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 the 4A state quarterfinals on Saturday at Wanner Stadium. Victory in the battle of unbeatens propels the Rams (13-0) into another such matchup in the state semifinals on Saturday, when they 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 and 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, 1 TD), Caleb Kragenbrink (79 yards, 1 TD) and quarterback Cesar Ward (6-of-10, 90 yards, 1 TD).
The defense was tough against the run, as the Cyclones netted only 80 yards on 34 attempts and 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 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 by a hold 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 rode it to a 23-yard gain on a pass from Ward out of the backfield, before breaking 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 Tristan 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."
LAFAYETTE 48, EASTERN VIEW 21
Laf: Johnson 18 run (Kelljan kick), 1:04
Laf: Grimsley 73 run (Kellejan kick), 11:28
Laf: Packer 27 pass from Ward (Kellejan kick), 9:05
EV: Thomas 33 pass from Russell (Walker kick), 7:38
Laf: Grimsley 37 run (Kellejan kick), 3:26
EV: Hunter 1 run (Walker kick), 1:21
Laf: Kraegenbrink 33 run (Kellejan kick), 10:58
EV: Thomas 70 pass from Russell (Walker kick), 10:12
Laf: Walters 59 interception return (Kellejan kick), 6:44
Laf: Sharpless 48 interception return (kick failed), :47
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.