By Brad Fauber
There's just something about the act of taking a handoff out of the backfield that Stonewall Jackson junior running back Derrick Smith loves.
"I'm a different person when I'm carrying the football," Smith admits. "I like carrying the football because I'm in control."
Smith left little doubt that he was indeed in control in the Generals' season finale against Page County last Friday. Determined to crack the 1,000-yard mark for the season, Smith battled through a sprained right ankle that forced him to miss Stonewall's previous two games and turned in one of his best performances of the season.
The 5-foot-9, 176-pound junior racked up 167 yards on 21 carries and found the end zone four times in the Generals' 42-0 rout of the Panthers. Smith, who entered the game with 820 yards rushing, fell just 13 yards shy of the 1,000-yard milestone, but his impressive day did help vault Stonewall (1-9) into the win column for the first time this season.
"It felt good to go out on a win. It was a good game to end the season," said Smith, The Northern Virginia Daily's Male Athlete of the Week for Nov. 3-9. "We had a tough season, so it was a good one to look back on."
In a game that longtime Stonewall Jackson head coach Dick Krol called one of the strangest games he's seen in his 25 years at the school, everything seemed to go the Generals' way. Page County turned the ball over six times in the game, and Smith gashed the Panthers' defense for several long touchdown runs, bum ankle and all.
Smith started the scoring with a 14-yard scamper that put the Generals up 6-0 in the first quarter, and he added a 3-yard scoring plunge midway through the second quarter to put Stonewall up 14-0.
His biggest run of the day came just before halftime, as he streaked 52 yards to the end zone to give Stonewall a 22-0 lead going into the break. Smith initially took the handoff from quarterback Daniel Buhl towards the right side of the Generals' offensive line before reversing field. Smith then bounced off a tackle, getting his helmet twisted in the process, before reorienting himself and finding the end zone with 22 seconds remaining in the first half.
"That 50-yarder just before halftime put us up far enough for us to relax a little bit," Krol said.
But even that play wasn't the most impressive of Smith's runs in Krol's eyes. That designation was reserved for Smith's final touchdown run of the night, a 46-yard run that came behind the Generals' second-string offensive line midway through the fourth quarter.
Krol said the blocking on the play "wasn't very good," making Smith's long touchdown run that much more impressive.
"He enjoys running the football and he enjoys picking up yardage," Krol said.
"He has been very steady. I don't think there was a game this year that he didn't get 100 yards when he was healthy."
Smith said the desire to break the 1,000-yard mark was a big motivation for him to tough out his ankle injury, as was the determination to send out the Generals' senior class with a victory in Stonewall's final game of the season.
"The seniors didn't want to go out like that, so we all just wanted to win for them," Smith said.
It also helped that Krol pointed out before the game that he had never coached a winless team in his 25 seasons at Stonewall Jackson. Krol said he thinks the Generals responded to that challenge.
"I think maybe [it was] the understanding that this was the end of it," Krol said. "It was for the bottom of the [Shenandoah] District, and we let the kids know that. And I think they realized finally that it was the end."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD