No. 1 Essex Hangs On, 29-24
Posted: November 17, 2012
TAPPAHANNOCK — His own blood smeared on his face, jersey and knuckles after the game, East Rockingham High School senior Dale Wood stood in the end zone wondering what might have been.
A few feet away, just moments before, a 40-yard pass from ERHS quarterback Hunter Harman appeared to be tracking towards the outstretched hands of Raymond Simpson. But Rahiem Rolling was tracking the ball.
Cutting across the field, Rolling — Essex’s senior star linebacker — swatted the pass away after time expired, as the top-seeded Trojans held on for a 29-24 victory over eighth-seeded East Rock in the second round of the Division 2 East Section playoffs.
“Both teams played their hearts out,” Essex coach John Fulks said. “Everybody gave all their effort, and they gave us all we could handle.”
Essex (12-0) advances to play fourth-seeded Central at home next week in the state quarterfinals. The Trojans, the No. 1-ranked team in the Group A Associated Press poll, got a rude wake-up call at halftime, trailing for the first time since Week 2.
“It meant a lot to us. It meant more than anything,” Wood said. “We went past the first round, and nobody thought we could beat the No. 1 team in the state. …Nobody thought we had a chance and we were out there showing them.”
Three second-half takeaways by Essex stopped the Eagles (8-4) from adding to a 22-14 advantage at halftime.
Sophomore Dominek Broaddus gave the Trojans the lead on a 20-yard slant to senior Keith Bundy — the third receiving touchdown for Bundy on the night — with 9:18 left in the game, putting Essex ahead 29-22.
“It felt good, getting my team hyped and let them know that we can still win this game,” Bundy said. “When we were down, we were mad and stuff, but we talked and said we gotta get ourselves together and played Essex Trojan football. And that’s what we did. That’s what made us win the game.”
The one-play drive followed a fumble by ERHS senior Sharif Price that was recovered by Essex’s Anthony Johnson. Before that, each team’s defense forced a turnover on downs inside the 15-yard line.
“We just hung tough,” said Wood, one of several ERHS seniors playing hurt down the stretch Friday night.
Penalties nearly cost Essex the game. After an interception by Sterling Hammond, the Trojans shot themselves in the foot with a confusing double-penalty on the ensuing drive — one for holding and another for clipping, according to Fulks.
Both were assessed, with the clipping foul being ruled a dead-ball foul, backing up Essex to its own 24. The Trojans punted it to East Rock, and then got another timely interception — this time by Malik Martin — with Harman and the Eagles knocking on the door at the Essex 38.
More infractions — a hold and a delay-of-game penalty — followed, backing up the Trojans to their own 6. With 24 seconds remaining, Fulks elected to have Bundy run out of the end zone on a punt formation, burning seven seconds and giving East Rock its only points of the half with a safety.
Suddenly, a touchdown was all the Eagles needed to win.
Harman executed a quick 10-yard pass to senior wide receiver John Wright to move the chains and stop the clock briefly, and then uncoiled the 40-yard prayer that ultimately wasn’t answered.
“Rolling, our middle linebacker, dropped back to the goal line and just went over there and broke it up. Because it could [have] – it was there,” Fulks said of the final play by Rolling, the Northern Neck District Defensive Player of the Year.
Wright — used running back for the first time — and Price each finished with 102 yards rushing and a score, on 17 and 23 carries, respectively.
“We thought people were overloading the box away from Sharif a little bit,” ERHS coach Donnie Coleman said. “So we said we had to get something going back to the other side. …They made some nice adjustments.”
Wood scored the other TD on a 6-yard pass from Harman on third-and-goal that gave ERHS its eight-point halftime lead.
The Eagles were ahead 2-0 in the turnover battle in the first half, as Simpson hustled to recover a loose ball on a backwards pass and Ryan Shepard made an interception in the end zone just before the break.
But Essex’s three takeaways in the second half — and a critical stop on fourth-and-2 in the red zone — proved to be the difference, barely.
“We had a shot,” Coleman said. “I mean, the clock was hitting zero, the ball was in the air and we had a chance to win. But we probably had about six or seven chances to win that game.”