At this time of year, it was going to happen or Goochland’s playoff run was going to end. Yes, the Bulldogs’ defense is good enough to take over a game on its own, but for Goochland not to have at least one of those games in the playoffs where its offense dictated the flow of the game — it would have just felt odd. The Bulldogs came into Elkins with a bit of a chip on their shoulder after reading and hearing about East Rockingham’s explosiveness. They left with a 35-21 win in the Class 2A semifinals showing they could match it and answer back with a power running game that was simply too much for the Eagles.
“During the course of the week we heard about how fast East Rock was and that they didn’t need the ball for a lot of the time because they score so quickly,” said Goochland coach Alex Fruth. “We kept looking at each other as coaches and just said ‘Well let’s do what we do.’ We wanted to eat as much clock as we could and run the ball inside the tackles and just have faith in our defense. They’ll make some stops. We followed the script.”
Goochland got smacked in the mouth out of the gate but took it well. East Rockingham got a 58-yard touchdown run from J’Wan Evans on the first play from scrimmage to make it 6-0. Then Goochland fumbled the ball at midfield and it seemed as though the Bulldogs were in a heap of trouble. But the defense forced a punt and then the offense found its methodical storied rhythm.
“Getting scored on on the first play, that’s not what you expect,” Fruth said. “After that we kind of settled into a groove. It was good for us to all get punched in the face like that and come back and so go out there and do what we do.”
Playing without Quincy Snead, the Bulldogs shuffled the deck and used Devin McCray at quarterback but the junior also plenty of snaps out on the wing which put freshman CJ Towles under center running the show. Goochland thrived throwing those multiple looks at East Rockingham and after a long 10-play drive, McCray ran in a 7-yard touchdown to put Goochland up 7-6 with 2:20 left in the first quarter. It would never trail again.
“It was a team effort dictating the flow, taking the game over,” McCray said. “We worked on our four minute drill, eating the clock, getting in the flow. I thought all-in-all we came out and executed this offense pretty well today.”
After Towles ended the Eagles’ next drive with an interception, the Bulldogs got another drive with Towles, McCray and Connor Popielarz toting the ball. McCray punched in a 1-yard keeper to make it 14-6 with 11:26 in the second. East Rockingham was able to answer though and stop the bleeding with a slick halfback pass Darrias Brown to Isaac Kisling on third and long for a 62-yard touchdown with 5:17 until the break. The Eagles failed on their two point convert and held serve on defense to go into the break trailing 14-12.
Receiving the ball to start the third quarter. McCray broke lose for the first big Bulldogs gain with a 36-yard sprint into the endzone to make it 21-2 with 7:17 to play in the third. Then Goochland got an interception from Perry Snead-Johnson to give the offense solid field position.
The Bulldogs leaned on Popielarz for its ensuing scoring drive. A 31-yard run from the sophomore set things up in the redzone and he crashed into the endzone from two yards out to make it 28-12 with 2:55 left in the third.
“Every great play started with the guys up front on the line,” Popielarz said. “I’m just trying to get five yards every run but I just kept driving my feet and sometimes that’s just how big plays happen.”
Needing something before Goochland simply went to work on the clock, East Rockingham got the answer it needed with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Williams to Evans to trim the deficit to 28-18 and in just over 90 seconds. An interception from the Eagles’ defense set up East Rockingham’s next drive and while the passing attack was able to march all the way down to the goal line, the Bulldogs defense stuffed Evans three times to force a 17-yard field goal and make it 28-21 with 5:04 to go.
Goochland needed an answer of its own there and got one on the next play from scrimmage. Popielarz broke free on a run to the right and the Eagles weren’t able to chase him down. The 75-yard scamper put Goochland up 35-21 with 4:47 to play.
“That felt amazing, haven’t felt anything better,” said Goochland lineman Jacob Massey. “I was on the ground and I looked up and saw him running across the field and I just said ‘that’s amazing.’”
East Rockingham had two more drives but an interception from McCray ended the first and the clock killed the second.
“All week we heard about speed, speed, speed, just how much they have,” said Goochland linebacker Sam Brooks. “We showed we’ve got speed in our own right. We just went out and played our game. It was all about keeping the outside protected and not letting them bump those big plays outside. We were able to do that and take care of business.”
For the bulk of the Bulldogs’ senior class, this was their second trip to a state final four after playing in the semifinals but falling to eventual Class 2A champions Appotmattox. Now this group, the number one seed out of Region 2A, heads to Salem to face Graham, the third seed in Region 2D which upset the number one seed out of Region 2C in Radford, 57-13.
“This is huge,” Brooks said. “This was the plan the whole time so to get here and now we have one last game, it just feels amazing.”
This will be Goochland’s third trip to Salem since 2011. The Bulldogs won their last state championship in 2012. This is the first ever meeting between Goochland and Graham. Kickoff is Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
That’s when we’ll see if Goochland can follow the script all the way to a title.