Orange County bounced back from last week’s home loss by spoiling Western Albemarle’s homecoming with a 28-8 had-to-have-it victory as they angle for a top-8 finish and playoff berth in Group 5, Region D.
“Defensively, we made a stand tonight,” said Orange coach Jesse Lohr. “We’ve struggled the past couple of weeks, it’s been well-noted, and that’s the best performance we’ve had all year long. We have a lot of sophomores out there on that field, and they’re starting to grow up in front of us. The biggest thing is we go home with a win, and that’s what we need right now.”
In contrast to last week’s shootout with fellow Group 5 contender Albemarle, the Hornets posted a pair of touchdowns in only the first and fourth quarters. Orange just slightly outgained Western for the game, 279-251, but quarterback Kenyon Carter and running back Jaylen Alexander were both effective and allowed the Hornets to capitalize when prime opportunities arose thanks to turnovers and penalties. On the four occasions that Orange’s offense began a series in Western territory, it found the endzone all four times.
“I don’t know how many offenses in the area can say they’re as balanced as we are,” Lohr said. “Our defense put us in great situations offensively. It was a grind-it-out type of game, and we just did what it took to win.”
Western turned to senior Robert Sims at quarterback. Although the passing game never got going, he proved effective in the ground attack, finishing with a game-high 22 rushes and 146 yards.
“Robert did not disappoint,” said Western coach Ed Redmond. “I’m not going to lie, we’re banged up. Derek [Domecq] didn’t practice all week, and we went with Robert because he was repping in practice. He played a hard game, but due to the field position and penalties, we were fighting uphill all night. That’s very difficult on any quarterback or offense.”
The teams traded punts to start the game but field position quickly shifted in the Hornets’ favor, especially after a block-in-the-back penalty on a Warrior punt return pinned the offense inside its own 10. The fourth play from scrimmage delivered turnover number one as Orange fell on a fumble and took over at the 22. Moments later, Carter connected with senior Tyrone Warren for an 11-yard touchdown.
“We flooded the sidelines and took the alley defender away, and it isolated Tyrone on the safety on an out route,” Lohr said. “[Kenyon] made a good decision and hit him.”
Western found itself pinned deep again after a targeting penalty on the ensuing kickoff return. After a three-and-out and punt, Orange’s offense was setup at the Western 49. Alexander picked up eight yards to convert a third-and-1, and then Carter tallied his second touchdown thanks to senior receiver Darius Minor.
“Kenyon broke out of the pocket and rolled out; my route was a corner but coach always tells us to come back to the ball and that’s what I did, caught it, and tried to make something happen,” said Minor, who succeeded by slipping a would-be tackler and racing down the left sideline for a 32-yard touchdown. He also contributed to Western’s field position woes when he uncorked a 57-yard punt early in the second quarter.
Down 14-0, Sims then led the Warriors on their best drive of the half, stretching 11 plays and including keepers to convert a pair of third downs; however, they only reached the Hornets’ 44 before sophomore defensive back Hylton Hale intercepted Sims’ downfield pass attempt. Western’s next series advanced to the Hornets’ 35 but Sims was stopped in the backfield on fourth-and-5.
Carter and the Hornets threatened to put more points on the board in a two-minute drill before the break, especially after a 42-yard completion to Chris Washington. However, Western defensive back Wyatt Hull made a diving interception in the endzone to keep the halftime margin 14-0.
Sims, who was crowned a homecoming prince during the court introduction ceremony, broke his first rushing attempt of the second half for 27 yards and gave Western its first redzone visit of the game. However, two plays later a holding penalty derailed the drive, and Sims’ fourth-and-18 pass attempt fell incomplete.
“I definitely think penalties were a problem,” Redmond said as his squad was flagged 10 times for 92 yards. “It seemed like every time we made a decent play offensively, it was coming back. Anytime you put yourself in the down-and-distance situation we were putting our offense in, it becomes problematic.”
Still, field position had finally shifted in the Warriors’ favor, and when the defense came up with a fumble recovery seconds later, Western was poised to make things interesting. Sims and company even overcame a 17-yard setback from an illegal low block to cover 43 yards in five plays. Sims ran for 24 of them to convert on fourth-and-10, and then senior Darren Klein scored on a two-yard plunge. With the two-point conversion hauled in by Aidan Saunders, it was 14-8 in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
Western might look back and regret their decision to try a short squib on the ensuing kickoff, which Orange recovered at the 45. Even though the offense went three-and-out, the special teams unit downed Minor’s punt at the 6 yardline.
“We set ourselves up for a short field [if that works],” Redmond said of the kickoff strategy. “We did get the ball with a chance, but unfortunately had a long field. It’s critical there to get a first down and we came up a couple yards short.”
After Western’s punt, the Hornet offense took the field at the Warriors’ 49. Facing third-and-7, a disastrous sequence unfolded for Western’s defense. First, they jumped offside to make it five yards easier. Then, with a blitz called, Alexander took a handoff, found an open lane, and raced 41 yards for six.
“Great play design by our offensive staff,” said Lohr. “We’d been jumping them offsides all night long with our hard count and took advantage of it again and gave us a short situation. Then we had a play we liked in a short-yardage package and Jaylen cut it back and made a good read.”
Orange added its final touchdown after Western’s third turnover, a backfield fumble, at their own 18. Minor took it in on a 7-yard jet sweep.
For the game, Carter completed 13-of-20 passes for 159 yards. Washington was his top target with five receptions for 74 yards. Minor added three catches for 52 yards and also carried four times for 17 yards. Alexander led the ground attack with 113 yards on 20 rushes. After Sims, Derek Domecq added 34 yards to the Warriors’ rushing game on nine attempts.
“I think most of our issues tonight are correctable,” Redmond said. “If we can clean it up, we’ll be a competitive football team.”
Western (1-6, 0-4) travels to Charlottesville (5-2, 3-1) next Friday, while Orange (4-3, 2-2) will welcome the Jefferson District’s top squad, Louisa County (7-0, 4-0), to Porterfield Park in the annual battle for the Gordonsville Tastee Freez.