The James River football team saw their season come to an end with a 16-13 loss to Martinsville in Springwood last Friday night. The Knights were the fourth seed and the Bulldogs were fifth in the opening round of the VHSL Region 2C playoffs.
Martinsville led 16-0 at the half and looked to be cruising to a win before the Knights rallied in the fourth quarter. River scored twice in the final two minutes and 20 seconds to pull to within three points before the Bulldogs held on for the win.
“I told the guys if we only had one more quarter, maybe we could have pulled ahead,” said River coach Tim Jennings. “Same thing we said after Glenvar, but that is the way life goes sometimes. All coaches go back to how football applies to life, but they give both teams the same parameters to play within. They made more plays in the 48 minutes than we did. We played as flat throughout that game as we have all year, and they did not. The one thing this team did for 10 games that I cannot say for all our teams in the past, they never laid down and never gave up.”
River’s first score came with 2:16 remaining in the game on the old “Hook and Lateral” play. Zeal Hammons passed the ball to Jake Benson, who then pitched it to Ben Bailey. The play surprised the Bulldogs as Bailey raced 48 yards for a touchdown.
“The ‘Hook and Lateral,’ we call it ‘Circus,’ is something we’ve been practicing for several weeks,” said Jennings. “We actually called that three times Friday and could never connect. I guess the third time was the charm.”
It was the second time in recent games River has scored on a trick play. They scored on the “River Special,” a two-lateral then throw to the quarterback play, in a big win over Carroll County in the second last game of the regular season. They also scored on a “flea-flicker” against Glenvar.
“We try to add a special play each week, and we do rep them considerably,” said Jennings. “We think it’s important to try and create an advantage. We have several tricks we never used, as the timing never felt right.”
River was able to get the ball back and score again on a two-yard run by Conner Church. The Knights failed on a two-point conversion on the first TD so they had James Voight kick the second to pull within a field goal at 16-13 with 1:26 still remaining. However, the Bulldogs recovered the onside kick and were able to run out the clock and advance to this Friday’s region semifinal at Glenvar.
Hammons finished with 197 yards passing, completing 12 of 23. Bailey had five catches for 134 yards, Benson had three for 30, Tanner Dillow had two receptions and Brian Moran and Church had one each.
The Knights didn’t have as much success rushing as Church had 14 carries for 27 yards and Bailey had three for 25. Martinsville outrushed the Knights, 239 to 47, while River had the edge in passing yards, 197 to 36.
On defense, Logan Campbell led with 20 tackles, two tackles for losses and two fumble recoveries, as Martinsville fumbled five times. John Austin had 13 tackles, Dillow had nine and Benson had seven. Austin had two tackles for losses and a forced fumble while Moran also forced a fumble.
With the loss, River finished the season at 5-6, but the Knights were actually 5-5 in games played as they were forced to forfeit a game to Stuarts Draft due to COVID concerns. The five wins were the most since the Knights were 8-3 in 2018.
“We had a really good season, these guys overachieved by all accounts,” said Jennings. “We were able to avoid, or escape, major injury throughout. They took the COVID pauses in stride, came to practice every day and genuinely wanted to work, and just really enjoyed being around each other. We have had more talented teams, or more athletic teams here in the past, but I would be hard pressed to remember a more eclectic group that just melded together to form an actual team of contributors.
“While some guys stood out more in the stats or the news, we never really dealt with issues over jealousy or ‘me guys,’ only concerned with individual pursuits. They all wanted the best for the team, and just to be the best version of that team as possible.”
Bailey led the team with 66 points on 11 touchdowns, while Church had 54. The leading rusher was Church with 756 yards on 138 carries, an average 5.5 yards per attempt. Bailey had 21 carries for 192 yards.
Hammons was 101 for 199 passing with eight touchdowns. Bailey was the leading receiver with 42 receptions for 865 yards.
On defense, Campbell had a great year with 133 tackles, including 63 solos, in nine games. Logan had 12 tackles for losses and three fumble recoveries. Dillow was second in tackles with 63 and he also led the team with three interceptions.
River will lose seven seniors, including Campbell, Bailey and Dillow. The Knights didn’t have a large number of players on the team but there was quality.
“We have a good core group coming back, with a lot of experience,” said Jennings. “We have some really big shoes to fill in spots, but we’ll start working on that soon enough. Our kids play a lot of other sports, so we want them to go and compete in their other sports and be kids, but we’ll hit the weight room here in about two or three weeks for sure.
“We have a good group coming up from CAMS as well, so it is exciting. Hopefully we’ll be able to attract some kids that maybe were on the fence, or some of the guys who traditionally play to come back out.”