Meeting twice in the same season for the first time in school history, the Thomas Dale Knights and the L.C. Bird Skyhawks would clash with both pride and playoff chances on the line. For Thomas Dale, they essentially wrapped up the Central district with their win over Meadowbrook last week, 21-14. The Skyhawks, fighting for their playoff lives, faced a must win situation against the Knights in this rendition of the Battle of Chester. The game would be a close fought defensive battle, but L.C. Bird would emerge victorious 15-7, collecting its third straight win vs. Thomas Dale.
“We didn’t win any phase of the ballgame tonight,” said Thomas Dale head coach Kevin Tucker. “They did a great job stopping our run, and special teams killed us tonight- we have to win all three phases of the game.”
The two teams battled to a scoreless first quarter before the Skyhawks broke through in the second. Led by senior running back Yahkee Johnson, Bird would grab great field position and Johnson would score on a 35 yard pass from Aaron Fuller. Jose Ayala’s extra point would be good, giving Bird the lead at 7-0. The touchdown was Johnson’s 30th of the season.
Thomas Dale found moving the ball difficult for the entire first half; a usually potent run game headed by junior D.J. Reid was stopped to a screeching halt. Thomas Dale, attempting to punt the ball away, was blocked by senior Torey Pettis out of the back of the end zone for a safety, extending the lead to 9-0.
On Bird’s next offensive drive, it would be Johnson in his usual heavy doses, as Bird drove 58 yards ending in another Johnson score, this time on a one yard run. Bird held a 15-0 lead at halftime.
Bird’s defense continued their assault on Thomas Dale, shutting down virtually any offense on the ground. In fact, Thomas Dale rushed for a season low 16 yards; this coming off a week after Reid ran freely against a formidable Meadowbrook defense.
“Our offensive line was flat tonight,” said Tucker. “We didn’t get the same push as we did against Meadowbrook.”
Thomas Dale would move into Bird territory in the third quarter, moving the ball through the air with passes from Quentin Taylor to David Robinson being the primary mode of travel. As Thomas Dale attempted to score, the Skyhawks would get a sack on a third and goal from Pettis, to set up a 24 yard field goal attempt from Anthony Prevost. That attempt would be blocked by junior linebacker Justin Palimore to keep the Knights scoreless and still looking for answers against Bird’s defense.
In the fourth, the Knights would finally break through on a 24 yard pass from Taylor to Robinson to narrow the lead at 15-7 with 5:09 left in the game. The Skyhawks got the ball back, running four minutes off the clock, but giving Thomas Dale one last opportunity to win the ballgame with 1:05 left.
The Knights would progress to midfield before their drive fell short and time expired.
In terms of the rivalry, the Skyhawks were able to win their third straight game, and sweep the season series in the first year scheduling has been in this format. The overall record now stands with the Skyhawks ahead in the series historically with 19 wins, 17 losses and 1 tie. Based on seeding, if both teams qualify, we could see a third meeting between the two teams.
Bird was led once again by Johnson, who rushed for 206 yards and gained an additional 36 yards through the passing game, scoring his 30th and 31st touchdowns on the season. His big rushing game left him with 1955 yards, just 56 yards shy of the school record he set last year, at 2,001 yards.
“Yahkee Johnson is the best player in the Central Region,” said Bird head coach David Bedwell. “I’d put him against anyone as a player and as a person.”
Up next for the Knights is a bout with Colonial Heights at home, this Friday at 7 p.m. This is a must win for the Knights, but the Colonials have had their share of struggles this season, posting a 0-9 record this season. For the Skyhawks, Friday is also a must win as they must defeat Clover Hill to qualify for the playoffs. Clover Hill has proven to be a tough test for several opponents this year, as they currently stand at 7-2 overall and 5-2 in the Dominion district. Meadowbrook and Matoaca both picked up wins this week and will face each other in Matoaca this Friday at 7 p.m.