Blue Ridge probably began manifesting a North Cross rematch in the VISAA Division II championship before post-game dinner on September 29th. The Barons took care of business in their next five games, leaving Saturday afternoon’s semifinal against No. 3 seed Atlantic Shores as the final hurdle. After some miscues in the opening minutes, and despite incurring 14 penalties for 110 yards, Blue Ridge began rolling thanks to plays in all three phases of the game and clinched the title-game trip to Roanoke with a 42-7 victory.
“Slow start, we were dropping snaps, and we haven’t done that all year, so I think it was just with a home playoff game, guys got a little bit nervous,” said Blue Ridge coach Clint Alexander. “I said just relax, we’re fine, and once they did, we could do the things we thought we could.”
The teams traded punts and then interceptions over the opening five minutes, but field position was tilting in Blue Ridge’s favor. Taliq Montgomery’s pick set up the Barons’ offense at the AS 28. Three plays later, junior quarterback Noah Anderson tossed a screen to senior Malachi Terrell in the left flat, who took it 13 yards for the first score. The Seahawks picked up one first down on their ensuing series but then had to punt, and junior returner D’Myo Hunter provided the first special teams highlight by going 61 yards to the house. Terrell ran in for two points to make it 15-0 with 3:41 left in the first.
“We really take a lot of pride in our special teams, work on them every day,” said Alexander. “We’ve got some really special players that play for us back there, so we feel like if everybody does their job and finds their guy, we’ve got a chance to score.”
Atlantic Shores advanced to the BR 25 thanks to a 44-yard scamper by junior Jack Weaver, but senior safety Emilio Nabli kept them off the board by intercepting sophomore quarterback Micah Lance’s third-and-15 pass and returning it 30 yards across midfield. The Barons then covered 46 yards in seven plays, capped by Anderson’s second touchdown pass, this time 13 yards to senior Kamren Martin in the right corner of the endzone.
Now trailing 21-0 early in the second quarter, Atlantic Shores picked up a couple of first downs thanks to an offsides penalty and a 29-yard pass from Lance to Chris Higgins. But then as Weaver carried across midfield, the Barons forced a fumble and Savion Camano recovered. Although it would be the only first-half turnover that Blue Ridge failed to convert into points, the special teams unit downed Eliott Nahon’s 45-yard punt inside the 1 yardline to again tilt field position. After the Seahawks went three-and-out, the Barons’ offense started at the AS32, and sophomore quarterback Paul Kloberdanz needed only one snap to connect with junior receiver Tristen FItzpatrick for a touchdown down the left sideline.
“The three turnovers just kill momentum,” said Atlantic Shores coach Wayne Lance. “Just think if one drive turned into points, or even if we stalemated them and were able to change some field position.”
Down 28-0 with five minutes left in the half, Atlantic Shores finally put a scoring drive together, marching 86 yards in 12 plays. Lance hit Blane Foley to convert a treacherous fourth-and-1 at the Seahawks’ own 23, and then hit Corey WIlliams with passes for gains of 24, 19, and 32 yards. Weaver capped it with a 3-yard run to make it 28-7 at the break.
“I told them at halftime, other than that one drive, it’s probably the best first half we’ve had all year,” Alexander said.
Atlantic Shores received the third quarter kickoff and marched down to the redzone again behind four Lance completions and a couple Blue Ridge penalties.
“We just executed what we had tried to execute early,” Lance said. “To come out in the third quarter and have a chance, they did a great job to be able to battle with them and have a chance.”
However, the visitors’ hopes of snowballing their touchdown before halftime into a scoring run ended with incompletions on third and fourth down from the BR 10. Blue Ridge drove from there to the AS 9, with Kloberdanz connecting with Hunter and Cedric Jungmann for big gains and Terrell and junior running back Darius Stafford picking up chunks on the ground. However, the Barons went in reverse and turned it over on downs as the Seahawks held on fourth-and-goal from the 28.
With the score still 28-7, the rest of the third quarter ticked away with Atlantic Shores unable to pull closer and Blue Ridge unable to slam the door. Facing fourth down at BR’s own 36, Alexander called timeout, a move that might have put everyone on alert had the Barons not needed 16 yards to move the chains. But there was a lot of lobbying on the home sideline, and even though the punt team took the field, the snap went to Terrell as an up-man.
“[Malachi]’s been asking to run it all year, but I always said let’s save it for when it’s important,” Alexander said. “We needed something, we kept kind of stubbing our own toe, and you could tell he wanted to score.”
The fake punt not only picked up the first down, but went 64 yards for six points, putting Blue Ridge up 35-7 on the final play of the period.
“I followed my guy, number 19 Demetrius (Allen), ran right behind him and he picked up the guy coming from the right,” said Terrell. “I saw my other corner, Eli, coming in. I ran around him and just went.”
With the outcome settled, Blue Ridge added one more score on their first series of the fourth quarter to establish a running clock. Stafford broke loose and raced 51 yards down the left sideline for the Barons’ only customary rushing touchdown of the afternoon.
“O-line had one of their best games of the year so far,” said Terrell, who led Blue Ridge with 166 yards on 15 rushes, including the fake punt. “Their blocks were just on point, they were getting pancakes left and right.”
Stafford added 121 yards on 10 carries. Kloberdanz completed 7-of-15 passes for 96 yards, and Anderson completed 4-of-7 for 48. Seven different Barons caught passes and Fitzpatrick led the pack with three catches for 54 yards.
For Atlantic Shores (7-4), Weaver carried 23 times for 89 yards. Lance completed 16-of-34 passes for 248 yards. Higgins was his top target with 103 yards on five receptions.
“These kids have fought all year,” said Lance. “There’s 26 of them and they battle, they all go both ways. Losing’s not fun, but it’s fun to see how they would battle and take on a team with one-platoon guys.”
Blue Ridge (9-1) now turns its attention to North Cross (9-2), which defeated Nansemond-Suffolk Academy 35-0 in its semifinal.
“The loss to North Cross really helped us because we made some adjustments and the kids realized it was going to be a lot more difficult than they thought,” said Alexander of the Barons’ nine-point loss to the Raiders on September 29th. “We had the lead in the fourth quarter and cramped up and didn’t do it. We’ve been playing all year trying to get another shot.”