Tariq Gough just knew it was coming, and he made the kind of play any team needs to win a state championship.
“I actually read the bubble (screen) he was running,” Gough said. “He was looking over there the whole play. I read it and I waited until he was about to throw it, came up and got it.”
Gough picked off the pass and raced in for a touchdown just minutes into the game, the first of a host of huge plays by Blue Ridge Saturday that sparked the Barons to a 41-14 victory and a VISAA Division II state title.
“We needed that, it opened the game up,” said Nazir Hopson. “We were ready to play from the beginning of the game.”
The Barons needed to be ready because they were playing not only a previously unbeaten North Cross squad but also in some strange weather. There’s an old logic when it comes to weather impacting a football game — that everyone has to deal with it.
But when a 25-mile per hour plus crosswind came screaming out of the mountains in Roanoke Saturday, it was pretty obvious which team it was going to impact more. North Cross has a balanced offense, but they like to whip the ball around and attack downfield. With the way the wind was blowing, that wasn’t possible. An early North Cross pass on an attempted deep out by the typically highly-accurate Miles Lowman simply sailed 15 yards out of bounds, picked up by the win. That played directly into the hands of Blue Ridge.
“I think it probably affected them more because obviously Miles Lowman, as much as he throws, it influenced them more,” said Blue Ridge coach Tim Thomas. “.”
With the Barons’ opportunistic defense and an effective ground game giving them an early edge, Blue Ridge went to work, building a 20-14 halftime lead on a touchdown pass by Justin Armwood, where he scrambled and found John Colon down the North Cross sideline. Colon took off for the score with just five seconds to play in the half. That score gave the Barons some momentum heading into the half after North Cross’ Isaac Harris had pushed the Raiders ahead 14-13 and helped overcome an early break down on a punt where the ball sailed straight up, landed behind the line of scrimmage and North Cross’ scooped and scored.
Then just like Blue Ridge much of the season, the Barons hit the gas in the second half and pulled away. Gough came up with his second defensive score, scooping and scoring in the third quarter after a Blue Ridge strip sack. Jamison Harrison slipped in on the two-point conversion and Blue Ridge was up 28-14. Then Armwood hauled in a pass from Harrison with five seconds to play in the third on a little trickeration, essentially putting the game out of reach for the Raiders with Blue Ridge up 35-14. The Barons didn’t let up though, grinding the clock in the fourth quarter while Harrison scored his second rushing touchdown to extend the lead to 41-14 with 6:13 to play.
From there, it was only a matter of time before Blue Ridge got a chance to celebrate.
“This is a special thing, we knew that we had the talent to win last year but unfortunately we weren’t able to overcome,” Hopson said. “I knew this was our year coming in.”
The Barons made good on that potential, avenging one of their only two losses in Saturday’s win while securing the program’s first state title since 2012 and a place in annals of Blue Ridge football.