ERHS Gets Another Big Test

Posted: October 25, 2013

HARRISONBURG – Three weeks ago, East Rockingham High School lost a heartbreaking football game to Riverheads, which then sat atop the Shenandoah District. Tonight, the Eagles will again host the top team in the district, this time Wilson Memorial, a week after the Green Hornets beat Riverheads.

“We’re in Week 8, you’re playing Wilson and they don’t have any losses in the district and we’ve got one [loss],” ERHS coach Donnie Coleman said. “It’s a big game, and they’re all big games right now. They’re trying to maintain their No. 1 seed and we’re trying to advance our seed.”

Last week, Wilson (6-1) forced four Riverheads turnovers, and the two-headed attack of juniors Juh-Kwquan McCauley and Savant Swift combined for three touchdowns in a 35-24 victory that vaulted the Green Hornets over Riverheads to the top of the 2A East playoff rankings.

“They’re really dangerous and they definitely have a whole stable there,” Coleman said.

 The Hornets are outscoring opponents by an average of two touchdowns in wins, but the defense, it appears, might be Wilson’s Achilles heel. The Green Hornets’ 149 points allowed ranks second-most among Valley and Shenandoah District teams with winning records, opening the door for East Rockingham’s balanced offense.

Eagles senior quarterback Hunter Harman’s 1,144 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and 58 percent completion percentage are all tops in the run-heavy Shenandoah District (districts have been replaced by conferences in the postseason, but they still exist informally for regular-season scheduling purposes).

“I don’t know that helps you, but it can’t hurt you,” Coleman said of ERHS’s passing game. “We’re pretty balanced on offense and we’re moving the football pretty well, and it’s kind of whatever you do best.”

East Rock junior tailbacks Bret Reel and Shannon Cross have rushed for a combined 1,088 yards and are a not-quite-as-prolific  Swift and McCauley, who have combined for 1,440 (735 and 705, respectively).

The Eagles (5-2) are No. 9 in the 2A East rankings, which would put them in the 16-team playoffs if the season ended today; a win over Wilson would boost their chances even further.

“[Wilson’s] a really talented football team,” Coleman said. “They’re ranked No. 1 in 2A East and there’s a reason for that – they’re pretty doggone good.”

Game time is 7 p.m.

Here’s a look at today’s other Harrisonburg/Rockingham County football games:

R.E. Lee (4-3) at Broadway (3-4), 7:30 p.m.

Sometimes, games hold different meanings for each team.

That will be the case tonight, when R.E. Lee – a team firmly positioned in the playoffs barring a late-season collapse – and Broadway, which is fighting to get into the 3A West playoff picture, play at 7:30 p.m. at BHS.

“We’re still in a situation where we can control our role in the playoffs and that’s where you want to be,” Broadway coach Brad Lutz said. “We’ve got three big football games in front of us and [tonight’s] a huge one.”

The Gobblers, who lost last week to Fort Defiance, are currently the fifth team left out of the 3A West playoffs. Fort is the 16th and final team in the postseason at the moment. BHS is No. 21.

Broadway’s problem, other than its record? Strength of schedule. BHS’s wins have come over William Monroe, James Wood and Waynesboro, teams that are a combined 3-20. Two losses were to Millbrook and Turner Ashby, which have lost a combined 11 games.

“We’re going to take it one game at a time and our kids have done a good job focusing on each week and each week getting better,” Lutz said. “[Today] is another playoff-type environment game and the playoff implications it’s got tied to it.”

Lee ranks No. 8 in 2A East with wins over just one team currently projected to make the playoffs (Appomattox). With suspensions and other off-the-field issues surrounding his team, coach David Tibbs is approaching tonight’s game like any other.

“It’s the next one on the schedule, just got to play the next game,” Tibbs said. “We don’t even talk about the playoffs.”

BHS’s defense, which has allowed the third-fewest points of any team in the Valley or Shenandoah District (115), will be tested by Lee quarterback Javon Chisley. Although he has not duplicated his 2012 season, when he was named Valley District Offensive Player of the Year, Chisley has been the difference in wins over TA (240 yards rushing) and Appomattox (182 yards rushing).

In last season’s 40-14 Lee win over Broadway, Chisley finished with 62 yards and two scores on the ground to go with 132 yards through the air, going 10-for-17 with a touchdown and interception.

“They’re so explosive,” Lutz said. “They have some outstanding weapons on offense, but defensively they play hard, they play fast, they’re very physical and they do it with more than just 11 guys. They have depth at every position and they’re just a well-rounded football team.”

Lutz will need to find the hot hand for Broadway tonight. Whether it’s tailback Austen Delawder (735 yards rushing), quarterback Kirk Rygol (749 yards passing) or the strong defense (three games of eight points or fewer allowed),
“Each week has been a different story for our team,” Lutz said. “We’ve relied on so many different people and so many people have come up big in our games. We really focus on having everybody help, but there’s been nights where some guys have bigger nights than others.”

Harrisonburg (1-6) at Turner Ashby (1-6), 7 p.m.

With the postseason essentially out of the picture for both Harrisonburg and Turner Ashby, tonight’s game, a game that typically holds large playoff implications, has lost its shine.

The Blue Streaks and Knights are both accustomed to success. HHS has averaged nine wins per season since 1999, while TA has just one season of fewer than four wins since 2004 (2011). A Harrisonburg win tonight would mean the best TA could finish is 3-7.

TA senior quarterback Evan Hanifee (1,125 yards passing, 8 TDs) could have a field day against an HHS defense that ranks sixth in the seven-team Valley District, allowing 36 points per game. Only Waynesboro’s scoring defense has been worse.

The Blue Streaks have allowed at least 24 points in every game this season, including 35-plus point breakdowns against Spotswood, Patrick Henry and Handley.

TA’s option-running game offense is led by senior tailback Shane Brown. His 899 yards rushing have him on pace to top his 1,001 yards rushing last season.

HHS coach Chris Thurman and TA coach Charlie Newman could not be reached for comment.

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