LYNCHBURG — Everyone at Turner Ashby is aware of the challenge they face.
While the Knights have had a surprising turnaround in their third year under coach Chris Fraser, what they’ll see this week is something they admitted is their toughest test yet.
“They’re very good,” Fraser said. “They have a handful of really good players. The biggest thing is they don’t make mistakes. They don’t turn the ball over, don’t have penalties, just don’t make mistakes. That’s something that’s tough to handle.”
The fifth-seeded Knights will travel to Lynchburg tonight to take on fourth-seeded Liberty Christian in the opening round of the Region 3C playoffs at 7:30 p.m. at Liberty University. It will be the first playoff game for Turner Ashby since a loss to Spotswood to end 2016.
This is the first season for LCA at the Class 3 level after previously competing in the Virginia High School League’s Class 4 since joining the league prior to 2015-2016.
For Turner Ashby, the opponent doesn’t matter at this point. The Knights just want to play.
“It feels awesome,” Knights quarterback C.J. Haskins said. “This is a new feeling for a lot of us. It’s the playoffs. We’re happy to finally be here and we’re just looking to capitalize.”
One of the biggest keys for Turner Ashby this season has been the emergence of its young players on both sides of the ball with guys like Jalin Quintanilla, Jared Peake, Dylan Eppard, Addison Simmons and others all play key roles for the Knights.
And while TA certainly relies on its dual-threat quarterback in Haskins and one of the area’s top running backs in Grant Swinehart, it’s been the loose mentality and ability to have fun with the game that Fraser said has led them to their turnaround this year.
“That part has been fun,” he said. “We started out Saturday saying, ‘It’s playoff week. We have to act differently, prepare differently’ Then we get to practice and our young guys are all over the place. They were acting their wide-open self and I just said, ‘Well, we’re going to keep rolling with what we’ve been doing because that’s worked for them.’
“Today, if you would have seen us at practice, it was the same way we practiced six weeks ago. They’re all over the place. The seniors appreciate being here at this time of the year, but with our young guys, it’s just another game for them. They’re having fun.”
That care-free mentality has helped the Knights deal with some tough losses, too.
All four of Turner Ashby’s losses this season were by less than seven points.
“We’ve been down throughout the year,” Fraser said. “I just think our kids are resilient. We really have tried to learn some lessons from it. Our message every week is that’s it about us. It’s not about anyone else. We only focus on us. We have to stop doing things to ourselves that put us in a bad situation. Those things do happen in a game, though.”
Last week, the Knights suffered a 31-28 loss on a last-second field goal to Rockbridge County and they took Spotswood down to the wire in a 14-10 setback earlier in the year.
“The last game was a heartbreaker, but there were a lot of positives out of that game,” Haskins said. “We played pretty decent on both sides of the ball. Right now, we feel pretty good. We have a tall task ahead of us Friday, but we’re up for the challenge.”
And while Haskins said the Knights are aware of the challenge they face, he also said they’re ready to take it head on with the why-not-us mentality they’ve bought into.
After all, they’re just enjoying every part of the ride from here on out.
“Our message this week was to cut down on the mistakes we can control because we can’t help a team like Liberty Christian,” Fraser said. “We can’t. They don’t need our help at all. Other than that, I just want the guys to go out there and give it their best.”