Thomas Dale falls to Bird in season opener

It was a story of old friends and long-time rivals as the L.C. Bird Skyhawks and the Thomas Dale Knights took the field last Friday night – the 38th meeting between the two teams. With the series record even at 18-18-1, someone would have to come out on top. After a hard-fought first half, L.C. Bird was able to pull away and cruise through the second half to a 28-3 victory over Dale.

“We did some things well tonight, but we also hurt ourselves with penalties,” said L.C. Bird head coach David Bedwell. “It’s always a little ugly in the first game, but we’ll get better.”

In front of a massive crowd, the game remained scoreless after the first quarter, in which both teams struggled to move the ball. Both sides experienced a rash of penalties but also faced staunch defense. Thomas Dale was dealt a big blow as starting quarterback Quentin Taylor was injured in the first quarter, eventually leaving the game with an apparent hip pointer.

“We were able to get a little together moving the ball,” said Thomas Dale head coach Kevin Tucker. “Then we lost our quarterback, and that hurt us.”

The game’s first touchdown came in the second quarter – Bird’s last drive of the half. A young, fairly inexperienced offensive line opened holes for running back Yahkee Johnson. In the first, Johnson was somewhat stifled by Dale’s defense, but in the second, Bird was able to gain consistency in opening holes, as Bird marched downfield, scoring with minutes left in the half on an eight-yard run. After a missed extra point, Bird led 6-0.

“With our line being young, it was a big question mark for us,” said Bedwell. “I was proud of how these guys played tonight.”

Thomas Dale then started off with a return from D.J. Reid to about midfield, and with a couple of nice runs by senior Lorenzo Fields, Dale would was in field-goal range. The drive set up senior Anthony Prevost, who converted the 38-yard field goal attempt. Bird led 6-3.

On the first play from scrimmage to start the second half, Aaron Fuller handed the ball off to Johnson, who electrified the crowd as he streaked down the left sideline for an 80-yard score. Bird would convert the two-point conversion, taking a 14-6 lead.

With the injury to Taylor, Dale ran into problems moving the ball, and then initiated a more run-oriented attack. Bird’s strategy shifted to stop the run, and the Knights weren’t able to put together a long drive until the fourth quarter.

“We ran our plays well in the first half,” said Tucker. “But with the injury, and knowing we couldn’t throw the ball, they [Bird] were able to stop the run; it’s hard to get a push when it’s like that.”

Bird scored twice more in the fourth quarter. The first blow of the fourth came yet again from Johnson for his third touchdown of the game; the last score came from reserve running back Lionel Williams, who broke into the end zone on a 10-yard scamper. Another missed extra point and two-point conversion gave the Skyhawks a 28-3 lead they would not surrender.

Dale threatened late in the fourth to score, but the drive was halted in the end zone on an interception by Skyhawks defensive back Brandon Walker.

“We took a loss, we learned the hard way,” said Tucker. “We’ve got to learn from our experiences and get ready for Varina.”

Johnson led the Skyhawks with 231 yards on 34 carries with three touchdowns. Thomas Dale was led by D.J. Reid who carried the ball 13 times for a total of 68 yards. Defensively, Bird was led by a trio of seniors: Deon Clarke, Torey Pettis and Will Lawing – who claimed the games only sack.

For Thomas Dale, Aaron Green led the way on defense with nine tackles. With the victory, Bird fans went home happy, and Bird took the series lead at 19-18-1. The game, the opener for both teams, fell to 1-0 and 0-1 respectively. They will meet again Nov. 4.

“I think the fans saw a great game,” said Johnson. “Thomas Dale is a good team and they will do well this season.”

In other football action, Meadowbrook, despite falling behind to Highland Springs, a playoff team last year, were able to rally and score in the last minute on a touchdown by quarterback Gerard Johnson to improve to 2-0 and claim victory against the Springers. Matoaca also won, evening their record at 1-1 with a 34-31 win over Manchester in a shoot-out.

Next week’s match-ups include home games for Bird (George Wythe), 7:30 p.m., Meadowbrook (Mills Godwin), 7 p.m., and Matoaca (Clover Hill), 7 p.m. Thomas Dale will travel to Varina for a 7 p.m. start. Stay tuned to the Village News for continued local sports coverage.

At Meadowbrook’s game this Friday (Sept. 16,) all youth football player and cheerleaders wearing their uniforms will be admitted free with a paying adult.

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