-7, going to break.
The entire second half was dominated by defense. Thomas Dale managed to get inside the red zone once, but promptly fumbled, giving Cosby possession. Both sides had issues with dropped passes and fumbled punt returns. Cosby took over at their 37 with 2:40 to play, needing to somehow put together a touchdown drive to save their season. Grant Squyars did a lot of work on the ground, and hit wide receiver Carter West at the Thomas Dale 37 yard line to keep the game alive with 1:37 to play. Ultimately his pass protection failed him, and Squyars was sacked on back to back plays to end any hopes of a comeback, sending Thomas Dale into victory formation.
Thomas Dale’s pass rush was an unstoppable force on the game. Cosby quarterback Grant Squyars was sacked eight times on the night and the usually dominant Titan run game was held to 105 yards on 28 carries between six different players, a mere 2.7 yards per rush.
Squyars ended up going 6 of 19 for 71 yards and an interception in a game where the Thomas Dale defensive unit left its mark. Squyars also led the ground game, totaling 43 yards on five carries, after Hunt went down with a back injury in the second quarter.
Lawton only completed two passes on 13 attempts for 82 yards and the second quarter touchdown. An epidemic of drops plagued the Knight receivers. Russell ran 14 times for 85 yards and the touchdown, plus a fumble, and averaged 3.7 yards per carry after the early 50 yard touchdown run.
The punting game may have won the game for Thomas Dale, as neither team was able to move the ball. Punter Plato Eliades consistently dropped the ball deep inside Cosby territory, and backup quarterback Gabe McCollin even put a well-placed pooch punt from the shotgun inside the Cosby five in the first quarter. The repetitive short drives of the final three quarters always seemed to benefit the Knights, often leaving Cosby to start from inside their own 20 yard line, while the Knights sometimes began possession on the Titans’ side of the field.
Thomas Dale, who entered the playoffs as the third seed in the 6A South Region’s pod of eight teams from Conferences 3 and 4, emerge as the survivors, and are now one win away from playing in the 6A State Championship at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville.
“That gave us an enormous amount of motivation. We knew coming into the playoffs no one believed we’d make it as far as we have. We knew we had to play as a team and come together to win. The doubt only made us work harder.” noted senior cornerback/running back Trent Williams.
Their next stop is Chesapeake, where they’ll face their toughest opponent yet in the undefeated Oscar Smith Tigers. “The Tigers are fresh off a huge 29-19 victory over Ocean Lakes, who was ranked #3 in the entire state heading into the week.
“There’s definitely more of a challenge preparing for Oscar Smith.” explained Williams, “They are a very good team and they just beat one of the best teams in the country. We have to focus more in practice this week and give our all in the game.”

Thomas Dale’s defense looks up to the task, but their offense, especially the passing game, will need a huge improvement against Oscar Smith, whose defense held an Ocean Lake offense who scored fifty or more points seven times this season, to 19 points. Kickoff is set for 1pm Saturday in Chesapeake

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