Despite a resurgent second half, Lafayette could not overcome its stagnant start in Saturday’s VHSL Class 4 state semifinal.
The Rams lost 20-13 to Louisa County, falling a victory short of a state championship appearance for the second straight season.
Lafayette’s typical ferocity arrived late to “The Jungle,” as the Louisa football stadium is known. The Rams outscored their opponents 13-3 in the last two quarters, but they entered halftime trailing 17-0.
The hometown Lions thrived on the raucous atmosphere provided by their green- and gold-clad faithful.
The parking lot of the high school, as well as the middle school and the county library, overflowed more than an hour before kickoff. Fireworks blasted after the pregame introductions. A pair of skydivers landed on the football field to deliver the game ball.
Louisa County rode the adrenaline pumping through the stadium to a touchdown on its opening drive. A 26-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Malik Bell to senior wide receiver Caleb Turner, plus the ensuing extra point, gave the Lions a 7-0 advantage.
In the second quarter, the home team tacked on two more scores, a 27-yard field goal by senior kicker Thomas Henley and a 3-yard touchdown run by senior running back Raquan Jones.
The Rams managed just 16 yards of offense and two first downs, compared to 206 yards of offense and 14 first downs for the Lions.
“At halftime, we all said, ‘We want this game, and if we want it, we have to come back and have a better half than that,’ ” Lafayette senior linebacker Jack Erwin said. “In the second half, we definitely came out and showed we belonged here.”
On the opening possession of the second half, the Rams marched 53 yards for a TD.
The drive almost stalled at the 36-yard line, but facing fourth-and-17, senior quarterback Cesar Ward found senior wide receiver Mike Rodgers for a 33-yard completion. Then junior running back Dea-Mario Tyler ran 3 yards for the score.
On the ensuing Louisa County possession, the Rams stuffed the Lions on fourth-and-2, then drove 36 yards for another touchdown, this one a 13-yard run by Tyler. Lafayette missed the extra point but still had pulled within one score of the lead.
The muscle of the Louisa County offense overwhelmed the Lafayette defense in the first half. The Rams, though, retooled their run coverage at halftime, which helped them stay in the game through the second half.
“They’re just so big,” Lafayette head coach Andy Linn said. “They can just mow you down. Their running backs are as big as my linemen. But we got them stopped in the second half to keep things close.”
The Lions rushed for 158 yards in the first half but just 57 in the second half.
“We were kind of hanging our heads at the end of the second quarter,” Lafayette senior lineman Gavin Byron said. “But when we came back out, the energy definitely shifted.”
However, the Louisa County defense also buckled down after Lafayette’s two quick touchdowns to start the second half, and the Rams could not complete their comeback.
The season ended for the Rams (12-2), while the Lions (14-0) move on to face the Salem Spartans in the Class 4 state championship game at William and Mary’s Zable Stadium next Saturday.
“Though it’s not the result we wanted, I watched my teammates give it their all to the last second, and it’s been an honor playing with Lafayette,” Erwin said.
LOUISA COUNTY 20, LAFAYETTE 13
Lafayette: 0; 0; 13; 0 - 13
Louisa County: 7; 10; 0; 3 - 20
LC: Turner 26 pass from Bell (Henley kick)
LC: Henley 27 field goal
LC: Jones 3 run (Henley kick)
Laf: Tyler 3 run (Roy kick)
Laf: Tyler 12 run (kick failed)
LC: Henley 24 field goal
Team stats: Laf; LC
First downs: 10; 17
Rushes-yards: 31-28; 61-215
Passing yards: 81; 87
Comp-Att-Int: 6-14-1; 5-12-1
Punts-avg: 4-27.5; 2-25
Penalties-yards: 6-35; 6-76
Fumbles-lost: 2-1; 1-0
Rushing: Lafayette, Tyler 13-44, Epps 1-5, Phillips 2-2, Ballowe 2-2, Duncan 2-1, Ward 11-(minus 26); Louisa County, Bell 28-95, Whalen 15-59, Jones 7-43, Sharpe 6-21, West 2-6, Smith 1-(minus 4); Hunter 2-(minus 5).
Passing: Lafayette, Ward 6-14-1-81; Louisa County, Bell 5-11-1-87, Hunter 0-1-0-0.
Receiving: Lafayette, Rodgers 3-33, Green 1-24, Tyler 1-15, Erwin 1-9; Louisa County, Whalen 2-40, Turner 1-26, Sims 1-14, West 1-7.
Yanchulis can be reached by phone at 757-298-5176. Follow her on Twitter @KYanchulis.