STANARDSVILLE — The Skyline Hawks Region 3B playoff first-round match-up against William Monroe was following a familiar script Friday.
The No. 4 seeded Dragons took the second half kick-off and began a long time consuming drive that culminated in a touchdown to put the Hawks in a 20-14 hole.
In the earlier season contest between the two foes, William Monroe possessed the ball the entire third quarter, scoring early in the fourth quarter to fuel their 41-27 win and ruin the Hawks homecoming.
But after the late third quarter score the No. 5 seeded Hawks flipped the script against the Dragons.
The Hawks came up with several big plays on both sides of the ball and scored the next 28 points to win 42-20 and advance to a regional semifinal game at No. 1 Goochland on Friday.
“It was like deju vu,” Skyline coach Heath Gilbert said, referring to the Dragons second half start. “They made some big plays, converted (three) fourth downs, but when they missed that two-point conversion, we saw an opportunity. We knew then that we got this.”
Getting their first second half possession with just 3:47 left in the third quarter, Skyline wasted little time in reclaiming the lead.
Five plays later, sophomore quarterback Blake Appleton connected with Marion ‘Budder’ Haley for a perfectly thrown 25-yard TD pass. Doug Cummings extra point gave the Hawks a 21-20 lead.
The turning point of the game came early in the fourth quarter after the Hawks forced a William Monroe punt after a three-and out.
The Hawks Michael Davis broke through the middle and blocked the punt. Darion Santucci scooped up the loose ball and rumbled in from 20 yards out to give Skyline a 28-20 lead.
“On the last two punts they made some adjustments on the outside, so I tried to beat them on the inside,” Davis said. “I put my hands up — it felt like slow motion — and the ball hit them. I got the block.”
The already fired up Hawks took things to another level the rest of the way.
The defense shut down the Dragons star running back Dupree Rucker — who rushed for 204 of his 205 yards in the first three quarters against the Hawks — and the offense continued to roll. Skyline added two more touchdowns to win going away.
“That was the big change in the game,” Santucci said of the blocked punt. “That changed the momentum.”
Davis agreed. “That gave us the momentum and it was a game changer. It’s what we needed. That’s the kind of play every team needs. We needed to get that before they did.”
The Hawks defense forced another three-and-out on the Dragons next possession and wasted no time once again in stretching the lead.
Skyline (6-5), starting at their own 38, drove down field and eventually faced a second-and-eight at the Dragons 11.
Appleton fired a quick out pass to Haley, who was then grabbed by the face mask, spun out of the grasp of two William Monroe tacklers and dove into the end zone to give the Hawks a 35-20 lead with just over five minutes left in the game.
“When I broke that face mask and spun, I just pushed for the goal line, “ said Haley, who enjoyed a phenomenal game with 11 catches for 121 yards and four touchdown receptions. “We played harder than them tonight, executed better than them tonight and we wanted it more.”
The Dragons tried to respond on their next possession but Rucker was tossed for a four-yard loss on a fourth-and-six from the Skyline 29 to end the threat.
On the very next play for Skyline, running back David Carter burst through a hole on the left side and scampered 67 yards for another Hawks touchdown to put the game away.
Despite Rucker’s 205 yards rushing on the ground, the Hawks defense stepped up when it mattered and tossed the 2,000-yards-on-the-season running back for losses on six of his 33 carries. including three of his last four attempts.
“We didn’t do that last time against him,” Gilbert said. “He always got positive yards. This time the tackles for loss were huge.”
Skyline scored the game’s first points in the first quarter as Appleton hit Haley for a 10-yard touchdown pass.
The Dragons answered early in the second quarter as Rucker scored from three yards out.
The Hawks reclaimed the lead later in the quarter as Appleton and Haley struck again with a 22-yard touchdown hook-up.
But before the half, the Dragons tied the game as Rucker broke off his longest run of the night for 61 yards.
Although the Hawks managed just 115 yards on the ground, Appleton kept the chains moving for the Hawks with a super efficient game through the air. Appleton was 17 of 19 passing for 217 yards and four TD passes, all to Haley.
“Haley and Appleton had something going on tonight,” Gilbert said. “We want to run the ball and with their best corner out (suspension) we were going to throw the ball. We were going to attack them there anyway because Haley is the best receiver in the district.”
Just making postseason this season wasn’t enough for the Hawks, Gilbert said. The program wants more.
“For a program to gain respect you have to win games in the postseason,” Gilbert said. “We want to elevate our program and we want to earn respect.”