Phoebus rebounds from slow start to advance in playoffs

Correspondent

Chris Daniels threw for four touchdowns — three to Darrell Bryant Jr. — as Phoebus overcame a slow start to defeat Booker T. Washington 42-14 on Saturday in the Region 3A quarterfinals.

The Mighty Bookers scored the game’s first 14 points, and then Phoebus rattled off six straight touchdowns in the final three quarters to catch and overtake their Norfolk opponent.

“Nobody’s head went down and nobody was worried,” said Phantom coach Jeremy Blunt. “We were down by 14 and could have folded, but guys who were number-twos (backups) stepped up as number-ones. I’m proud of every one of these guys.”

With the win, Phoebus (11-0) will host Hopewell (7-4) next weekend in the 3A semifinals at Darling Stadium. Hopewell defeated Southampton 45-13 last night.

“They are like us in that they made the semifinals in the past two seasons,” added Blunt, asked about next week’s opponent. “They have some darn good athletes, and they’re battle-tested. One thing we learned today is that you can’t take anybody for granted.”

The Phantoms looked guilty of that early on Saturday.

On the game’s second play, the Bookers’ freshman running back Rodney Hammond burst through a hole in the middle and sprinted 69 yards before being caught from behind at the Phantom 9. Two plays later, Hammond finished the drive with a 3-yard plow up the middle giving the visitors an early lead.

A fumbled punt return by Bryce Bailey gave the Bookers the ball back at the Phoebus 10, and three runs by Hammond, the last from 4 yards, pushed the ball over the goal line to give the Bookers a surprising 14-0 lead that held until the end of the first quarter.

Hammond was the Bookers’ workhorse in the first half, carrying 18 times for 143 yards. Booker T. Washington could muster little offense from other sources and failed to complete a first-half pass and managed only 7 more yards on the ground from their other runners.

As the second quarter began, the eighth-seeded Bookers started to show weariness, and Phoebus quickly took advantage.

The Phantoms scored on two successive drives of 52 and 37 yards to pull themselves even.

Daequan Fleming capped the first drive with a 9-yard run through the middle, enhanced by a stutter-step, which gave the Phoebus blockers extra split time to open the hole in the middle of the line.

The second touchdown was highlight worthy came after Daniels threw a low ball to Darrell Bryant in the end zone, which the senior receiver caught from his knees. One official signaled touchdown, while the other signaled an incompletion. After a brief conference, the pass was ruled incomplete.

The Phantoms went back to Bryant on the next play. This time, Daniels’ pass sailed high into the end zone, but Bryant leaped for the ball, tipped it upwards with one hand, and cradled the ball back into his chest as it fluttered toward the ground.

The Phantoms continued to wear out the Bookers as the second half started. Daniel Wright, a 225-pound fullback, started to see more carries as Phoebus ran directly at the defense. Daniels mixed up the run and pass, catching the defense off guard on numerous occasions. On third-and-11 from the Booker 13, Daniels lobbed a pass to Wright in the flat. The big back rumbled toward the end zone and knocked one defender back a few yards before he dived in for the score.

“They are a young team, and we just wore them down,” said Daniels, who threw for only 103 yards and seven completions, low numbers for a four-touchdown performance.

Interceptions by Latrell Smith and Davaughn Davis kept the Bookers in check. Booker T. Washington gained only 29 yards in the second half, and Hammond gained only 12 yards on eight carries for the remainder of the game.

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