Falcons hold onto winning formula in playoff win over Buffalo Gap

Central's Shane Watson tries to ward off Buffalo Gap's Jay Johnson during second quarter action of the Region 2B quarterfinals in Woodstock. Central defeated Buffalo Gap, 42-14. For complete game coverage see Monday's issue. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Central High School’s football team talked about starting over and switching gears to playoff mode after going unbeaten during the regular season. The stakes may have changed when the No. 2 Falcons hosted No. 7 Buffalo Gap in the quarterfinal round of the Region 2B playoffs Friday night, but Central’s winning formula didn’t.

Four Falcons combined to rush for six touchdowns, the defense reined in Gap’s single-wing offense and Central rolled to a 42-14 victory on a frigid night in Woodstock to advance to a regional semifinal matchup at home against No. 3 Robert E. Lee this Friday.

“We talked about it after the game, we were who we were,” said Falcons head coach Mike Yew, whose team improved to 11-0 this season. “We played pretty good defense, played pretty good offense, we shined on special teams, we made some plays. That’s been who we are all year, and so tonight was kind of the model of what it’s been all year long.”

The Falcons, who are beating teams by an average margin of 42.9 points, have thrived on fast starts this season but nearly found themselves playing from behind early on Friday night.

Buffalo Gap (6-5), starting from its own 32-yard line, opened the game with a 13-play drive that reached as far as the Central 14-yard line before a costly personal foul penalty on the Bison derailed the possession. Gap’s pre-snap motion forced two Central offside penalties on the drive while the Falcons had trouble wrapping up senior running back Carter Rivenburg, but the Bison couldn’t recover from a 15-yard penalty on a first-down run from the 14-yard line and turned the ball over on downs at the Central 24.

Central's Kyle Clanton hauls in a 42-yard pass during the second quarter of Friday night's Region 2B quarterfinals against Buffalo Gap in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

“We went right down the field and had a little silly play that pushed us back, kind of stalled us,” Gap head coach Andy Cline said. “Just kind of snowballed from there. We never really got back on track after that.”

Central junior receiver Kyle Clanton took a handoff on an end-around on the next play and raced 76 yards for a touchdown.

“We know when he gets the ball it’s most likely gonna be a touchdown,” Falcons senior receiver/safety Varsey Bright said, “and when he scores that gives the defense juice.”

The Falcons’ defense responded by forcing a three-and-out and a punt from Gap’s own end zone on the next possession, and Bright took a handoff from Clanton on the punt return and sprinted 37 yards to set up Shane Watson’s 3-yard touchdown plunge on the first play of Central’s second possession.

“Momentum is a dangerous thing both ways, so we stopped their momentum and then we had a play that we worked on all week to get Kyle the ball, kind of a funky play, and it worked,” Yew said. “Then I felt like we had the next play, which was the punt return, and all the sudden what started off as a slow drive and very methodical for them was 14-0 us, and I think that kind of turned the tide right then.”

Central's Varsey Bright leaps to intercept this pass intended for Buffalo Gap's Ryan Wilcher in the third quarter during Friday night's game. Rich Cooley/Daily

Short touchdown runs from Watson and fullback Bryan Davis in the second quarter sent Central into halftime with a 28-0 lead, and the Falcons made it 42 unanswered points with Bright’s 27-yard scoring scamper and Davis’ 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

The Falcons rushed for 287 yards and averaged 8.2 yards per carry in the win.

“That team is very physical,” Davis, who rushed six times for 38 yards and two touchdowns, said of Gap. “Running the ball, having success, it was very important because our next opponent is just like them – huge, physical. So we just have to set it straight, and like mark our territory.”

Central’s defense, after the game’s opening drive, settled in and didn’t allow the Bison to find the end zone until the game was well in hand late in the third quarter. Buffalo Gap, which entered the game averaging 37.5 points per game, mustered just 246 yards of total offense (234 rushing), came up empty on three drives into Falcon territory in the first half and turned the ball over three times.

Bright snagged two interceptions in the win to bring his season total to 12, and Andrew Daugherty recovered a fumble on a botched pitch in the first quarter. Both of Bright’s picks turned into Central touchdown drives.

Central's Shane Watson looks for yardage in a playoff game last season. The Falcons start the 2018 season on the road against Skyline tonight. Rich Cooley/Daily file

“After that (first) drive we adjusted, played to our potential,” Bright said.

“We didn’t change anything. Our coach talked to us and said just be disciplined, play to our potential, be disciplined, be smart, and that’s what we did. We didn’t jump offsides anymore. I made sure receivers weren’t behind me. We all did our jobs.”

Rivenburg, who carried 20 times for 92 yards in the first half, finished with 23 carries for 109 yards for Gap, while Seth Fitzgerald and Ryan Wilcher had rushing touchdowns for the Bison.

Gap hurt its own cause with costly penalties in the first half. In addition to the personal foul on their opening possession, the Bison aided Central’s three-play, 94-yard touchdown drive late in the first half with a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that tacked an extra 30 yards onto a 42-yard pass from Zeb Dyer (3 of 4 passing, 61 yards) to Clanton.

Central played a lot of backups in the second half but still couldn’t escape the injury bug. Watson limped off after a carry early in the third quarter and didn’t return (Yew said Watson was cleared but was held out for precautionary reasons), and senior defensive end Dean Woodwell suffered an ankle injury on Gap’s third offensive play of the game.

Central coach Mike Yew gives quarterback Zeb Dyer directions during Friday night's game. Rich Cooley/Daily

Woodwell, who has a team-high nine sacks this season, was on crutches after the game.

“He said it hurt pretty bad, so he feels like he sprained it pretty good or maybe even broke it, I don’t know,” Yew said. “But he’ll get X-rays this weekend, I’m sure.”

Central hosts R.E. Lee (10-1), a 49-21 regional quarterfinal winner over George Mason at 7 p.m. Friday.

Central's Varsey Bright returns a punt for 37 yards in the first quarter. Rich Cooley/Daily

Central's Kyle Clanton spins out of a tackle during the first quarter of last week's playoff win over Buffalo Gap. The Falcons host Robert E. Lee tonight in the Region 2B semifinals. Rich Cooley/Daily

Central's Christopher Conner runs along the sideline as Buffalo Gap's Brandon McCray positions for the tackle during their playoff game last season in Woodstock. The Falcons return a lot of players from last year's squad, which went 11-1. Rich Cooley/Daily file

Central's Bryce Montgomery warms his hands beside this propane heater. Rich Cooley/Daily

Central's Kyle Clanton takes an end-around 76 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Rich Cooley/Daily