Earl Hughes stood on the sideline near the end of the game Friday with a smile across his face, wearing a headset and making his “coaching” debut. The running back had earned it, blazing up and down Dutchman Field in near-freezing temperatures as Bird plundered the Atlee Raiders 46-10.
Hughes rushed for 423 yards, three yards shy of Paul Robertson’s school record of 426 yards set last year in the state semi-finals against Oakton.
“My offensive line stepped up big, they practiced hard all week,” said Hughes. “They stayed back all week, they were the first ones here (at practice) and they got it done today.”
While the senior came up just short of the rushing record, he set one of his own as he gained a total of 497 yards from scrimmage. Hughes scored five touchdowns, three rushing and two receiving on passes from quarterback Terrance Ervin. The lead Skyhawk ran with a purpose and with his usual hardnosed running style. Early in the game, a strong defensive line by Atlee was able to break through and force losses, but that penetration quickly diminished as Hughes romped.
“Our offensive line was on their assignments, but Atlee has some big boys over there,” explained Hughes. “Our line was faster and got to their assignments.”
Hughes, affectionately called his childhood nickname “Snug” by his teammates, transferred this offseason from Meadowbrook and made an immediate impact, earning the starting running back job. While talented as a Monarch, Hughes has become yet another outstanding running back in what is becoming a stronger and stronger program after notching their 27th straight win.
“I thought Atlee was comparable to Hermitage on film, they have a lot of big kids over there with their D-1 caliber linemen,” Bedwell stated. “We made some huge holes and Hughes made some great runs.”
Holding a strong Atlee offense to 10 points was no small task, but the Skyhawks played their game and kept the Raiders on their heels all night. Bird was led by freshman linebacker Rayshard Ashby with eight tackles, while Casey Wallace registered two quarterback sacks. Ashby has led the team in tackles for four of the last five games, and has made the most of his opportunity to play on varsity as a freshman.
“Coaches told me in the pre-season there was a good chance I’d be on varsity this year,” said Ashby. “I just worked as hard as I could to get ready for this.”
With a relatively easy victory over Atlee, Bird advances and faces Salem (11-2, Virginia Beach, Va.) this Saturday at 2 p.m. at L.C. Bird in the state semi-finals.
On the other side of the bracket, North Stafford (11-2) knocked off top seeded Massaponax (Spotsylvania, Va.) and will face Briar Woods (12-1) for the right to go to the state final.
Interestingly, the only loss Briar Woods suffered was at the hands of North Stafford on September 20, 19-7. The championship will be played at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville on Saturday December 14. Follow along on twitter @VNewsSports.