By Jeff Nations
TAPPAHANNOCK -- Central High School's football team learned a harsh truth in Friday night's Group A third-round state playoff game -- if you give Essex a head start, you aren't catching them.
The top-ranked Trojans jumped out to a two-touchdown lead in the first eight minutes and responded to a flurry of counter-strikes by the determined Falcons to score a hard-fought 48-28 victory.
The stage was set early for Central (10-3), which immediately showed its ability to move the ball consistently on the game's opening drive. But the Falcons' nine-play, 64-yard march stalled at the Trojans' 9-yard line and Central missed on a 27-yard field goal try.
One minute later, Essex (13-0) was up a touchdown as strong-armed quarterback Dominek Broaddus capped a three-play, 80-yard drive with a 54-yard scoring strike to DeAndre Baylor. Broaddus, just a sophomore, had a huge night for the Trojans with 268 passing yards and four touchdown passes.
Broaddus (65 rushing yards) was right back at it on Essex's next drive following a Central punt. His 12-yard touchdown scramble put the Trojans up 14-0 with 4:13 left in the first quarter.
Struck early and often, the Falcons hit back on their next possession. With a heavy rush bearing down, Falcons quarterback Hayden Bauserman delivered a 17-yard touchdown pass to Travis Cooper to cut the deficit to a touchdown.
Not for long -- the Trojans answered with another Broaddus touchdown pass, this one a 14-yarder to Keith Bundy that showcased the receiver's deadly ability to make defenders miss and extend the play. That trait was common for the Trojans, which flashed jaw-dropping speed throughout the night.
What Essex didn't show was much ability to stop Central. Down 21-7, the Falcons came right back late in the second quarter by leaning on the running game. Jordan Umstead carried seven times during a nine-play drive, and Hayden Bauserman kept Essex on its heels with passes of 34 yards to Justin Bauserman and 31 to Kolton Poston. Umstead finished the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run, and the Falcons again looked in good shape trailing only by a touchdown with 1:41 left in the half.
That was plenty of time for the Trojans, who needed just a minute to put together a seven-play, 44-yard touchdown drive as Broaddus hit Baylor once more for a 4-yard scoring strike.
"The first few times they had the ball in the first half, we just made some mental mistakes and put ourselves in bad positions," Central coach Mike Yew said. "That's not to take anything from them -- that's an extremely talented and fast team. But we put ourselves in bad positions."
The Trojans gained more breathing room with their opening drive of the second half, as Rahiem Rolling (game-high 162 rushing yards) ended another long drive with a 6-yard touchdown run.
The game took an ugly turn after that. Hayden Bauserman again got the Falcons' offense moving following Rolling's score, but on fourth-and-goal from the 15 his pass to the end zone was intercepted by Baylor. Central's Justin Bauserman was injured on the play as he went up for the ball in what the Central crowd and sideline saw as a vicious and dirty hit. It did draw a personal-foul penalty, which offset one on Central for a late hit on Baylor's interception return.
Justin Bauserman was transported to an area hospital, but was moving and pumped his fist several times as he was loaded into an ambulance.
The Falcons kept battling, again driving into Essex territory on their next drive before the Trojans' James Green came up with another interception at his own 1.
Central did break through again on its next possession, as Bauserman (22 for 36, 296 yards, TDs) hit Kolton Poston on a 21-yard touchdown pass.
"I really thought [Central] gave us all we could handle with our defense," Essex coach John Fulks said. "We got some fortunate stops in the red zone. They moved the ball up and down the field on us."
As always, the Trojans had a ready answer as Dartanious Jones reeled (six catches, 136 yards) in a 40-yard scoring bomb from Broaddus for another touchdown that essentially sealed the victory.
Poston finished with 10 catches for 86 yards to lead the Falcons. Thomas Peacemaker rushed for 67 yards to lead the Falcons, who combined for only 124 yards on the ground.
"It's been a great season, everything about it," Yew said. "These seniors are probably one of the winningest classes that we've had in awhile. The kids have progressed the last three years and have just continued to raise the bar. I'm just proud of them."
-- Sports editor Jeff Nations can be reached at (540) 465-5137 or at firstname.lastname@example.org