JAMES CITY — One of Andy Linn's coaching maxims is that a football team establishes its identity with the first hit of the game. His Lafayette defense waited until the second play, but sent a message so emphatic it reverberated through the remainder of a 49-8 trouncing of Petersburg in the 3A state quarterfinals Saturday at Wanner Stadium.
Senior linebacker Liam Walters delivered the statement by laying a shoulder to the gut of Crimson Wave running back Daquan Smith, forcing a fumble. A play after D'Andre Thompson's recovery, Derrick Harris swept 52 yards to a touchdown and the Rams (13-0) were off and running.
Off and running to 563 total yards. Off and running to the program's first state semifinal appearance in 12 years.
"Everyone was focused, we came out on fire and were swarming to the football," Rams quarterback/linebacker Brendan McGinty said. "The offensive line came out and punched them in the mouth.
"After the first series it was pretty much over, but we knew they had a good team with a lot of good athletes so we never slacked off. We didn't underestimate them at all."
Especially, Gemonta Jackson, the Crimson Wave quarterback who will play next year at Old Dominion. Jackson, who threw for 140 yards and ran for another 128 in a 56-16 second-round win over Poquoson, never found any space to maneuver against Lafayette's defense.
Jackson completed just 4 of 9 passes for 40 yards, while rushing for only 3 yards on seven carries. Everyone excelled on a defense that allowed the speedy and explosive Crimson Wave (6-7) only 140 yards. Outside linebackers Matt Hummel and Cheyton Pine were particularly outstanding in containing Jackson.
"Cheyton brings athleticism to outside linebacker that you need against someone like Jackson," Linn said of Pine, making just his third start on defense. "He's not the athlete Jackson is, but he's pretty good.
"The only big gain Jackson got all day was that late (13-yard) run. We really keyed on him."
The offense was just as physically dominant, with the line leading the way as always. Much of the running was power stuff straight ahead by John Douglass (18 carries, 123 yards), but Harris, Joey Kraegenbrink (105 yards) and Kyle Johnson (114 yards) all broke outside for big gains on sweeps.
"We came out and out-physicaled them," Rams senior Brandon Villanueva-Pernell said. "Then we took some chances."
One was his 36-yard reception on the fly from McGinty, who scored several plays later from the 1 — the second of his three touchdown runs — to give the Rams a 19-0 lead in the second quarter. Villanueva-Pernell made a terrific leaping catch of a McGinty pass en route to a 79 yard touchdown in the second half, reminding older fans of Lynn Swann and younger ones of Odell Beckham Jr. as the lead ballooned to 41-0.
"I wouldn't compare my catch to Beckham's," Villanueva-Pernell said. "That was ridiculous. But mine was the best I've ever made in a game."
That was the sizzle, but the Rams' win was, as McGinty said, more about determination. Douglass and Johnson showed as much by dragging or bowling over would-be tacklers 15 yards at the end of long runs.
After seeing their unbeaten season crash to an end in an overtime loss to James Monroe in the 2013 state quarterfinals, the Rams, who will host Western Albermarle at Wanner in the state semifinals Saturday, would not be denied. That was clear from the first hit.
"It's a big win, especially after last year," Rams offensive guard Ian McManus said. "Last year was just an awful feeling, so we came out before the game and decided it wasn't going to happen again."
O'Brien can be reached at 757-247-4963.
LAFAYETTE 49, PETERSBURG 8
Petersburg: 0, 0, 0, 8 - 8
Lafayette: 13, 6, 16, 14 - 49
Laf: Harris 52 run (Horne kick), 11:30
Laf: McGinty 3 run (kick blocked), 3:04
Laf: McGinty 1 run (run failed), 9:40
Laf: McGinty 1 run (Villanueva-Pernell pass from McGinty), 9:06
Laf: Johnson 45 run (Neville pass from McGinty), 7:14
Laf: Villanueva-Pernell 79 pass from McGinty (kick failed), 9:19
Pet: Smith 33 pass from Jackson (Noggin run), 6:22
Laf: J. Kraegenbrink 40 run (Neville pass from Villanueva-Pernell), 1:54
First downs: 8; 16
Rushes-yds: 27-140; 45-448
Passing yds: 40; 115
Comp-att-int: 4-11-1; 3-5-1
Penalties-yds: 3-25; 9-56
Punts-avg: 3-35; 1-20
Fumbles-lost: 1-1; 0-0