‘If we don’t turn the ball over we probably beat them’
The James River football team opened the season by scoring 54 points last Friday, the most the Knights have scored since hammering a weak Craig County team, 56-6, in 2015. Unfortunately, the Knights lost last Friday’s game by 25 points.
Host Chatham High rolled up 79 points on the River defense for a 79-54 win in a wild one to open the 2017 season. The 133 combined points was, most likely, a record for James River football.
“I’ve never been a part of something like that before,” said River coach Jake Phillips. “I don’t think anyone else around here has either.”
The big story of the game was Chatham senior Preston Turner. The 6’4”, 230-pound running back set a new state record by scoring nine touchdowns in the game. Turner rushed for 445 yards on 19 carries, which is an average of over 23 yards per carry. He ran for eight scores and caught a 77-yard screen pass for another touchdown, giving him 522 yards of total offense on 20 touches. Turner scored the last five Cavalier touchdowns, including the state record with 1:15 left in the contest.
“He’s a big back and he’s faster than anyone we have on our team,” said Phillips. “We couldn’t tackle him and we couldn’t catch him.”
Chatham scored the first two touchdowns of the game, but River answered with TDs of 42 and one yard runs by Coulter Hodges, and a couple two-point conversions gave River a 16-14 lead after the first quarter.
River went up 18-14 after a safety to open the second quarter scoring. The Knights got the ball back after the safety and drove to the Chatham nine, but fumbled it away. On the ensuing possession Turner ran 90 yards for a touchdown.
“They never stopped us, we stopped ourselves,” said Phillips. “That was the big difference. If we had been able to score right there it would have been a different game. It’s a whole lot better to play with the lead than to try and play catch up.”
The River offense had an odd night. The Knights punted just once and had seven touchdowns, but turned the ball over six times. For the most part, River either scored or turned it over. Chatham had just two turnovers.
“Turnovers were the story of the game,” said Phillips. “If we don’t turn the ball over we probably beat them. We had two turnovers inside their 10.”
The Knights also had eight penalties for 77 yards compared to just four for 30 yards for Chatham. The turnovers and miscues, and of course the big night by Turner, overshadowed some good performances by the River offense.
The Knights had two backs rush for over 100 yards, as River Clonch had 183 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Hodges had 119 yards and three TDs on 15 carries wile Jesse Riley had 87 yards on 17 carries, including a score. RJ Bryant ran three times for 30 yards as River rushed for 446 yards on the night. That would be a terrific total if not compared to Chatham’s team total of 527 yards rushing.
Hodges was 10 for 23 passing for 216 yards and a TD, but he threw three interceptions. Erik Tolley had four catches for 126 yards and a TD in the first half alone, as he sat out the second half with an injury. Michael Taylor had four catches for 76 yards.
Defensively, Daniel Holter led River with eight tackles. Clonch had seven while Taylor and Riley had six each.
One interesting note is that Chatham only out-gained River by 30 yards, 692 to 662. However, it took River 87 plays to get that yardage and it only took Chatham 38, less than half as many.
“We couldn’t tackle,” said Phillips. “They probably had 400 yards after contact. We’re going to continue to work on tackling until we get the mindset that we’re going to make a tackle.”
The Knights will try and pick up their first win as they go on the road again this Friday with a game at Randolph-Henry.
THIS WEEK’S GAME
This week the Knights will play Randolph-Henry High School on Friday night in Charlotte Court House.
The Statesmen are a Group 2A team in the James River District. The school has a student body of 620 compared to River’s 540. They were 2-8 last year under former Craig County coach Mark McPherson, who is no longer head coach. Zachary Orlando is now the head coach and he lost his debut, 61-14, to a strong William Campbell team last week.
“William Campbell has a good team,” said River coach Jake Phillips. “This won’t be an easy game. They have a 240-pound back who runs hard.”
River had trouble with a big back last week as Chatham’s Preston Turner ran for over 400 yards and scored nine touchdowns. You can bet Phillips will be working on lots of tackling drills this week.
“We have to get better defensively and tackling,” he said.
Randolph-Henry runs a wing-T and I offense, similar to Auburn. They won’t be as explosive as Chatham, but River will need to play much better on defense, nonetheless.
Last week’s game was an offensive show, and if the Knights can keep from turning the ball over they have a good chance of picking up their first win this week.
KEY TO THE GAME
“How well we handle adversity,” said Phillips. “This game will come down to how tough we are mentally and physically.”