BERRYVILLE — The Clarke County football team has one of the best special teams weapons in the Bull Run District in senior kicker Kellan Dalton.
For example, more than two-thirds of his kickoffs had landed in end zone for touchbacks through six games this year.
But it’s not easy sending the ball 60 yards through 40-degree night air. And arguably the district’s best weapon overall gave East Rockingham the spark it needed to explode after halftime.
Senior Trenton Morris — the only All-Bull Run District first team selection for offense, defense and special teams — returned Dalton’s second half kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to break open a six-point game, and the Eagles pretty much rolled from there for a 41-7 win in the Region 2B quarterfinals on Friday night at Clarke’s Wilbur M. Feltner Stadium in Berryville.
Sixth-seeded East Rockingham (7-4) — which lost 42-7 to No. 3 Clarke (8-3) on Sept. 27 — won its fifth straight game and will play No. 2 Buckingham County (10-1) in next week’s semifinals. Buckingham defeated No. 7 Page County 20-19 in overtime on Friday.
“Experience, man,” said Morris (four totaltouchdowns) when asked what the biggest difference is between East Rockingham now and in September. “Bonding with your team, taking it serious in practice. We’ve really come a long way with each other.”
That’s for sure. Clarke County didn’t have Peyton Rutherford (299 yards rushing and three TDs in the first matchup) Friday because of injury. But led by the Bull Run District Defensive Player of the Year and linebacker Morris, ERHS held Clarke to just 92 total yards after giving up 413 rushing yards to Clarke in September. ERHS had eight sacks — Ethan Mitchell had three — and three takeaways, two of which came in the second half and were converted to touchdowns. Moses Condrey had two interceptions.
Morris had 190 yards and two touchdowns on six carries and five catches for 52 yards and another score to lead a strong East Rockingham offensive effort (350 yards), but there was no doubt that Morris’ kickoff return was the biggest play of the game.
“Last game we were used to their kicker kicking it all the way into the end zone,” Morris said. “I just don’t think [Clarke] was ready for it not to go in the end zone. I got it and saw the hole, thanks to my blockers. They opened that hole up beautifully for me.”
The first team all-district kick returner Morris caught the ball on the right side and began angling left, and once he crossed East Rockingham’s 40-yard line there was no catching him. He then ran in the two-point conversion to make it 21-7 with 11:46 left in the third quarter.
“We had a feeling [Morris could bring it back], because Clarke doesn’t have to cover a lot of kicks,” East Rockingham head coach Donnie Coleman said. “We set up a return there, and [assistant] coach [Matt] Rhea does a good an excellent job with special teams. We said it walking out at halftime, ‘If we can get the ball here, he’s going to run it back.’ I’m not lying here.
“[Morris] is a special player, and he was really special tonight. He was the best player on that field.”
It was definitely a team effort, though. Less than four minutes later, East Rockingham recovered a fumble by running back Jack Taylor (18 carries for 85 yards) at the Clarke County 20. One play later, Colton Dean (17 carries, for 60 yards and two TDs) ran the ball in for a score to make it 27-7.
At that point, Clarke had to start throwing the ball more, and Clarke struggled mightily to handle the ERHS pressure. Five of the sacks came after Dean’s 20-yard TD run. Three plays after Dean’s score, Condrey picked off Childs (6 of 10 for 12 yards and two interceptions) at the Clarke County 46.
Three plays after that, ERHS quarterback Tyce McNair pitched the ball ahead to Morris on a jet sweep left, and Morris made a quick cut back toward the middle after getting around the edge for a 27-yard TD to make it 34-7 with 4:57 left in the third quarter.
“Their physicality was a lot more intense [than in the Sept. 27 game],” Clarke coach Chris Parker said. “We played pretty well in the first game, but their kids stepped it up ad we had trouble blocking them. They were swarming to the ball.”
Coleman said he couldn’t be prouder of his team.
“They went through the ringer the first month and a half,” Coleman said. “Our kids came ready to play. They’ve been hot, they’ve been on. I’ve been doing this for 26 years and these young men are a lot of fun to coach. They just kept plugging, and I love them to death.”
East Rockingham broke through on the game’s fourth possession when Morris burst through a big hole up the middle into the clear, then cut toward the right sideline about 15 yards downfield. He finished things off for a 72-yard touchdown with 1:13 left in the first quarter, and Price’s extra point made it 7-0 ERHS.
East Rockingham forced a punt after five plays on Clarke County’s next possession and took over at the CCHS 39 after it traveled 27 yards. Six plays later, ERHS spread the Eagles out with three receivers on the left and handed off to Morris up the middle, who blasted through another big hole up the middle for a 17-yard TD to make it 13-0 with 8:24 left in the second quarter. The extra point attempt went off the right upright.
Clarke County finally got on the board on its fourth possession. Taylor started the nine-play, 65-yard drive off with a 25-yard run to the ERHS 40, but it was Lyman who finished it with a sweep around the left side. He beat the ERHS defense to the front left corner of the end zone for a 2-yard TD, and Dalton’s extra point cut East Rockingham’s lead to 13-7 with 4:17 left in the second quarter.
ERHS almost added to its lead just before the half when Morris found an opening up the middle and then made a quick cut left after nearly stopping to get to the CCHS 11. He ran out of bounds with eighth-tenths of a second on the clock. ERHS lined up for a 28-yard field goal attempt, but Lyman was able to come off the edge and easily block the attempt to send the game into halftime at 13-7 in favor of ERHS.