Richlands storms past Bees in Div. 3 semis
By Chris Morris
Lynchburg News & Advance
Saturday, December 1, 2007
 
RICHLANDS - Brookville knew it had to have a flawless performance in Saturday's Group AA, Division 3, semifinals to keep Richlands from making its third straight appearance in the championship game.

But four turnovers by the Bees, including three in the second half that thwarted a possible comeback, helped the Blue Tornado (11-2) claim a hard-fought 24-14 victory and a trip to Lynchburg on Saturday to face Monticello in the title game at Liberty University. The Region II champion Mustangs brushed aside Poquoson, 46-7, in Saturday's other semifinal.

If not for the miscues, it just as easily could have been the Bees playing for the championship. Trailing 21-7 at the break, Brookville tightened the game on its first possession of the second half when Stacey Houston scored on a 5-yard run. Ryan Wood's PAT kick pulled the Bees to within 21-14.

Brookville's defense did its part in the second half. After being shredded by Richlands in the first half for 21 points, the Bees' defense didn't allow the Blue Tornado into the end zone, stopping Richlands twice inside the red zone.

But Brookville's offense stumbled on the rest of its second-half possessions. Bees' quarterback Logan Thomas was intercepted twice and Lorenzo Smith fumbled on a reverse play that could have broken the game wide open.

"You cannot turn the ball over three times deep in your own territory and expect to be successful," said Brookville coach Jeff Woody. "I think you had two evenly matched football teams. (Richlands) has been here (in the playoffs) before. It's at their place and it's a tough place to play. It's tough to relay plays in when you've got that crowd on the other side yelling."

That crowd was on the edge of its seats for most of the second half. It breathed a collective sigh of relief with 1:54 left in the game when Romulo Fajardo booted a 19-yard field goal to give the Blue Tornado a 10-point advantage.

Brookville had one more chance and moved from its 20 to the Richlands' 21 in eight plays, helped by two penalties against the Blue Tornado and a beautiful 47-yard pass play from Thomas to Chad Mason on a fourth-and-15. But just as he did earlier in the half, Richlands strong safety Austin Fuller, a Virginia Tech signee, made a spectacular one-handed interception of a Thomas pass just in front of the goal line, sealing the win.

Fuller's pick in the third quarter was simply awesome. After being tipped, the ball was headed to the turf but Fuller made a snow-cone-type catch and scooped under the nose of the ball before he touched and then cradled it for the turnover. It even impressed Woody.

"That No. 1 (Fuller) was all over the place," Wood said. "That one-handed interception at the end, and he had another tremendous interception where he was able to scoop it with one hand. It was one of the best plays I've ever seen somebody make."

Fuller, a 6-foot-2, 207-pound senior, said Richlands' game plan wasn't complicated. It basically wanted to punch Brookville in the mouth from the start.

"In the first half, I don't think they were ready for what hit them," he said. "In the second half, they slowed us down a little bit. But we dug down deep, had heart and pulled it out."

Like a twister barreling through a barn in Kansas, Richlands unleashed countless hard hits in the first half that sent several Bees to the bench for a head-clearing break. Fuller upended Brookville wide receiver Corby Weiss on a play in the second quarter that launched the wide receiver flipping into the ground. Houston, who led all rushers with 81 yards on 19 carries, also had to sit out a couple of plays in the third quarter after a crushing tackle.

"Our defense did a great job," said Richlands coach Greg Mance. "We had some big licks early on that kind of set the tone and we did a great job of tackling No. 21 (Houston). We kept him in check today and he was one of the backs we were really worried about."

Brookville led in most statistical categories, except passing yards. The Blue Tornado took the upper hand in the air-game early when quarterback Joel Elswick hooked up with Matt Davis for scoring strikes of 18 and 30 yards. Elswick finished the first half with 148 yards, completing 7 of 13 attempts. In contrast, Thomas logged 52 yards in the half, hitting 6 of his 13 attempts.

Because the Bees managed just 134 yards in total offense in the first half, Woody opted to shelve the spread offense for an I-formation scheme in the second half. It looked like a good decision as Brookville took its opening drive in for a TD.

"That I-formation; we came out and thought we had some angles and we thought we had some lanes we could run in," said Woody. "We felt like we could figure them out and push them around a little bit. And we were successful, but we weren't able to put enough good plays together to be successful on that scoreboard."

With the loss, Brookville ends its season at 9-4. But Woody said the future is bright for the Bees, who are loaded with several talented underclassmen, and expects them to make another playoff run next season.

"We're a junior-heavy team," Woody said. "We've got 10 guys starting on offense that were underclassmen. I think we're losing three on defense. We're losing a good group of seniors and I told these guys, 'Let's build on the strong foundation that these seniors established.' I feel really good about the group coming back."

For Richlands, it's another trip to Lynchburg to defend its state crown.

"We beat a great football team today and you've got to give Brookville credit," Mance said. "But they were in our backyard and we did not want to lose in our backyard. We were just fortunate to get out of here with a win. ... I don't care if we won 2-0. We got the win and we're heading to Lynchburg."