They said it couldn’t be done. Jamie Harless didn’t listen.
Harless picked up his 100th win as head coach of the Lord Botetourt football team when the Cavaliers edged visiting Princeton of West Virginia last Friday, 28-27, in Daleville. The win made him the first football coach in LB history, going back to 1959, to win 100 games.
In fact, no other coach at LB had won 40 games before Harless. Combine the totals of the top three winningest coaches prior to Jamie and he still has more wins. He has 29 losses in 11 years while holding the distinction of being the dean of LB coaches.
Next on the list is Otis Timberlake, who coached for nine years from 1973 to 1981. Despite that, five of the 11 prior LB coaches lost more games than Harless, although many had half as many seasons or fewer than Jamie’s 11 years at the helm. Only Doug Ward, at 29-12 in four years, and Tony Hart, at 30-22 in five years, won more games than they lost at LB.
“I reflect back on when I applied for this job,” said Harless. “A lot of people tried to talk me out of it. They said you couldn’t win here, the kids are soft and you get no support from the community or the administration. I take a little pleasure in that now. All those concerns have been met or exceeded.”
Jamie saw LB as a sleeping giant, and he set about waking it up. If you don’t believe it, just ask the people he’s dealt with.
“I like a challenge,” he said. “I wanted to do this somewhere it’s never been done before, somewhere where the people said it couldn’t be done.”
It hasn’t been easy, and getting win No. 100 wasn’t easy, either. Princeton came to town with an undefeated record and some talented football players, and the game didn’t get off to a good start when speedy Dominick Collins ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. Then, after an LB fumble set up the Tigers in great field position, quarterback Grant Cochran found Collins for a 14-yard TD pass and Princeton led 14-0 after one quarter.
Jakari Nicely cut the lead to 14-7 on a six-yard run that was set up on a long pass to Cade Lang, but all the while the Tigers loaded to box to stop LB’s heralded running game, so Harless did something he doesn’t normally do. He started throwing the ball.
“We spent a good amount of time in the off-season working on our passing game, and the investment paid off Friday,” he said. “We passed more against Princeton than in the previous four games combined.”
Cochran found Collins again on a 74-yard hookup to give the Tigers a two-score edge again, but this time the kick was blocked. That would turn out to be big.
“Every point counts in the game of football,” said Harless.
LB cut the lead to six on an 18-yard TD pass from Nicely to Lang with 2:53 to go until the half, then he hit Tristan Overbay for a 21-yard TD just 30 seconds before halftime and it looked like LB would have the lead at the half. However, Cochran found Collins again for a 43-yard score on the final play of the half and the Tigers went into the locker room up 27-21.
The second half would be a defensive battle. Neither team scored in the third quarter and LB finally regained the lead with 8:33 on the clock on a 10-yard run by Nicely. On the ensuing possession, Princeton drove to the 13 but missed a 29-yard field goal attempt with 4:55 to go and LB was able to run out the clock. The kicking game proved to be the difference, as LB sophomore Dean Webb was perfect on all four of his extra points and the Cavs won by one point.
“Give Coach (middle school coach Chuck) Burton some credit,” said Harless. “He finds these kids at the middle school and Dean is going to be a good one. He’s just a sophomore and I could see him kicking in college some day.”
Nicely finished with 129 yards rushing but it took him 36 carries to get it. He was 16 for 24 passing for 267 yards with five to Tuck Brookman for 155 yards, five to Overbay for 47 yards, two to Lang for 43 and three to Andrew Gilbert for 16 yards. Jakari accounted for 398 yards of total offense as LB improved to 4-1 overall.
This week the Cavaliers have their bye week, followed by five straight Blue Ridge District games to end the season. It’s an ideal situation.
“I couldn’t draw it up any better,” said Harless.