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Smithfield's passing, Lafayette's defense highlight showdown

Marty O'Brien

Lafayette High and Smithfield losing their season-opening nondistrict football games did not change the storyline that their meeting Thursday at Wanner Stadium is the Bay Rivers District Game of the Year.

Even in defeat, their efforts underscored they are the district’s most talented teams, while highlighting where that talent is most evident. The key to the matchup, and quite possibly the district title, will be Smithfield’s passing game against Lafayette’s defense.

Lafayette was great defensively all night in its defeat, allowing Norcom just 109 yards of offense. The Greyhounds’ touchdowns came on a kickoff return and a 21-yard diving, juggling touchdown reception in the final minute after the Rams fumbled in their own territory.

“Just because they lost some guys doesn’t mean they’re not good,” Smithfield coach Reginald Chavis said of the Rams. “They suffered some (personnel) losses and are still learning to play and jell with each other. They’re disciplined and still have team grit. You can’t tell a lot from Week 1.”

You could tell enough to know that Smithfield’s passing game is for real. The Packers lost a track meet at reigning 4A state runner-up Dinwiddie 61-38, a final score that doesn’t depict the competitiveness of a first half Smithfield led until late.

Against likely the best opponent anyone from the BRD will face this regular season, the Packers’ Willie Drew completed 21 passes for a single-game district-record 388 yards. He threw touchdown passes to four receivers, including 80-yarders to Preston Jeffrey and Darius Savedge, and completed passes to seven players.

“Their passing game is dynamic because they have so many receivers,” Lafayette coach Andy Linn said. “When they have five or six, you can’t do anything special to one. They’re very similar to Norcom in that they have a bunch of guys who can catch it.”

If the Packers are similar, Lafayette should come in with some confidence that its defense can compete with their passing attack. The Greyhounds were prompted to pass 23 times (completing 11 for 99 yards) because Jack Erwin, Armonii Burden, Kristian Wilkerson, Elijah Washington and company stifled their running game (10 yards on 19 attempts).

Only six of the completions went for more than 6 yards, and only the game-winning touchdown catch by Quinten Greene went for more than 20. TJ Epps, Zach New, Mike Rodgers and Raquan Blake were starting their first games in the Lafayette secondary and Linn was pleased, overall, with their play.

“You’re not going to see many better offenses than Norcom,” Linn said. “They have three receivers as good as you’re going to see, and that No. 2 (CaSaan Dixon) is the real deal and they couldn’t throw to him. Our defense is going to see the exact same offense this week, and it was a good test in that way.”

Like Norcom, Smithfield will try to establish the run, with 5-foot-8, 197-pound senior Caleb Brodie carrying much of the load. Brodie ran 52 yards for a touchdown early and also caught three passes before cramps limited his second-half action at Dinwiddie.

Tight end Nymel Greene, a defensive standout at end, caught a 6-yard pass for a touchdown while otherwise focusing on blocking. If there’s a star in the deep group, it’s Savedge, a 6-foot-2 senior whose ability to run a variety of routes was a big reason he had seven catches for 147 yards.

Jeffrey caught three passes for 116 yards running deep routes. Marcus Custis, a standout on Smithfield’s basketball state semifinalists who had two catches for 68 yards – including a 31-yard TD – also proved adept at catching the long ball.

Add in freshman Christopher Gundy, who had four receptions for 26 yards in his varsity debut, and the deep but relatively inexperienced receivers are beaming with potential. There’s no one better in the district to bring it out in them than Drew, a Division I prospect who passed for more than 1,600 yards a year ago and ran for more than 1,000.

“Willie has a strong arm and can thread the needle, and he has a lot more confidence running our (spread offense) system,” Chavis said. “Whether he’s running or passing, he has a lot more patience.”

That’s just another factor that should contribute to a competitive game, perhaps even the Game of the Year.

“It’s going to be a tough football game and we can win it, but we have to cut down on our mistakes,” Linn said, referring to the kickoff-return touchdown, a shanked punt, 115 yards in penalties and two lost fumbles. “If we don’t get ourselves straight, we could get run off of the field.”

O’Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963 and follow on Twitter @MartyOBrienDP

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