By Brad Fauber
WOODSTOCK -- Central has lived by the proverbial "bend but don't break" philosophy on defense all season long, and that mentality proved effective against visiting Poquoson in the second round of the Class 3A East regional playoffs on Saturday.
The third-seeded Falcons forced four Poquoson turnovers, and Central turned three of those miscues into touchdown drives in a 22-14 win over the No. 6 Islanders. All four of Poquoson's turnovers came in Central territory, including three inside the Falcons' 30-yard line.
Central advances to play at No. 2 Loudoun Valley next Saturday at 2 p.m.
"When the game was on the line, on both sides of the ball, our kids really made plays," Falcons coach Mike Yew said. "When it was the game or the situation was getting tight, our kids responded and just played really well."
The Islanders (8-4) out-gained Central 291 to 290 in total offensive yardage, but the Falcons were able to sustain three long touchdown drives throughout the course of the game. Central, a team typically known for its big-play ability, put together scoring drives of 89, 91 and 72 yards, all of which used 11 plays or more.
Perhaps Central's most important drive of the game began late in the third quarter with the game tied at 14-14, when the Falcons (10-2) started a drive from their own 28 following a Poquoson fumble on a short pass completion.
The Falcons, working without explosive receiver Tommy Caison (suspension), marched down the field behind a healthy balance of runs and short passing plays. Facing a fourth-and-6 from the Islanders' 10, Central went to a five-wide receiver formation for first time in the game, and Falcons senior Zach Herbaugh made a spectacular grab on a pass from quarterback Hayden Bauserman for a 10-yard score. A successful 2-point conversion put Central up 22-14 with 9:43 left in the fourth quarter.
Hayden Bauserman completed 16 of 27 passes for 167 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Poquoson had two chances to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but the Islanders were twice halted on fourth-down attempts in Central territory.
The Islanders managed 260 yards rushing on Saturday, but Central seemed to adjust well to Poquoson's Wing-T offense after giving up some long plays in the first quarter.
"We knew that they were going to run the ball and they were going to run it hard," said Falcons senior defensive back Justin Bauserman, who finished with an interception and two forced fumbles. "We knew that if just kept up the mentality of just playing football and playing defense like we should, and do our jobs, we could win this game. It showed there at the end."
Poquoson's struggle with turnovers began on its first drive of the game. After ripping off 20 yards on three rush attempts to start the drive, the Islanders lost the ball on a fumble when Justin Bauserman stripped Poquoson senior Logan Swartz as he reeled off a 26-yard run deep into Falcon territory.
Central responded with a 14-play, 89-yard drive that put the Falcons up 6-0 with 4:49 left in the first quarter. Senior running back Daniel Molina, who finished the day with 114 yards on 28 carries, capped the drive with a 1-yard scoring plunge.
"We were just testing to see what worked, and then once we knew what worked we just kept doing it and doing it," said Molina of Central's offense, which relied heavily on a power running game and short passes out of the I-formation due to the windy conditions. "I figured they would be able to stop the run and we would have to pass. But it was both this game."
Poquoson answered on its next drive with a quick four-play, 67-yard scoring drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by bruising running back Grayson Boyce (18 carries, 103 yards) to put the Islanders up 7-6.
Central came up with another crucial stop on Poquoson's next possession, as Justin Bauserman picked off a pass by Islanders quarterback Johnny Pryce at the Falcons' 9-yard line.
The Falcons turned around and marched 91-yards to the end zone, scoring on a 12-yard run by Justin Bauserman on an end around to take a 14-7 lead with 8:21 left in the first half.
"I didn't think I was going to make it. I saw two guys coming -- I think Zach [Herbaugh] had a great block, I didn't get to see much of it -- but two guys were coming in," said Justin Bauserman, who also had six catches for 70 yards. "I got hit but I just took the ball and put it out there at the pylon."
The Islanders tied the game in the third, going 62-yards on eight plays on its first possession of the second half. Ethan Bryce (13 caries, 75 yards) capped the drive with a five-yard scoring run on fourth-and-goal.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD