This was not the way anyone in Raider Nation envisioned a dream season to end.
On a night where the Atlee Raiders had a chance to take a giant step towards their goal of creating a football program within the upper echelon of the Central Region, they came to Chester to face the current top dog, the LC Bird Skyhawks, winners of 26 in a row.
From the opening kickoff to the final gun, the Skyhawks showed why they are the favorites to repeat as state champions, routing the Raiders 46-10 to end Atlee's 2013 season, the best in the school's nearly quarter-century history, at 11-2.
It literally began on the opening kickoff. Atlee won the toss and deferred, asking their defense to set the tone against Terrance Ervin and Earl Hughes, the quarterback and tailback primarily responsible for the 581 points scored by LC Bird in their first 12 wins. A personal foul penalty on the Raiders gave Bird the ball at their 42 instead of their 27.
In a foreshadowing of the next three quarters, Hughes took a handoff right up the middle, broke left and took off for a 43-yard gain. A personal foul face mask penalty on the tackle by the Raiders set the Skyhawks up at first and goal at the Atlee 10.
Three plays later, Ervin ran it in from 10 yards out for a lightning-fast 7-0. The Raiders, responded, but not without the uneven play that has plagued their offense in the postseason.
On the first play from scrimmage, Atlee quarterback Reid McCoy had Daniel Glymph behind the Skyhawk secondary. But he waited an extra second and underthrew the ball, giving the Bird defender time to recover and almost intercept the pass. A quicker, longer strike in stride makes it 7-7 and could have easily changed the tone of the game.
Atlee did strike on the next play, McCoy finding Tramell Carey on a slant pattern for 62 yards up the middle, but then they stalled, settling for a Ryan Molin 25-yard field goal. Bird led 7-3 at 7:12 left first quarter.
The Skyhawks, who would never punt tonight, stalled, facing fourth and three at their 38. Lining up to punt, they faked it, and Rasheed Worsham, their leading wideout, bounced off an Atlee defender and fell forward to the 42 for a first down. Bird drove down the field, and, spelling Hughes for a play, the upback in the I-formation, Darius Gillus, who had all of six rushes all season, raced into the end zone from 15 yards out. The six-minute drive established Bird's dominance, a momentum swing that never went back the other way. A missed PAT made it 13-3.
Early second quarter, Bird drove to the Atlee 32. They faced another fourth down, and talked it over in a timeout. In the end it was an easy decision, giving the ball to Hughes, who, rather than running behind his big line, bounced to the outside, taking advantage of the tight Raider formation, making the corner and scoring the touchdown. A two-point conversion made it 21-3.
After another Hughes score, this time a 46-yard pass reception from Ervin, the Atlee offense showed signs of life, driving quickly downfield, culminating in a Reid McCoy two-yard run for what would be the Raiders' only touchdown of the night. But it made the score 28-10 with 1:07 left in the half. Getting the second half kickoff, there was a glimmer of hope for Atlee.
But Bird snuffed it out taking a page out of the Atlee playbook. The Skyhawks took 65 of the remaining 67 seconds in the half, marching down the field again, scoring on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Ervin to Hughes, as Devon Jackson's swipe at the ball at the goal line on secondary defense whiffed. A missed PAT made the halftime score 34-10.
The Raiders spent the second half mostly on defense, the offense simply unable to get on track. For the night, the Raiders earned 130 total yards, only nine of them on the ground. Lamont Stubbs and Loumond Dandridge were complete non-factors.
Meanwhile, Hughes rushed for 265 of his 423 yards in the first half, finishing the night just above his season average (9.4 yds per carry) at 9.6 on 44 carries. Two more Hughes TD runs, one in each quarter, accounted for the Skyhawks second half scoring.
In his final game under center in high school, McCoy was 7-of-14 for 121 yards and the lone rushing touchdown.
LC Bird, now 13-0 advances to the 5A South Championship Game next Saturday, hosting Eastern Zone Champion Salem (Virginia Beach), who defeated Green Run tonight 27-7 to move to 11-2. They are the top seed from the Eastern draw.
As for Atlee? They finish the best season in school history at 11-2, and, for tonight, that's little solace for the Raiders, especially their seniors, who together had dreamed a state title as their last hurrah.
But consider the following facts before dismissing the Raiders' poor performance tonight:
1) Their 11 wins in best in a single season in school history.
2) The Raiders had never played three playoff games in the same year until tonight.
3) Atlee defeated Varina for the first time in 15 years, beat Varina and Highland Springs in the same season, and, had the old Central Region format still been in affect, they would have won the Capital District title at 7-0.
4) They send two offensive lineman to Division I programs, with other seniors expected to play collegiately next season and beyond.
5) Atlee did what their arch-rivals, Hanover, had done each of the last four seasons: play football past Thanksgiving.
The Raiders will lose a lot to graduation, including Eberle, Clarke, McCoy, Stubbs, Tye Burriss and others.
But they return a fine nucleus, including Dandridge, Carey, Austin Cannon (another D-1 OL prospect), C.J. Tilton, Chad Vanlandingham, Tanner Ramey, Zach Jacobs, J.J. Givens, and freshman lineman Mason Cooper. They'll need a new quarterback, and a new quarterback on defense with Burriss graduating.
The JV program is doing well. They'll be young, but head coach Roscoe Johnson's 8th season at the helm will be back, and will be a force in 5A South, trying once again to take the next step.
Tonight, though, was not their night to step forward.
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