By Dennis Atwood - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL - Randolph-Macon Academy went toe-to-toe with Fredericksburg Christian School on Saturday afternoon, but the Eagles pulled away in the second half for a 29-14 win over the Yellow Jackets.
The Eagles steamrolled their first two opponents, 41-0 and 41-7, but the Yellow Jackets battled Fredericksburg in the first half and trailed 15-14 at halftime.
But the Eagles made better adjustments at the half, while R-MA committed some key penalties and failed to convert on two crucial fourth-down tries, enabling Fredericksburg to dominate the second half.
R-MA senior Garrett Cavanaugh, in his first season at the school, and as a quarterback, showed great poise and execution in the first half.
The Yellow Jackets received the opening kickoff and executed a 10-play, 83-yard drive, capped by a Cavanaugh two-yard keeper on fourth-and-goal. Cavanaugh completed a pass to Jonathan Moore for the two-point conversion putting R-MA up 8-0 at the 7:33 mark.
The Yellow Jackets (0-3) employed nine rushes, including a 40-yard gallop by Moore on his first rush, and one pass play on the opening drive, a four-yard Cavanaugh to Moore completion.
It was Moore's birthday, and he celebrated with a fine performance, ripping off a game-high 156 yards on 19 carries. Moore's 40-yard scamper on his first carry was his longest of the game. Moore also caught four passes for 42 yards.
"Honestly, in the second half, I didn't see anything different," Moore said. "We got stopped on a couple of downs, on third-and-two, and third-and-three in the first half. We were just driving them.
"But we played fantastic both halves. The score doesn't reflect how neck-and-neck the game was. Everyone played well. This is probably one of the best teams we've faced."
On the ensuing possession, the R-MA defense stiffened to stop Fredericksburg fullback James Plourde, a junior, 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, and built like a bulldozer, on a run off a fake punt with fourth-and-4 at the R-MA 36.
Fredericksburg (3-0) got on the board on a nine-play drive that started with 2:47 on the clock, and carried over into the second quarter. Senior quarterback Joshua Nowacki made the tally on a 7-yard keeper, then completed a pass to Randall Thornton for the two-point conversion, knotting the score, 8-8, with 10:45 until halftime.
The Yellow Jackets responded with a 14-play, 70-yard drive that consumed seven minutes, with Cavanaugh cashing in on a 1-yard keeper. The two-point try failed, making it 14-8 in R-MA's favor.
The Eagles then kept the tempo upbeat by reaching the end zone on a six-play drive culminating with Plourde's 7-yard touchdown rush and a point-after kick by Matthew Schools, giving Fredericksburg its first lead of the game, 15-14, with 58 seconds remaining before the half.
After receiving the second half kickoff, the Eagles got a gift first down after their second play, on a face-mask penalty against R-MA.
With third-and-one at the Yellow-Jackets' 34, Plourde was tackled for a six-yard loss, but his helmet flew off while he was on the ground.
The 15-yard face mask penalty gave Fredericksburg a first-and-10 on the R-MA 19. On the next play junior running back Joshua Hill (94 yards on seven carries, two TD's) covered all of those yards to hit pay dirt, Schools hit the extra point, and the Eagles had a 22-14 lead with 8:45 to go in the quarter.
"[That penalty] was a momentum-changer," R-MA head coach Frank Sullivan said. "Mistakes happen, you just gotta go with it.
"The kids played hard. They're adapting to the schemes. We're throwing it a little more. I think we can throw it even a little more. We've got the talent to spread the field. I think we did a good job getting Moore and [Kevin] Slaton running the ball today. So we had a dual threat, and that was the goal."
Senior running back Slaton gained 87 yards on 15 carries for the Yellow Jackets.
R-MA then used 10 plays to advance from their 40 to a third down at the Eagles' 5-yard line. An incomplete pass brought up fourth down, and Ben Gillis's 22-yard field goal attempt was partially blocked.
After the Yellow Jackets' held Fredericksburg to a three-and-out, R-MA advanced from the Eagles' 48 to a fourth-and-1 at the 39. Cavanaugh was then stopped for no gain, and Fredericksburg took over on downs with 35 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Successive first down runs of 11 yards by Nowacki and 13 yards by Plourde gave the Eagles a first-and-10 at the R-MA 37.
Plourde then chunked off another 12 yards before fumbling, and R-MA's Louis Lindsay recovered the ball at the 29, for the only turnover by either team.
Plourde was a steady workhorse for the Eagles, gaining 63 yards on nine carries in the fourth quarter alone, and totaled 135 yards on 24 carries for the day.
On the ensuing drive, the Yellow Jackets moved the ball efficiently to reach a first-and-10 on the Fredericksburg 20, but were penalized five yards for an illegal receiver downfield.
Two plays later, Cavanaugh was sacked for a six-yard loss by Samuel Shaw.
R-MA went for first down on fourth-and-20 at the 30-yard line, but Cavanaugh's pass was incomplete.
The Eagles took full advantage five plays later when Hill ripped off a 43-yard run for his second touchdown of the game for a 29-14 lead with 4:55 on the game clock.
R-MA went three-and-out on its next possession, and Fredericksburg moved the ball efficiently on six rushes to reach a first down on the Yellow Jackets' 31. Nowacki then took a knee on the next two plays to let the clock run out.
Cavanaugh couldn't match his first-half passing success after halftime, going 1-for-12 for 29 yards on a completion to Slaton, to finish 5-for-20, for 60 yards on the day. Cavanaugh's last seven tosses all fell incomplete.
"We fought hard 'till the end," Cavanaugh said. "I'm very proud of my team.
"[Fredericksburg] changed their defense in the second half. They started realizing our plays, with trips and bunch on the left side. They made good adjustments. This is definitely the best game we've played all year. From game one until now, we've just been pushing forward. We work hard in practice, coach [Sullivan] has been pushing us more, and it's been showing on the field."
One of Sullivan's goals for the year is to achieve greater balance between the rushing and passing phases of the R-MA attack. That goal is being achieved early in the 2013 campaign.
R-MA executed 39 running plays and had 20 pass attempts.
Through their first two games, the Yellow Jackets gained 219 yards through the air and 326 yards on the ground. In the entire 2012 season, R-MA gained only 201 yards passing.
The Eagles relied heavily on their running game with 43 running plays and only five pass attempts.
"We just try to get better every day," Sullivan said. "In 20 years, we know what job we did as coaches. We all want to win, and I wanted to win this game as much as anyone in the stadium, but our kids are getting tougher, and that's a good thing."