The matchup between the Bay Rivers District football favorites was billed as a battle of Lafayette High’s defense against Smithfield’s passing attack.
The Rams’ defense won the duel decisively and, with an assist of two big passing plays, led the way to a 14-0 win over the Packers on Thursday at Wanner Stadium.
The victory extended the Rams’ district winning streak to 43 games going back to a loss at Smithfield five years ago. Coming on the heels of a season-opening loss to Norcom that marked Lafayette’s first regular-season defeat since that 2012 loss at Smithfield, some doubted the Rams could beat the explosive Packers.
But the Rams pressured Smithfield quarterback Willie Drew into a miserable night. Drew was 7-of-35 passing for 85 yards, numbers inflated by three completions for 51 yards late.
“Our front pressured him and we made sure he couldn’t get outside and run, which he likes to do,” said Lafayette linebacker Jack Erwin, who had eight tackles, includ<FZ,1,1,14>ing an emphatic early sack on Drew. “That worked out well because he was throwing in a hurry.”
The Smithfield run game fared little better, netting 77 yards on 24 attempts. Linebacker Trey Canady matched Erwin with eight tackles.
To top it off, the Rams’ pass coverage was terrific. The key matchup was cornerback Mike Rodgers, a 5-foot-8 junior who limited Packers receiver Darius Savedge to one catch for 8 yards in the first half.
Savedge, a 6-foot-2 senior, had seven catches for 147 yards at Dinwiddie. Rodgers, defensive back Raquan Blake and T.J. Epps (two pass breakups) continued to blanket the Packers’ speedy receivers throughout the second half.
The Rams (1-1, 1-0 district) weren’t great offensively early, but with the defense in control, only needed a big play to turn things around. It came on the final play of the first half, when quarterback Cesar Ward completed a 63-yard touchdown pass to Epps to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.
Epps spun off of Drew and Andre Savage while making the leaping catch, then dove to the pylon for the score to give the Rams the lead.
“That was crazy,” Ward said. “We needed a spark to give us momentum and he made a great catch.”
Rodgers made perhaps an even better catch on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Rams had the ball at their own 21-yard line when Ward lofted a pass for him.
Rodgers shook off contact from Smithfield defensive back Kyonne Edwards and caught the ball falling down for a 34-yard gain. The Rams covered the final 45 yards to paydirt on the ground, capped by Armonii Burden’s 4-yard touchdown run that gave them a 14-0 lead with 8:08 left in the fourth quarter.
Ward was 5-of-13 passing for 154 yards after failing to complete a pass in the loss to Norcom. The Rams netted 110 yards on the ground, controlling the clock for much of the second half in dispatching the Packers (0-2, 0-1).
“They called this ‘The Bay Rivers District Game of the Year,’” Erwin said. “We came in with a good mindset and came out with the win. This is huge and I think great things are ahead.”
O’Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963 and follow on Twitter @MartyOBrienDP