Wildcats fall to James Monroe in regional semifinals
FRONT ROYAL – Warren County High School’s football team has been a second-half team for most of the season. The Wildcats got the fast start they needed against visiting James Monroe in the Region 3B semifinals on Friday night, but the final two quarters belonged to the Yellow Jackets.
Third-seeded James Monroe overcame a 10-point deficit with a string of 24 unanswered points to take down No. 2 Warren County, 27-17, and earn a spot in the Region 3B championship game against No. 5 Culpeper County on Saturday.
The Wildcats, who entered the game riding a four-game winning streak, saw their turnaround season under first-year head coach Brian Bush come to an end with a 7-5 record.
“We didn’t make the big plays when we needed them most,” Bush said. “We had some opportunities and couldn’t capitalize.”
The Wildcats’ most glaring missed chance came in the closing seconds of the first half.
Leading 10-3 and looking to add points before halftime in response to a James Monroe (6-6) field goal, Warren County made a quick push into Yellow Jacket territory when senior Darren Frantz broke off a 50-yard run to the Monroe 30-yard line. The Wildcats eventually reached the 4 with less than 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter, but a second-down snap sailed high over the head of receiver Jacob Good – who was lined up in the wildcat formation – and resulted in a 24-yard loss back to the 28.
Warren County had time to run one final play before the half but freshman quarterback Bryce Post was sacked.
James Monroe head coach Rich Serbay called the bad snap the “key to the game,” though Bush was less critical of the sequence that squandered a Wildcat scoring opportunity.
“I told (the players) the same thing, it’s how our season’s gone, you know. One bad play doesn’t define us. We won’t let it carry over to another bad play,” Bush said. “Yeah, a lot of people look at it as it could’ve been a momentum swing, but it wasn’t. We had our chances and we should’ve capitalized on those chances. It is what it is.”
James Monroe’s first half was marked by nothing but missed opportunities on offense. The Yellow Jackets reached Warren County territory on all five of their first-half possessions – their final two drives of the second quarter started in plus territory – but they managed just one red zone trip in the half. That possession ended with Miguel Hernandez’s 20-yard field goal with 2:43 left in the second quarter after the drive stalled at the Warren County 3.
Monroe fared better in the second half. The Yellow Jackets, beneficiaries of yet another short field after a 21-yard punt following Warren County’s three-and-out to start the third quarter, covered 47 yards on six plays on their first drive of the second half and tied the game on A.J. Johnson’s 3-yard touchdown run.
Omaro Barnum’s 23-yard TD run on the Jackets’ next possession gave James Monroe a 17-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, and Brandon Woolridge pulled down a jump ball from quarterback Zakk Davis in the back corner of the end zone to push the lead to 24-10 with 4:38 to play.
“(Warren County) had a good defensive game plan. It took us a while to figure it out,” Serbay said. “Once we figured it out, we moved the ball a little bit better. Our quarterback threw the ball a little bit better. He got a little gun shy early in the game. He didn’t realize how good Warren County was and I think he got a little nervous, but second half he came out and played better.”
James Monroe finished with 406 yards of offense and 227 yards rushing, while Johnson led all rushers with 131 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
The Wildcats had trouble containing Monroe senior receiver Chris Reaves-Williams, who caught six passes for 157 yards and had four receptions of 27 yards or more. His last reception, a 35-yarder, helped the Yellow Jackets seal the win with a 10-play drive that used over 3 ½ minutes of clock and ended with Hernandez’s 21-yard field goal with 32 seconds left.
“Our run defense was great, and that’s one thing that we focused on, was making sure that we get stops from the run game and making sure that we control the line of scrimmage. I think we did well at that tonight,” Bush said. “It just seemed like they were able to get behind us a little bit at times and we’d lose track (of Reaves-Williams).”
Chunk plays kept Warren County’s own offense productive.
On the Wildcats’ third play from scrimmage after forcing a punt on James Monroe’s game-opening drive, Post found Good open down the seam for a 96-yard touchdown strike. Good made a spinning grab along the left hash near the Wildcat 30-yard line and outran a pack of Yellow Jacket defenders to the end zone.
Ronnie Dodson’s 34-yard run helped set up Stuart Ashley’s 24-yard field goal early in the second quarter, and Post and senior receiver Ben Vogt teamed up to give the Wildcats a jolt late in the fourth quarter when they connected for a 72-yard pass that led to Dodson’s 8-yard touchdown run that pulled Warren County within 24-17 with 4:05 to play.
Warren County finished with 425 yards of offense, and 278 of those yards came on five plays.Dodson carried 23 times for 123 yards and a score, Good had six catches for 161 yards and a TD and Post completed 9 of 19 passes for 251 yards and a score.
Friday’s loss was the Wildcats’ second straight playoff defeat at the hands of James Monroe, which topped Warren County in the first round in 2014.
Under Bush this fall, Warren County returned to the playoffs for the first time since that season and also picked up its first postseason win since 2013.
“The seniors have started a successful program and hopefully we’ll just continue to carry that on and move forward,” Bush said.
“They shouldn’t be ashamed of anything. They worked their tails off and they were able to see some success. Hopefully we’ll continue to see more and more success as the years go.”