When it was a defensive slugfest in the first half, Lafayette was a little better than Eastern View. When it turned into a big-play shootout in the second half, Lafayette was better then, too, and its defense again played a role.
The combination gave the Rams a 48-21 win over the Cyclones in a Group 4A state quarterfinal Saturday at Wanner Stadium. Victory in the battle of unbeatens propelled the Rams (13-0) into another such matchup in a state semifinal Saturday, when they will travel to Dinwiddie (13-0).
"This feels great," linebacker Liam Walters said of the Rams' second state semifinal appearance in three seasons. "I remember the feeling (of making it in 2014), but it wasn't this good. Senior year, everything's a little more sentimental and we want it more than sophomore year."
Rams standout Hezekiah Grimsley said, "It's a blessing to be this far, because I know a lot of teams are just home watching. It's a blessing to have all the challenges for the team."
Grimsley, a Virginia Tech recruit, is a big reason the Rams overcame a stiff early challenge by the Cyclones. He ran five times for 128 yards, including touchdowns of 73 and 37 yards, in addition to catching three passes for 40 yards.
He got a lot of help offensively from running backs Kyle Johnson (142 yards, one TD), Caleb Kragenbrink (79 yards, one TD) and quarterback Cesar Ward (6-of-10, 90 yards, one TD).
The defense was tough against the run, as the Cyclones netted only 80 yards on 34 attempts. Lafayette made up for allowing several big pass plays by returning two interceptions for scores.
Such huge numbers seemed incomprehensible during a first half dominated by defense. The Cyclones (12-1) gained 44 yards on a screen pass late in the first quarter, but linebacker Jack Erwin forced a D'ago Hunter fumble at the end of it and RaShawn Smith recovered for the Rams.
Eastern View also had an apparent 54-yard touchdown pass called back because of a holding penalty early in the second quarter. The Rams did little offensively for the first 18-plus minutes before launching a 13-play, 98-yard, game-changing touchdown drive to break the scoreless tie.
Grimsley finally beat his nemesis, Cyclones cornerback Cameron Spangler, for 28 yards on a pass reception. Johnson earned a 23-yard gain on a pass from Ward out of the backfield, then broke 18 yards a play later for a touchdown run that gave the Rams a 7-0 lead with 1:04 to play in the half.
"They did a fantastic job of taking away the middle, so on the 98-yard drive we used a little bit of the edge and used a little bit of the passing game," Rams coach Andy Linn said. "I'll be honest: Everything we coached on that drive worked.
"Once we got that 98-yard (drive), they got a little confidence in themselves and we came out offensively in the second half pretty good."
That's an understatement. Grimsley ushered in the romp with a 73-yard touchdown on a reverse to give the Rams a 14-0 lead on the first play of the second half.
The Rams needed just two plays to score on their next possession, via Ward's 27-yard pass to wide-open Tristen Packer, and take a 21-0 lead with 9:05 to play in the third quarter. Following an Eastern View touchdown, Grimsley used a series of cuts to run 37 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-7.
"We've had that speed sweep all year, but we just haven't used it," Linn said. "We're running out of games now, so there's no use holding it back."
The Rams didn't hold back anything in the second half. Kraegenbrink followed Johnson's 31-yard touchdown run with a 33-yard touchdown run. The Cyclones tried to keep up with a touchdown set up by Hunter's long kick return and a 70-yard touchdown pass — closing to within 35-21 — but the Rams responded with two long interception returns for scores.
Walters had the first, for 59 yards and a touchdown, then Queshon Sharpless went 48 yards to the house with a pick late in the game.
"That was a game-changer right there," Walters said. "Queshon's just closed the door, game's over and put a little bit of sprinkles on top of the cake."
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.