Orange County entered its Jefferson District opener on Friday looking to flip the script following a two-game slide. After managing only seven points at Spotsylvania last Wednesday, head coach Jesse Lohr revealed an offensive shake-up as senior Nate Morris trotted out after the opening kickoff to make his first career start at quarterback.
“We’ve been trying to find every way to get these guys to come out and just have some fun, and I feel like they did that tonight,” said Lohr as huge first-half performances by the defense’s front seven and workhorse running back Jaylen Alexander built a commanding lead and propelled Orange to level its record with a 30-14 victory at Charlottesville.
Morris settled in nicely as the signal-caller, too. He completed four of his first nine passes for 37 yards, with one touchdown and nearly a second.
“I was happy with [Nate]’s start out there tonight,” Lohr said. “He got a good opportunity to get his feet wet and made some plays.”
His start got off in the smoothest-possible manner, as the game’s first play from scrimmage was a handoff to Alexander. Fourteen seconds and eighty yards later, the Hornets’ sideline was buzzing.
“Oh man, the energy was crazy,” said Morris. “Last week, no one would want to be around us; it was terrible. This week, we really stepped up.”
After a quick CHS three-and-out, Alexander started Orange’s next series with a 40-yard run. Four plays later, he set up a first-and-goal after a 20-yard pickup. He amassed 232 yards on 15 first half carries (six went for double-figure yardage) before sitting out the second as Orange maintained a comfortable margin.
“There was a hit that we were looking at, and the score was 23-0 [at halftime] so we just kept him out,” Lohr said.
Orange’s second series ended on downs after Morris’s fourth-and-goal pass was ruled incomplete to a sliding Jireek Washington. However, the field position advantage would pay dividends moments later once the defense forced a CHS punt. The snap sailed high and rolled out of the back of the endzone for a safety. The Hornets’ possession after the free kick ended with a fumble near midfield, leaving the score 9-0 after one quarter.
Charlottesville’s offense reached the red zone early in the second quarter, but a bad snap thwarted a 29-yard field goal opportunity. Orange promptly flipped the field with back-to-back runs of 44 and 24 yards by Alexander and Hylton Hale. The Hornets would not score on that possession, but linebacker Wyheem Vessels gave them another chance when he broke into the Knights’ offensive backfield and scooped a dropped handoff.
“Noah Carey and Kyrie Carter and number 44 [Vessels] made some big plays for us and that’s all we’ve been looking for, trying to get somebody to be a difference from each level out there, from the D-line to the linebackers to the secondary,” said Lohr.
Taking over at the CHS 15, Alexander covered the yardage in two carries, putting the Hornets up 16-0. After another three-and-out, Orange then mounted what felt like the game-clinching drive. It covered 72 yards over eight plays, and the Knights provided crucial assistance in the middle by roughing the punter.
“We make a lot of mental errors, and those are really biting us hard at the most inopportune times,” said Charlottesville coach Eric Sherry. “We’ve just got to keep working, and we will. Sometimes tonight we played pretty good defense.”
After Orange called timeout with the ball at the CHS 12 and 37 seconds left in the half, Morris rolled out to the right and successfully connected with Washington in the back-right corner.
“Jireek jumps up there as his old five-foot-whatever-he-is and makes a play,” said Lohr, as the ball deflected off a CHS defensive back before Washington corralled it for a touchdown.
In what was otherwise a dismal first half for the Knights’ ground game, Sabias Folley doubled the team’s production when he broke a 43-yard run. This offered CHS another field goal opportunity with four seconds left, but a 41-yard attempt fell short and wide left, leaving the score 23-0 at the break.
The teams exchanged turnovers-on-downs to start the third quarter before Foley put the Knights on the board when a 3rd-and-4 run up the middle turned into a 63-yard runaway touchdown. After Hale returned the ensuing kickoff out to the 45, the CHS defense stiffened after one first down and forced a punt. Quarterback Daimon Washington picked up 50 yards on five straight rushes, but any momentum swing was crushed by a lost fumble inside the Hornets’ 40.
“We just shoot ourselves in the foot with turnovers and penalties, and all that stuff really comes back to how we’re coaching them,” Sherry said. “We’ve got to look in the mirror at what we’re doing.”
Walker Johnson spelled Morris at quarterback in the fourth quarter as the Hornets mounted a nine-play, 60-yard drive, capped by Carter’s 11-yard touchdown run. CHS answered with a 70-yard drive that ended with Folley’s second rushing touchdown and a two-point conversion, but with only 2:29 left, time was in short supply. The Knights tallied 207 rushing yards in the second half, but the 23-point halftime deficit was too steep.
Folley finished with 159 yards on 14 carries. Washington added 115 yards on 21 rushes and completed 3-of-12 passes for 30 yards.
With Alexander on the sideline for the second half, Hale and Carter picked up the workload and finished with 69 and 46 yards, respectively. Morris finished 5-of-13 for 67 yards, with Washington making three catches for 46 yards.
Charlottesville (0-5, 0-2) hosts Powhatan next Friday, while Orange (2-2, 1-0) will welcome early-season surprise Fluvanna County (3-1, 1-0) to Porterfield Park.