For Coach Josh Just and the Hanover Hawks staff, and especially for their defense, those two words will haunt them for a long time.
When asked how frustrating third downs were for his Hawks, Just answered, "Very. You hit the nail on the head."
Hanover's inability to stop South County on third down on a minimum of nine occasions cost the Hawks dearly as the Stallions built a 24-0 halftime lead on the way to a 38-22 win in the State Division 5 Semifinal in Lorton Saturday.
South County scored on their opening drive, setting up shop at the Hanover 40 after a 35-yard opening kickoff return by Ryan Taylor. On the drive, Hanover did stop the Stallions on third down, but on fourth and short, the Stallions rushed up the middle enough for a first down. On the next play, quarter Shane Foley threw deep for his favorite target, wideout Michael Ferguson, who outwilled and outleapt Hanover's Xavier Crocker for the first touchdown.
"I'd put X on him again", said Hanover Coach Josh Just after the game. "Number 8 (Ferguson) is incredible."
The Hawks spent the first half trying in vain to move the chain and spending little time on the Stallions side of the field. Tailback L.J. Jones, who rushed for 450 yards in two regional playoff wins, only accounted for 18 in the first half.
The Stallions increased their lead for good in the second quarter, first by Andrew Rector's 22 yard touchdown run. Later, after Hanover fumbled the ensuing kickoff for the first of their three turnovers, the Stallions reached into their bag of tricks. On a third down, a double-reverse flea flicker pass to Ferguson was good for 35 yards to the Hawks 5. After the Hawks backed them up to the 11, on third down and goal, running back Jake Josephs took a pitch, stopped, and threw an 11-yard halfback option touchdown pass to Ferguson, making it 21-0.
"We watched alot of tape on these guys and didn't see that", Just said.
Hanover scored on the opening possession of the second half, sparked by a 72-yard pass completion from Andrew Knizner to Sam Rogers. L.J. Jones scored from nine yards out, the first of his three second half touchdowns, to quickly cut the lead to 24-7.
But if there were any doubts of the Stallions' dominance on this day, they would be erased by the Foley-led offense, counterpunching with a touchdown drive of their own four minutes later. The Hawks answered again on a three-minute drive, capped off by a six-yard run by Jones, but the Stallions scored one final time on the first play of the fourth quarter to nail down the victory.
Hanover scored once more late in the fourth on Jones' third touchdown run from five yards out. Jones also converted the two-point conversion to finish the scoring.
The Hawks were uncharacterstically undisciplined in the penalty area, committing nine fouls, including four personal fouls, for 85 yards. Knizner finished 11 of 19 for 197 yards, 117 of them to Sam Rogers. Jones finished with 60 yards on just 12 carries, but the three second-half touchdowns.
Some Hanover fans, and this observer, questioned why several false start penalties seemingly committed by the South County offense weren't called, especially in the first half, as it seemed Foley would take at least a half-step back prior to the ball snap. It would be the third quarter before a false start was called on their motion-filled offense.
Foley finished 12 of 16 for 184 yards and three passing touchdowns for South County, with Michael Ferguson accounting for five receptions, 95 yards, and three touchdowns.
South County (11-3) moves to next Saturday's State Division 5 Championship against Phoebus, a 27-26 overtime winner over North Stafford.
The Hawks finish 2011 at 10-3, and though they lose several key players, the nucleus of this team, including Jones, Rogers and Knizner, will return in 2012.
When asked about the future, Just said, "...we'll focus on that later. Right now we want to spend time with our seniors and appreciate what they've done for this program. Then we'll work on picking up where we left off. That's what we do."
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