By Drew Goodman / Scrimmageplaycva.com contributor
Last fall, many aspiring Monticello football players watched the varsity Mustangs cruise to a nine-win campaign, while waiting their turn to take up the mantle the following season.
Twelve months later, the now heavily junior and sophomore classes are tasked with replacing last year’s production, while learning on the job at the varsity level.
On Thursday afternoon, the young Mustangs experienced another bump on the road in the retooling process, as visiting Spotswood travelled across the mountain and walked away with a decisive 35-14 triumph.
In the postgame breakdown following the defeat, Monticello head coach Jeff Lloyd reminded his squad full of first-time starters that the coaching staff is asking a lot of them, but to continue to embrace the process of growing into their new roles.
“The biggest jump that you will ever make is from JV to varsity football,” Jeff said of his young team. “The speed, you can’t simulate until you get into it and play. They usually make pretty good jumps after their sophomore years.”
Sophomore quarterback Malachi Fields was mostly bottled up outside of a few nice runs, but the first-year starter tossed a pair of touchdowns to his favorite target, Trenton Johnson. Johnson’s two TDs came from 47 and 49 yards out respectively.
The Mustangs (1-2) could never get the running game going in Thursday’s loss, rushing for just 121 yards as a team. Fields extended a few drives with his quick feet, but finished the afternoon with a net gain of just 58 yards, thanks to a few untimely sacks.
Johnson lined up seemingly everywhere for the Mustangs, and Lloyd feels as though his senior athlete’s versatility can help jump start the offense in the future.
“Trenton, I thought was a competitor — he wants to win. With the lack of playmaking we have right now in our running game, he’s facing sometimes double, sometimes triple coverage,” Lloyd said.
Monticello appeared to be heading for a modest seven-point deficit at halftime, before Spotswood quarterback Ryan High hit Connell Ischinger for a 75-yard strike for a touchdown to completely take the wind out of the home team.
The Trailblazers (2-1) gashed Monticello on the ground, averaging over five yards per carry and and eclipsing the 200-yard mark as a team. Spotswood used several ball carriers to wear down the Monticello defense, headlined by Ethan Barnhart. The bruising tailback grinded out 158 yards and accounted for two of Spotswood’s four rushing TDs.
Despite being held off the scoreboard for the entire first quarter, SHS displayed its dominance in the trenches early, and set the tone for the remainder of the ballgame. Spotswood drove into MHS territory on its opening two drives of the game, but came away empty handed on both occasions.
On the opening play of the second quarter, Benjamin Conahan dove into the end zone from a yard out to finally polish off a productive Trailblazer drive. Then, Cole Myers raced 21 yards for a score to put the visitors ahead by 13 points.
Barnhart, who was primarily responsible for moving the chains while setting up touchdowns for his teammates, found the end zone twice in the second half, as Spotswood spent much of the final two quarters keeping the ball on the ground and killing the clock.
“It was something that we’ve been working on all year was to run the football better,” Spotswood head coach Dale Shifflett said. “Tonight, I thought our guys did a great job up front. Our quarterback and receivers did a good job… We were really really balanced with [the run and the pass] so I’m pretty pleased with that.”
The Trailblazers were effective through the air in addition to their power running game. Ischinger caught six passes and accounted for 161 of his team’s 175 passing yards.
Spotswood will host William Fleming on September 21, while Monticello will open Jefferson District play against Fluvanna next Friday night.
The Flucos enter the Jefferson District grind with a winning record after exploding for 57 points against Madison on Wednesday, and Lloyd stressed his team that they will be in for a new kind of challenge next week in Fluvanna County.
“I just told them right here that, ‘The old Fluvanna that you’re used to, if you just want to show up and think you’re going to win, that aint gonna happen’ because they have some talented kids in the program now,” Lloyd said. “They have some kids at running back that can run, they got some receivers, and we will have to play very well to beat Fluvanna.”