For the first time since 1993, James River can claim to have the best football team in Botetourt County.
The Knights stunned host Lord Botetourt last Friday with a convincing 15-9 win over the host Cavaliers as their intra-county rivalry continued in Daleville. River dominated the line of scrimmage, and thus the game, as the Knights never trailed in winning the county match-up for the first time since ’93.
“That’s too long,” said a happy James River coach Philip King. “This was a big win for the whole community. So many people from the community called me over the weekend to congratulate me, but I told them this team is everyone in the community. Our football community extends far beyond the locker room and this win is for them.”
The Cavaliers enjoyed a big size advantage on the line, but it didn’t appear to be much of an advantage in the first half. The River defense swarmed the LB ball carriers wherever they went, and when the Knights had the ball, quarterback Jordan Talbott stood in the pocket calmly and picked out receivers.
“We couldn’t get any pressure on the quarterback,” said LB coach Tater Benson. “Our defensive backs played well enough, they covered the receivers as good as possible, but you can only cover them for so long. They have some good players.”
When Botetourt had possession the Cavaliers had a tough time moving the ball. Botetourt didn’t get a first down until midway though the second quarter, and had only eight for game.
“I’m as proud as I can be of our effort on defense,” said King. “Our kids played every play like it was their last play. They hustled and laid it on the line.”
River never trailed in the game. The Knights drove deep into Botetourt territory on their first possession but settled for a 31-yard Zach Ewen field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
On their next possession, River drove 85 yards to paydirt. With the ball on the LB 11, Talbott rolled right. Assessing the situation, he waved Jonny Falls to the left corner of the end zone, where Falls was all alone for a touchdown catch. It was a heady play by the senior quarterback.
“I didn’t know whether to chew him out or give him a hug,” said King. “We tell him if no one is open, just throw it to grandma in the seats. But with Jordan, you have to give him a little leeway because he’s so cool out there.”
Indeed, Talbott was as cool as a cucumber with bodies flying around him. He would calmly study the secondary and pick his receiver, frustrating the LB defense.
“Their kids played with a lot more confidence than ours, and that surprised me,” said Benson.
The Cavalier defense stiffened up in the second quarter and kept the Knights off the board in the second and third periods. Meanwhile, Botetourt cut the lead to 9-6 late in the third quarter on a touchdown by Derell Stone, who fumbled the ball into the end zone but recovered it himself for the score.
River answered with a drive in the fourth quarter, and this time it was Talbott’s running that was the difference. Talbott picked up five and six yards at a time as the Knights ran time off the clock and chewed up yards. Then, from the LB 14, Talbott hit KW King on a slant, and the senior receiver kept his balance after being hit in the air and raced in for a big touchdown with just over eight minutes remaining.
“That was his wrestling ability right there,” said coach King, KW’s dad. “He was able to keep his balance, and you can credit wrestling for that.”
River missed the extra point again, and on the ensuing kickoff Stone broke loose and almost broke the return for a touchdown. He was hauled down at about 35 by Thomas Lythoe, and a huge tackle it was. If Stone takes it to the house Botetourt would have been back to within a field goal, or less, with almost eight minutes still to go. Instead, the Cavaliers had to use more clock to try and score, and then they settled for a 27-yard Jay Phillips field goal to cut the lead to 15-9 after being stalled at the 10.
River was able to run the clock down to just over a minute before giving the ball back to LB. However, the Knights weren’t about to let this one get away, as they stopped LB’s final effort and celebrated on the Cavaliers’ field.
Talbott was the player of the game. He hit 17 of 33 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 59 yards. On defense, he had 12 tackles, including two for a loss, along with a first half interception and a fumble recovery. A couple times he was in the backfield before LB quarterback Will Cline could hand off the ball.
The Knights had three receivers with 50 yards or more. Chris Ware had 70 yards on five catches, Falls had six catches for 50 yards, and KW King had five catches for 50. Brandon Garrett ran for 31 tough yards.
Teamwise, River outgained the Cavaliers 278 to 124 and there was only four seconds difference in time of possession, with River holding the ball for 23:58 and LB for 24:02. The Knights had 14 first downs to eight for the Cavs.
For LB, Stone ran for 34 yards, as the Knights did a much better job than last year when Derell, as a freshman, ran for over 100 yards. Cline hit nine of 18 passes for 75 yards, including 49 yards on five catches by Cody Weddle and three for 23 yards by Andrew Williams.
On defense, Lythgoe had 13 assists and five solo tackles for River, and Dylan Johnson had 11 tackles. Both had two tackles for losses.
KW King had 10 tackles, Owen Deacon had nine, and Justin Stevers had a key pass breakup.
For LB, Thomas Kennedy had three tackles and five assists, while Mark Reynolds had five tackles, an assist, a sack and a tackle for a loss. The Cavaliers weren’t able to pick off any of Talbott’s passes.
“James River’s a good team,” said Benson. “I knew we’d have to play a good game to beat them and we didn’t execute well on offense or hustle enough on defense, and that’s very disappointing.”
For LB, it’s a tough way to start the season with a trip to Salem on the schedule next. However, Benson doesn’t see River as just another Group A team.
“They have an experienced team,” he said. “I don’t worry about that A, AA or AAA stuff, it’s 11 on 11.”
For River, it was a very sweet win. The Knights will get some nice VHSL points for beating a Group AA school, and now King is pulling for the Cavs because that will help River’s point total every time LB wins a game.”
“What a great win,” said a happy Philip King, who has two sons on the River team. “Everyone can share in this. Our football team extends beyond this locker room, I’m just lucky enough to be able to stand on the sidelines.”