By Allen Kha / Scrimmageplaycva.com contributor
Tarian Ayers wasn’t going to let Buckingham County lose its first home playoff game in nine years. Especially not on his birthday.
So after Ayers and his No. 5-seeded Knights went into halftime with just a 14-12 lead — after visiting Stonewall Jackson-Quicksburg scored 12 unanswered points to close the first half — Buckingham regathered itself and reeled off 28 second-half points to record a 42-12 first-round playoff victory.
“It was a good present for myself,” Ayers laughed. “We got up before on Goochland and we settled, and let them back into that game. We couldn’t do that again… we had to just go ahead and take them out from then and there.”
The Knights jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter, led by Ayers’ magical play. On the first drive of the game, the star quarterback made two key plays to help lead his team to the end zone.
On the first third down of the game, Ayers eluded the pass rush and converted on a 25-yard scamper. Two plays later, he threw a beautifully lofted 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cam Johnson, who made a nice basket catch to cap off the game’s first scoring drive.
After Ayers scored again — on a 35-yard touchdown run after his protection broke down — Stonewall Jackson fought back.
The Generals, a full-fledged running team, embarked on a 10-play drive to open the second quarter. Mixing a power and option run game, scatback Jared Getz capped off Stonewall Jackson’s first scoring drive with a two-yard touchdown run. Lacking a reliable kicking game, the Generals failed on the ensuing two-point conversion.
Stonewall Jackson — understanding that its offense wasn’t bult to rally from a huge deficit — attempted an onside kick to get back into the game. The Generals recovered its onside kick attempt after Buckingham lineman Ryan Jones fumbled the first recovered.
The Knights held Stonewall Jackson to a three-and-out on the ensuing drive, but the Generals responded on its next possession with a six-play, 23-yard drive to cut the lead to 14-12 with four minutes remaining in the half.
Stonewall Jackson threatened to score in the final minute in the first half, but stalled short of the red zone and went into the half trailing 14-12.
“I didn’t think it would be a cakewalk, and I tried to tell the kids that all week,” Buckingham coach Craig Gill said. “The kids can get on the Internet today and find everything out about a team, but I said, ‘[Stonewall Jackson] is going to play us tough.’ When we had to travel last year first round, we played people tough, and we expected the same on us this year. That’s why we didn’t panic at halftime… we just made some adjustments.”
Noting that the Generals were dominating in the trenches with thier potent running game, Gill and his Buckingham team made two primary adjustments: first, Gill pushed his team to be more disciplined in its assignment football; second, Gill pushed his middle linebacker to run blitz and help contain Stonewall Jackson’s attack.
The Knights’ adjustments paid immediate dividends, with the defense forcing four-straight three-and-out drives.
Buckingham’s offense, meanwhile, got back on its feet in the second half. After the Generals forced a Stonewall Jackson three-and-out to open the third quarter, the Generals responded with a six-play, 67-yard touchdown drive — with Ayers capping off the drive with a 20-yard touchdown run — to reestablish its footing with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“I’m a passing quarterback, I enjoy being that. Or to better put it, I’m looking to make plays first, and that usually involves being a well-rounded quarterback,” Ayers said. “And in that drive, I evaded the pass rush to keep the drive alive. The [rushing] touchdown was there to finish the drive, but we don’t score if we couldn’t keep drives alive and if I don’t trust my receivers to make plays like they can.”
Both teams would trade possessions to close out the third quarter, with the Knights holding a slim 20-12 lead.
Buckingham gave itself a little more breathing room seconds into the fourth quarter, however, when playmaker L.A. Briley returned a Stonewall Jackson punt 62 yards for a return touchdown and gave the Knights sideline its swagger back.
“[The return] got us pumped up, got us out of being flat,” Briley said. “That punt return was simple really… just a play we call ‘the wall’. It’s simply being patient enough to let the blockers set you up, and from there I could find the hole on the right sideline.”
Freshman running back Kyree Koonce scored twice to cap off the 42-12 victory for Buckingham, who travel next week to face undefeated No. 4-seeded King William, who enter next Friday’s contest with an 11-0 record.
Having faced two of the top teams in the state in Goochland and Amelia, however, Koonce is confident that his team is up to next week’s challenge.
“[Tonight’s] win gave us a ton of confidence,” Koonce said. “The biggest thing tonight was that the offensive line blocked really well. We got into that lull, but we have experienced leaders on this team and they helped up come together. Play like this for the next four games and we’re in the states.”