WINCHESTER – Central’s defense was well aware that Luray’s Wing-T offense was going to provide a challenge on Friday night. But the Falcons proved right from the start they were capable of handling it.
Central was dominant on defense in a convincing Region 2B semifinal victory over the Bulldogs. The Falcons forced four turnovers in the 63-21 victory at Shenandoah University.
Central senior linebacker Christian Spitler said the Falcons knew they would need to play tough, hard-nosed football against the Bulldogs.
“At the end of the day, it was who was going to man up?” Spitler said. “It was who had more guts at the end of the day? Who was more disciplined and who had grit? We came out in cold weather and we had more grit and we came out more disciplined.”
Central’s defense set the tone for the game on the first possession. Luray fumbled on the third play from scrimmage and Central senior defensive back Nick Houghton recovered at the Luray 36.
It only took six plays for the Falcons to score and take a 7-0 lead just a little over four minutes into the game. Central senior defensive back/wide receiver Kyle Clanton said that the turnover gave life to the offense.
“It’s big when they get the ball (and turn it over), especially when we drive down the field like that and score,” Clanton said. “A drive like that just kills them.”
With the Falcons up 14-0, the defense made another big play in the first quarter. Spitler recovered another Luray fumble at the Luray 23 with 5:27 left in the opening quarter.
“It was a good play call by our defensive coordinator (Rowdy Hoover),” Spitler said. “He sent me on a blitz and it was perfect. Right when I came in through the open hole the ball was just sitting right there for the picking. I had to jump on it.”
Clanton scored on a 23-yard pass from Central quarterback Zeb Dyer on the next play for a quick 21-0 lead.
Spitler, who is a tight end on offense, said when the defense is creating turnovers the offense feeds off if it.
“It motivates us to the top,” Spitler said. “It gives us so much energy so much momentum. And whenever we get a turnover and we,re able to score multiple times in a game it’s nice. It’s a good feeling.”
Clanton intercepted a pass from Luray quarterback Dalton Griffith in the second quarter, which led to a Hunter Mullins score and a 28-7 lead.
The Falcons scored 28 points off four Luray turnovers. The defense also had a goal-line stand late in the first half to stay in front by 28 points at the half.
Central coach Mike Yew said that he was proud of his defensive effort, especially against a run-oriented offense like Luray’s.
“The defense played awesome,” Yew said. “We played assignment football. They had some big plays. That’s a hard offense to stop because of the misdirection. And we made a lot of great plays and then we missed some and that’s part of it. But all in all, I thought our defense was getting to the ball, making plays. And we had a great goal-line stand in the first half. With our starters in there against their starters, to hold them to 14 points is an accomplishment.”
The Falcons’ defense has been strong all season. Entering Friday’s game Central was giving up just 9.8 points per game with five shutouts.
Central held Luray’s high-powered offense to 128 yards in the opening half.
Yew said on both sides of the ball the key to the game was the offensive and defensive lines for Central.
“We did a lot of things differently defensively with a four-man front, five-man front, six-man front,” Yew said. “And we asked them to do different things slanting, pinching. And our kids did what they were supposed to do. Offensively we just got after it. Our guys did what they were supposed to do and we got after people.”
Spitler said all season the defense has taken pride in trying to shut the other team’s offense down. He said he was proud of how they slowed down Luray’s normally potent rushing attack.
Next week will present an even bigger challenge as the Falcons play at East Rockingham. The Eagles, who beat Buffalo Gap 51-22 in Friday’s other Region 2B semifinal, are averaging 45.3 points per game.
“I’m definitely excited,” Spitler said. “It’s going to be one helluva challenge. It’s going to be a good game, definitely a good game.”