Wildcats’ Sharp has big night

By Jim Laise – sports@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL — He couldn’t have written a better script.

On the night that Warren County receiver C.J. Sharp was named homecoming king at the Wildcats’ festivities, he also happened to be the player who caught the winning touchdown pass as time ran out.

Call him Big Man on Campus — times two.

“It’s something, isn’t it?” said Sharp after his 28-yard catch-and-run from quarterback Robert Rutherford scored for Warren County when the clock hit zero to make it 20-14 ‘Cats in a game that included various ups and downs for the 2-5 overall, 2-2 Bull Run conference home team.

The challenger was George Mason, which, with eight seconds left, was hoping for at least a tie to ruin Warren County’s big night.

It did not happen as Rutherford, who threw two interceptions earlier, found the little receiver wide open on the game’s final play.

“It’s called a ‘jet-right-Viking’ where two of us split the defenders. Eric Baker (8 receptions, 57 yards, 1 TD) made a great pick and I was wide open,” said Sharp, just before he donned his king’s crown for the second time of the night. He was acknowledged at halftime.

“It really couldn’t go wrong,” added Rutherford, who completed seven straight passes after the Mustangs (1-6, 1-4) had picked him off twice. “We had two receivers out there on one safety. If the safety jumped one of them, then I’d go to the other. It was wide open.”

Rutherford and Sharp discussed the final play of the game with coach Steve Crist during a timeout with eight seconds left.

“We talked about it,” Rutherford said. “We could have gone for the first down (they needed just a yard), or we could go for the touchdown. We decided to go for the touchdown. We needed the score right now.”

“I trusted them,” said Crist, after a jubilant celebration among players, friends and alums who arrived for the homecoming events. “There was a chance for going for the first down, but we were worried about the time. What if time ran out on us? Why not go for it right now?”

The scoring pass from Robert Rutherford (13-of-17 passing for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns) followed a score by George Mason with 1:19 left to go. D’Montae Noble squirted for 11 yards and the kick by Hunter Beam was good to knot it at 14.

The Warren County touchdown followed three consecutive plays when quarterback Rutherford either ran or threw for first downs to move the ball to the 28, where the signal caller promptly spiked the ball as the Mustangs called timeout.

The Wildcats called the play and Rutherford-to-Sharp made it happen.

The event culminated a wild fourth quarter when Warren outscored George Mason 13-7 after a night of miscues, penalties and punting.

Neither team could get anything going in the first quarter, but broke into the scoring column in the second quarter to score seven points apiece.

George Mason opened the tallying in the game when Noble, who rushed 21 times for 79 yards and two scores, ran 45 yards on a delayed handoff and Beam split the uprights for the 7-0 lead with 4:09 left in the first quarter.

That touchdown liberated Warren County, which spent a good bit of the night punting it back to Mason (five kicks for a 30 yard average). The Mustangs booted it back six times for a 26-yard average.

Joseph Rutherford, Robert’s brother, got the 60-yard touchdown drive off to a good start when he ripped 24 yards to the Mustangs’ 28. Joseph Rutherford carried 17 times for 67 yards.

On fourth-and-1, Warren stumbled. It picked up a five-yard penalty for a false start which set the Wildcats back at fourth-and-6 on the Mason 25. The penalty was one of 10 (for 80 yards) the Wildcats picked up on the night.

But Robert Rutherford, on fourth-and-6, found favorite receiver Baker for a 16-yard pass which carried to the Mustangs’ 9. It was first-and-goal. After a five-yard rushing gain, Robert Rutherford went play-action left and found Baker in the left side of the end zone. The extra point was good. It was a tie game, 7-7, with just 46.8 seconds left in the first half.

The Rutherford heroics were a sign of things to come.

“I’ve just got to give it to my receivers and my lineman tonight. We overcame a lot of stuff and came out with a win when we needed it,” said Robert Rutherford.

“We’ll have to look at those penalties on film,” said Crist. “I think it was a technique problem in the first half, it’s something we can overcome.”

In fact, the Wildcats were about to do so in the fourth quarter.

After a scoreless third, Warren County took the opening drive of the fourth quarter for 79 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.

The possession started with a holding penalty, but several plays later, Robert Rutherford (6 carries, 50 yards) dashed 19 yards for a first down at the Wildcats’ 40.

Another big play along the way was a 23-yard run which carried down to the 25 of the Mustangs. An encroachment penalty on the visitors gave the Wildcats a first down at the 15. After two rushes, Will Spencer carried in the 4-yard score to give Warren the 14-7 lead with 6:31 remaining in the game.

Warren’s defense, which allowed George Mason 91 yards rushing, 84 passing and seven first downs, thought it had the Mustangs snuffed out, but on fourth-and-3 Noble crashed four yards for a first down at midfield.

A screen to fullback Hunter Sulc went to the Warren 44. After a delay penalty, Noble fought his way 38 yards to the 11. He added the TD.

The Wildcats had 79 seconds to do the unthinkable.

“Just a great night all around,” said Sharp.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better homecoming,” added Crist.