The James River Knights had, arguably, their biggest football win in the four-year Jake Phillips era when they came from behind to stun Giles last Friday. River came from way behind to beat the Spartans in the belly of the beast, taking a 36-28 win in Pearisburg.
The win marked the first time River has beaten Giles since well before any player on the team was born, going back to 1981. And it wasn’t so much that River won, as this was considered a “pick ’em” game, but it was the manner in which they did so. The Knights trailed 28-0 in the second quarter before scoring 36 unanswered points, including 22 in the fourth period.
“I think we were a little rattled early,” said Phillips. “In the second half we finally settled in and started executing. When you have a game plan and it doesn’t go as you expect, it’s easy to get rattled.”
Certainly River’s game plan wasn’t to fall behind by 28 points in the second quarter. It was all Giles in the early going, as Spartans’ running back Chase Fleeman broke off touchdown runs of 57 and 50 yards for two of Giles’ four touchdowns. River finally broke through in the second period when Coulter Hodges scored on a three-yard run, but Giles was still in control with a 28-7 lead at the half.
River went to work in the second half. The Knights cut the lead to 28-14 when Hodges hit River Clonch for a 41-yard TD pass, then Hodges hit Clonch again for a six-yard TD hookup early in the fourth quarter and it was “game on” at 28-22 after a successful two-point conversion run by Luke Peay.
The Knights tied the game at 28-28 on a three-yard run by Hodges, but failed to take the lead when Giles blocked the extra point attempt. River finally broke through on a 27-yard TD pass from Hodges to Dyllan McAllister, and Dylan then ran for two more and a 36-28 lead that proved to be the final score.
“It was a big win,” said Phillips. “When you get down 28-0, the likelihood of coming back to win is very low, and it’s not like they helped us with a lot of turnovers or anything.”
River outgained Giles, once the beast of this district, by 175 yards, 426-251. River had 20 first downs to just eight for Giles and won the time of possession, 27 minutes to 21 for the Spartans.
Hodges showed why he was the first string quarterback in the Three Rivers last year with a spectacular night, throwing for three touchdowns and running for 136 yards and two more scores. Peay had 56 yards rushing, Clonch had 42 and McAllister added 29. Clonch also caught seven passes for 116 yards while McAllister caught two balls, including the winning touchdown, and Daniel Holter and Jack Voight had one reception each.
On defense, Holter led the team with 13 tackles, including seven solos. Kevin Theimer had 11 tackles, caused a fumble, had a fumble recovery and intercepted a pass late in the game to seal the win. Andrew Bridges also had a pick and eight tackles while Peay, Addison McCaleb and Levi Walker had five tackles each.
The win lifted River to 5-1 and only a loss on a sloppy field at Glenvar has kept the Knights from being unbeaten through six games.
“The kids are excited,” said Phillips. “It’s hard to put into words how much confidence a win like this will give our team.”
THIS WEEK’S GAME
ALLEGHANY AT JAMES RIVER
If there was ever a “trap” game, this week’s game in Springwood is it. Host James River is coming off a huge win over Giles and will host winless Alleghany. And, it’s Homecoming.
“I have to make sure we’re not overconfident,” said River coach Jake Phillips. “As bad as we played in the first half last week, maybe that will be a little bit of a wake-up call.”
Phillips had no problem with the second half last week, as River came from 28 points behind to beat Giles. No one is expecting that scenario to play out this week against Alleghany, as the Mountaineers have rarely been ahead this season. In six losses they’ve been outscored 223 to 40. They trailed Glenvar 49-0 at the half last week and the Mountaineers have only scored in double figures once this year, in a 49-18 loss to Cave Spring.
“They changed their offense this year,” said Phillips. “They used to throw it a lot, but they’ve gone to a double-wing, triple-option offense. It’s a lot like Georgia Tech.”
River comes in at 5-1 and fifth in the Region 2C rankings. The top four teams open with a home game and the Knights would love to move into one of those spots. Radford is currently sitting at No. 2, behind Glenvar, and the Knights go to Radford for a huge game next week.
In the meantime, Phillips will make sure they don’t overlook Alleghany. It’s also Homecoming this week, and that can be a distraction to the celebrating team. However, it would be a big surprise if River doesn’t win this game by a wide margin and head to Radford with a head of steam next week.