No doorbuster deals were required for the L.C. Bird High School Skyhawks Friday. While everyone was out shopping, they were thinking of how to beat Hermitage to advance to the Division 6 State Tournament and be crowned Regional Champions for the first time since 2005, when they beat Meadowbrook, 19-13.
However, Hermitage had other plans, and the Skyhawks fell in a closely fought game with a final score of 17-14.
“We knew they’d have a great running game,” said Hermitage head coach Patrick Kane. “We wanted to shut down the deep passes. We did, and that put us in a position to win this one.”
The game started off on a high note; on the first play, fullback James Simmons rumbled downfield for 26 yards. Then, the usual suspect, junior Yahkee Johnson, carried the ball five times for 32 yards, reaching the promised land for the Skyhawks just 2:36 into the contest.
Bird kicked the ball to Hermitage with a head full of steam, but Panthers’ senior B.J. Clark electrified the visiting sideline and stunned the Skyhawks with a 70-yard kick return to even the score at seven.
Both teams followed the scores with some tough defense. The Panthers defense hardened each time Bird got favorable field position, and Bird was able to contain a usually potent Hermitage passing game. Despite two first half fumbles, which were jumped on by Simmons, who is also a linebacker, Bird was unable to capitalize on the turnovers to create any offense. The score remained 7-7 at the half.
“When you can’t finish drives, it comes back to hurt you,” said L.C. Bird head coach David Bedwell. “We had opportunities.”
The Panthers came out in the second half and used a productive passing game, including a couple of connections from Brendan Riddick to Brian Brown, to set up a 27-yard field goal by John Steibel to give Hermitage the advantage at 10-7.
After two short-lived drives by both teams, Bird drove down the field on the strong running of Johnson and Simmons. This time, they reached the end zone, capping the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run by Ant Harris that gave Bird the lead with 10:13 left in the fourth quarter.
Hermitage followed with a long drive of its own, spanning 70 yards. On a play from the Bird seven, the ball popped out – the third fumble of the game by the Panthers – and squirted forward into the end zone. After a scramble, it was top recruit Curtis Grant who fell on the ball, registering the touchdown to his name and giving the Panthers a three-point advantage with 3:34 remaining the contest.
The Skyhawks would have to score in the waning minutes of the game if they wanted to advance. After a nice run by Johnson, and a penalty on Bird, it was third and five. A Harris pass seemed to sail a bit and was intercepted by Hermitage senior Shamel White, effectively ending the game and sending Hermitage to states.
“They (Hermitage) are a good football team,” said Bedwell. “I think we played the game well enough to win, but Hermitage played a little better. We definitely showed character and guts out there tonight.”
Bird enjoyed a number of good performances in the game, as Simmons recovered two fumbles, Will Lawing and TyVaughn Kirby-Johnson recorded sacks and a couple tackles for losses and Johnson finished with 140 yards and a score.
Hermitage advances to play Bayside (Virginia Beach, Va.), who defeated perennial favorite Oscar F. Smith (Chesapeake, Va.) in their regional final last Saturday night. They aren’t the only regional team heading to states, as Dinwiddie won the Division 5 Regional Championship and will advance to face Phoebus, (Hampton, Va.), who has been ranked No. 1 in the state most of this season.
Bird will look forward to 2011, when the Skyhawks will return Johnson and several key starters on defense, including Lawing, KirbyJohnson and Deon Clarke. They figure to be in the mix at the top of the Dominion District next season.