James River improved to 2-1 on the football season with an impressive win at Covington last Friday night. The Knights pulled out a 34-32 win at Boodie Albert Stadium.
“We did a lot of things offensively really well,” said River coach Tim Jennings. “We had a really good night running the ball, rushing for over 300 yards.”
It was a back-and-forth game all night. Covington scored first and led 6-0 after the first quarter but two four-yard runs by Zeal Hammons gave River a 14-6 lead with just two minutes left in the first half. However, Covington tightened things up by running the kickoff back 82 yards after the second score to make it 14-12 at the half.
The Cougars struck first in the second half on a 64-yard pass play, but failed to convert a two-point try and led 18-14 midway through the third quarter. River then answered as Hammons connected with Ben Bailey on a 25-yard pass play and River led 20-18 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Knights were able to make it a two possession game on a 71-yard TD run by Conner Church with 9:31 on the clock, and James Voight’s third successful extra point kick made it 27-18. The game continued to go back and forth as Covington cut the lead to 27-26 on a TD pass and two-point conversion, but River answered again when Church went 28 yards for a TD with 5:40 to go for a 34-26 lead with 5:40 remaining.
Covington came right back to score just 22 seconds later on a 70-yard pass play, and the Cougars went for two points to try and tie the game. However, their pass attempt failed and River was able to hang on for the two-point win, 34-32.
“We’d give up a kickoff return or a long TD, and come right back and drive the field,” said Jennings. “The guys executed at a high level on the offensive side, and made the necessary stops when it counted most. Winning by two, making those extra points was crucial and James Voight has done a tremendous job so far this season.”
Church finished with a career high 244 yards rushing on 25 carries to go with his two touchdowns. Colin Cook rushed nine times for 50 yards and Ben Bailey had 34 on three carries as River had a team total of 335 yards rushing on 48 carries.
Hammons was nine for 12 passing for 139 yards and a TD. Bailey had six receptions for 78 yards and caught the touchdown. Church, George Toliver and Levi Rock had one reception each.
Defensively, Logan Campbell led with 14 tackles, including two for losses and a sack. Tanner Dillow had seven tackles and an interception and Cook also had a pick. John Austin, Jake Benson and Toliver had six tackles each and Toliver had a sack.
“We need to work to eliminate the big play and finish tackles,” said Jennings. “We had too many misses, or had their quarterback trapped only to give up the play. We need to work on our discipline this week.”
The Knights will have their work cut out for them this week with a trip to Stuarts Draft. The Cougars were the state Class 2 runner-up to Appomattox in each of the past two seasons. They’re off to a 1-1-1 start this week with a tie against William Monroe, a win over Waynesboro and a 28-10 loss to defending Class 1 state champ Riverheads last week. For comparison, Riverheads put 61 on the board against Lord Botetourt a week prior.
“They are big and athletic,” said Jennings of Stuarts Draft. “They’re well coached, and they have plenty of experience winning football games. They have only lost five games over the past three seasons, all to the current 1A and 2A state champions, so they know how to be successful. They are what we are working to develop at River, so it is a challenge and a wonderful opportunity for our program.”