JAMES CITY — Lafayette will play for the Group 3A state football championship. The big question is whether quarterback Brendan McGinty will be in uniform for the Rams.
McGinty fractured the wrist on his right (throwing) hand on a run in the third quarter of the state semifinal against Western Albemarle on Saturday at Wanner Stadium. He wasn’t sure immediately after the game whether it was broken, dislocated or sprained, but an X-ray Saturday night showed that it was fractured.
A cold, steady rain aside, McGinty’s injury was a rare dark cloud on an almost perfect afternoon for the Rams, who blew out Western Albemarle 33-14. The victory moved the Rams (14-0) into the championship game at noon Saturday in Lynchburg against Magna Vista (13-1), a Martinsville-area team that beat James Monroe 41-38 in the other semifinal.
The Rams will vie for their first state title since 2001 and play in a state final for the first time since 2002, when they lost at Williams Stadium at Liberty University. The triumph was emotional for some as they hugged their equally drenched classmates and family.
“This means so much to me because of the work I’ve put in with my teammates for four years,” Brandon Villanueva-Pernell said as rain and tears smeared eye-black down his cheeks. “I want to celebrate and take pride in this accomplishment tonight, but then it’s back to work on Monday.”
Offensive lineman Anthony Thorn said, “This is probably the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”
Why not? The Rams outclassed the larger Warriors on both sides of the ball.
They used their speed to rack up 400 yards and roll to a 27-0 lead by the end of the third quarter. Other than allowing two late touchdown passes of 27 and 41 yards, the dominant Lafayette defense gave up 81 yards on the Warriors’ other 35 snaps, and only 33 yards on the ground.
The defense set the tone on the first series, when Tyler Jump stopped Warriors running back Oliver Herndon for no gain on third-and-1, before Tristen Packer tackled quarterback Sam Hearn for no gain on fourth-and-1.
Hearn found the going just as tough trying to pass, as end Matt Hummel sacked him three times and linemen D’Andre Thompson sacked him twice.
Hearn was only 9 of 21 through the air for 116 yards, and Villanueva-Pernell intercepted him twice.
Douglass (24 carries, 173 yards) led the rushing attack with his power, but it was the Rams’ ability to get others outside that paved the way for their 21-0 halftime lead. McGinty’s bootleg for 16 yards and Joey Kraegenbrink’s 16-yard touchdown run highlighted an eight-play, 56-yard drive that put the Rams ahead 7-0 with 3:08 to play in the first quarter.
The Rams turned Villanueva-Pernell loose to the outside on their next drive — of 10 plays and 65 yards — for runs of 11, 18 and 7 yards, the latter for a touchdown that made it 14-0 early in the second quarter.
McGinty rolled right and threw back across the grain to wide-open speedster Kyle Johnson for a 54-yard gain on the Rams’ next possession.
That set up McGinty’s 3-yard touchdown run that sent the Rams into halftime with a 21-0 lead. The Rams kept their grip on the game by controlling the clock in the third quarter, running off 20 plays to the Warriors’ five.
But McGinty took a helmet to the wrist after keeping for 3 yards and a first down on one of them. Shortly thereafter, his replacement, Cheyton Pine, passed 36 yards to Tyreke Graham on the fly for a touchdown to give the Rams a 27-0 cushion late in the third quarter.
That was plenty enough to withstand Hearn’s two fourth-quarter touchdown passes — one set up by a dubiously awarded onside kick — especially after Douglass displayed his speed by racing 55 yards for the clinching score. Minutes later, the Rams’ celebration in the rain was dampened only by their concern for McGinty.
While the wrist injury makes McGinty’s playing quarterback against Magna Vista a long shot, his coaches and teammates are hopeful he can. That would compare McGinty to current Baltimore Ravens running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, who played with a cast in the 2009 Division 3 state final for Bruton.
“Knowing him, he’s not going to miss the game,” Villanueva-Pernell said.
Rams coach Andy Linn added, “If I’m a betting man, he’s under center. Taliaferro’s not a bad comparison.”
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.
LAFAYETTE 33, WESTERN ALBEMARLE 14
Western Albemarle: 0, 0, 0, 14 - 14
Lafayette: 7, 14, 6, 6 - 33
Laf: J. Kraegenbrink 16 run (Horne kick), 3:08
Laf: Villanueva-Pernell 7 run (Horne kick), 10:56
Laf: McGinty 5 run (Horne kick), 4:34
Laf: Graham 27 pass from Pine (kick failed), 0:50
WA: Herndon 27 pass from Hearn (Hearn run), 5:35
WA: Kreienbaum 41 pass from Hearn (run failed), 5:01
Laf: Douglass 55 run (run failed), 4:45
First downs: 6; 17
Rushes-yards: 16-33; 52-320
Passing yards: 116; 80
Comp-Att-Int: 9-21-2; 4-9-0
Penalties-yards: 3-33; 5-39
Punts-avg: 6-41.7; 1-37
Fumbles-lost: 2-1; 2-2