Titanic Upset

Blazers Lose, 21-7

Posted: November 16, 2013

Hidden Valley tailback Walker Brand tries to evade Spotswood safety Matt Slater during a run in the first half of Friday’s 3A West playoff game in Penn Laird. Brand led the Titans with 127 yards on 22 carries. (Photos by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
SHS coach Chris Dodson eyes the clock Friday.
PENN LAIRD – Facing fourth-and-inches in a scoreless first quarter, Spotswood High School dialed up the automatic play. Only it wasn’t automatic.

With the Trailblazers 6 yards from the end zone, Hidden Valley linebacker Nate Atkins met senior tailback Matt Slater in the backfield and dropped him for a 3-yard loss.

On the rarest of occasions, the Valley District Offensive Player of the Year didn’t even fall forward after contact.

“I think for the first time this year, a team played harder than we did,” SHS coach Chris Dodson said.

The 12th-seeded Titans limited Slater to 98 rushing yards, forced four turnovers and blocked a punt en route to a 21-7 victory over fifth-seeded Spotswood in a 3A West first-round playoff game dominated by defense.

“It’s no secret we started out the season a little rough,” HVHS coach Scott Weaver said. “We were a little raw, a little green in certain places. … We felt like we’re starting to peak and coming together at the right time.”

Hidden Valley (6-5) advances to play No. 4 seed Lord Botetourt (10-1) in Daleville.

Senior tailback Walker Brand had 127 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries to lead the Titans, who took advantage of short-field opportunities. After a scoreless first quarter that included three combined turnovers within the first three minutes, Hidden Valley capitalized on a good punt return and took over on its own 40.

Brand side-stepped in a hole to catch a block and sprinted for 46 yards on the next play. He accounted for all 60 yards of the scoring drive, capped by a 2-yard plunge to give Hidden Valley a 7-0 lead with 5:51 left in the second quarter.

The defense responded with a three-and-out, as Slater was stuffed for no gain on back-to-back carries. Atkins and senior linebacker Massi Flici were as advertised, collecting tackles and dishing out big hits all night.

“We pride ourselves on being physical,” Weaver said. “I personally feel I have two of the better linebackers in the state, and they’re playing side-by-side. So that helps.”

After Slater shanked a punt, the Titans needed just three plays to drive 41 yards for another score. This time, it was Atkins rumbling up the middle from 8 yards out. Hidden Valley missed the extra point, but led 13-0 with 2:53 left in the first half, shocking a sizeable playoff crowd at Spotswood.

The heavily favored Blazers (9-2) never looked the part.

“This loss definitely left a sour taste in our mouth,” SHS senior defensive tackle and fullback Mike Hernandez said.

“I won’t lie. We thought we could’ve made it all the way. We’re all upset. I mean, we gave it everything we got. I believe that we simply got outplayed tonight.”

Spotswood’s best drive of the game came before halftime.

In two-minute mode, the Blazers drove the ball from their own 20 to the HVHS 14, benefitting from a defensive pass interference call. But sophomore quarterback Zach Polglase couldn’t quite connect with senior tight end Caleb Detamore, as Billy Howe knocked the pass away.

“I was impressed with their physicality overall,” said Dodson, who considered a field goal attempt on the final play of the first half. “… We didn’t underestimate them or anything else. We just got outplayed.”

Hernandez’s 17-yard TD cut Spotswood’s deficit to 13-7 with 3:55 left in the third quarter. It also represented the longest run of the day for the Blazers, who also managed runs of 12 and 10.

“We knew that they were a very physical team going into it and we had to match their intensity and we had to, you know, one-up it,” Brand said, speaking quickly in the heat of the excitement. “I think we did that. Our defense played great.”

Special teams came up big when Dean Sayers blocked a punt by Nick DiPaola, who stepped in for a struggling Slater in that role for the first time at that point. That set up HVHS just 9 yards from the end zone. On fourth-and-2, the Blazers came up inches shy of a goal line stand as Mason Dermott scored.

On the next drive, Atkins strip-sacked Polglase and recovered the loose ball to all but seal the upset victory.

Hernandez, the last to leave the rain-softened SHS football field, tried to put a historic season in perspective despite an abrupt, emotional ending.

“It means the world to us. We haven’t done this since ’98. We haven’t done this in 15 years,” Hernandez said, referring to Spotswood’s Valley District championship. “We’ve done something. We’ve left our footprints here. They’re never going to go away. We left numbers up on the board, everything.”

After a brief pause, he added: “Hopefully, Spotswood remembers Michael Hernandez.”

Remember him? Hernandez might just be Dodson’s new blueprint of a leader – and one of 22 seniors who have set the bar pretty high for the next group.

“I think the thing we’ve been missing is just that complete senior leadership, dedication and discipline,” Dodson said. “And this group brought it. That’s the footsteps that they’ll leave for the future, and we’ll get better because of these kids.”
Hidden Valley        0    13    0     8 —  21
Spotswood            0      0     7     0 —    7

Second Quarter
HV—Brand 2 run (L. Dermott kick), 5:51.
HV—Atkins 8 run (kick failed), 2:53.

Third Quarter
S—Hernandez 17 run (DiPaola kick), 3:55.
Fourth Quarter
HV—M. Dermott 2 run (Brand run), 9:53.
                                HV                S
First downs                6                15
Rushes-yards                40-211                44-117
Passing                   0                196
Total yards                211                313
Comp-Att-Int                0-1-1                12-23-2
Punts-Avg.                5-27.2                5-12.6
Fumbles-Lost                2-1                3-2
Penalties-Yards                6-55                5-30
RUSHING—Hidden Valley, Brand 22-127, M. Dermott 13-58, Atkins 3-18, Smiley 1-6, Flici 1-2; Spotswood, Slater 32-98, Hernandez 5-42, Davis 3-2, Bryant 1-1, Polglase 2-(minus 17), TEAM 1-(minus 9).
PASSING—Hidden Valley, Smiley 0-1-1-0; Spotswood, Polglase 12-23-2-196.
RECEIVING—Hidden Valley, none; Spotswood, Davis 7-113, Baker 1-30, Slater 1-20, Detamore 1-13, Kier 1-13, Blandon 1-7.

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