LYNCHBURG — No excuses. No regrets. You could hardly blame Lafayette High coach Andy Linn were he to offer some of the former and harbor plenty of the latter in the wake of the Rams’ 25-19 loss to Magna Vista in the Group 3A state championship game Saturday at Liberty University’s Williams Stadium.
What if Brendan McGinty had been able to play at quarterback? What if the Rams had taken advantage of field position inside the Warriors’ 25-yard line in the second and third quarters?
A state championship that wasn’t decided until the Rams fumbled the ball away near midfield with 1 minute, 48 seconds to play, offers a lifetime of opportunities for regret. Linn isn’t taking them, and he counseled 45 teenagers kneeling in the end zone with tear-strewn faces not to do so either.
“The way you handle this will show a lot about your character,” Linn said to his players. “You battled your butts off and did everything asked of you and more.”
The Rams (14-1) finished with the most victories in school history and just shy of a second state title. Numerous mistakes proved costly in pursuit of that second climb to the summit, but Linn said the same could’ve been true for Magna Vista.
“They had guys wide open in the first half on fade routes twice that (Warriors quarterback Shoalin McGuire) overthrew by 4 yards,” Linn said. “It’s not like we just missed a couple and could’ve won the game.
“Both of us missed.”
More likely the difference was, after a slow first quarter, the Warriors (14-1), from the Martinsville area, were able to get their speedy players into space often for big gains. Jacqez Hairston, a 5-foot-9, 174-pound junior, led the way, rushing for 197 yards, including touchdowns of 83 and 48 yards.
“We thought we needed to open up the passing game a little bit to hopefully get some better numbers in the box,” Magna Vista coach Joe Favero said. “When we could get both going and then get Jacqez in open space, I thought he did a great job.”
By contrast, after a 13-play touchdown drive on their first possession, the Rams were rarely able to impose their run-oriented power on the Warriors’ defense again. John Douglass completed the Rams’ 54-yard opening march with a 7-yard burst up the middle, and Grant Horne’s PAT made it 7-0.
Tommy Neville’s fumble recovery at the Warriors’ 33 early in the second quarter gave the Rams a chance to stretch the margin. But the Warriors forced a fumble by Pine — filling in for McGinty (fractured wrist) — to get the ball right back and kicked their big-play machine into gear. McGuire (14-of-19 passing, 167 yards) completed passes of 33 and 25 yards to T’Mahdae Penn, the latter for a touchdown, to pull the Warriors to within 7-6.
A Magna Vista punt that rolled backward for minus-2 yards gave Lafayette good field position again at the Warriors’ 23 late in the first half. But Pine and star wide receiver Brandon Villanueva-Pernell were unable to connect on an open slant on fourth-and-7, and the opportunity went for naught.
“That’s a product of those guys only (getting) to practice together for a week,” Linn said, referring to Pine taking over at QB after McGinty injured the wrist a week ago.
The Rams advanced inside Magna Vista territory twice in the third quarter, getting as far as the Warriors’ 24 on one possession, but failed to score. In between, Hairston made them pay by breaking 83 yards on an option pitch, sprung by Penn’s crunching block, to give the Warriors a 12-7 lead.
McGuire stretched the lead to 18-7 early in the fourth quarter with a 4-yard touchdown run that capped an 11-play, 90-yard drive highlighted by his keepers of 29 and 14 yards. The Rams fought back with a pair of spectacular big-pass plays of their own.
Tyreke Graham, the recipient of Penn’s big block, made a juggling catch of Pine’s pass for a 47-yard touchdown to pull the Rams to within 18-13 with 10:37 to play. Hairston stretched the Warriors’ lead to 25-13 on a 48-yard touchdown sprint featuring a nifty cutback, but the Rams weren’t done.
Neville made a beautiful catch of a tipped ball on Caleb Kraegenbrink’s halfback option pass for a 33-yard gain. That set up Douglass’ second touchdown run, of 6 yards, to pull Lafayette to within 25-19 with 4:32 to play.
The Rams got the ball back with 1:59 to play, but their state championship dream died a play later when Traevon Brunson (13 tackles) hit Pine to force the fumble and Abrian Pena recovered.
“I told (Cheyton) after the game he played his butt off the whole game,” McGinty, who played at wingback and safety, said of his replacement. “He did everything he could for the team.”
No doubt the Lafayette offense would have run better with its regular quarterback. But the Rams expressed no excuses or regrets, just like their coach.
“It was a hellacious football game,” Linn said. “It’s what you want, a state championship going down to the last couple of minutes.”
MAGNA VISTA 25, LAFAYETTE 19
Magna Vista 0 6 6 13 — 25
Lafayette 7 0 0 12 — 19
Laf: Douglass 7 run (Horne kick), 3:31
MV: Penn 23 pass from McGuire (kick blocked), 9:10
MV: Hairston 83 run (pass failed), 6:13
MV: McGuire 4 run (pass failed), 11:14
Laf: Graham 47 pass from Pine (pass failed), 10:37
MV: Hairston 49 run (Evans kick), 6:17
Laf: Douglass 6 run (kick failed), 4:32
TEAM STATS MV Laf
First downs 17 11
Rushes-yards 37-230 41-121
Passing yards 127 126
Comp-Att-Int 14-19-0 6-14-1
Punts-avg. 5-22.4 4-28.2
Penalties-yards 1-5 7-45
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-2
Rushing: Magna Vista, Hairston 28-197, McGuire 6-36, Penn 1-2, Redd 2-minus 5. Lafayette, Douglass 15-46, J. Kraegenbrink 15-44, Pine 5-11, Johnson 2-8.
Passing: Magna Vista, McGuire 14-19-0-167. Lafayette, Pine 5-13-1-93, C. Kraegenbrink 1-1-0-33.
Receiving: Magna Vista, Penn 6-93, Ramey 5-39, Gravely 1-23, Clark 1-11. Lafayette, Villanueva-Pernell 3-38, Graham 2-55, Neville 1-33.