Bird defeats Varina and advances, seeks redemption against Hermitage

Redemption doesn’t come often in sports, but when it does it seems to gravitate towards the teams or players that fight for and deserve it most. For the L.C. Bird Skyhawks, that chance at redemption will come this Friday at Hermitage,as they attempt win their first regional championship since 2005. The Skyhawks dispatched Varina last Friday in the first round of the Central Region playoffs, 21-16 on the strength of their defense and three touchdowns from Yahkee

“It’s great to have a second chance at them [Hermitage],” said Johnson. “I love this team, and I’m grateful for the team we have, and if we stay strong we can win.”

After a scoreless first quarter, it would be the Blue Devils that drew first blood, making good on a 32 yard field goal attempt by Cody McDaniel, taking the lead 3-0.

But the Skyhawks would answer two possessions later, moving the ball on the ground via Johnson, who scored on a seven yard run to give Bird the lead at 7-3 going into the half.

Varina would take the lead seven minutes into the third quarter on a pass from University of Virginia commit Maurice Canaday to Donovan Dowling for a 20 yard strike, giving Varina the lead at 10-7. As the third quarter ended, Bird was just four yards from taking the lead back and did so on the first play from scrimmage in the fourth, a three yard run by Johnson. Jose Ayala’s extra point made it 14-10 Skyhawks.

After a momentum building stop on the Blue Devil offense, Bird would get a huge push as Johnson broke off a 65 yard run to eventually set up another score to make it 21-10 with 4:34 left in the game. The touchdown was a one yard punch-in, and Johnson’s third of the game.

“Tonight was no different,” said head coach David Bedwell. “Yahkee Johnson proved why he’s the best player in the Central Region, hands down.”

Varina would make things interesting with another score from Canaday to make it 21-16 (with the failed two-point conversion) and by recovering an on-side kick to have a chance to win the game on the last drive, but a fumble by Canaday was recovered by junior defensive lineman Purcell Burvine, ending Varina’s hopes at a comeback.

Bird was led by Johnson again, who had a huge workload, carrying the ball 38 times for 248 yards and three touchdowns. On defense, Deon Clarke led the way with eight tackles and a sack. Tyvaughn Kirby-Johnson had two sacks; Burvine had a sack to go along with his key fumble recovery. Senior Torey Pettis also added a sack.

“We worked together as a team, and we get the job done,” said Kirby-Johnson. “We stayed disciplined and good things happened.”

For Johnson, the win was an early birthday present (the running back turned 18 on Monday) and left him at 2,442 yards to this point in the season, averaging 222 yards rushing per contest. The senior now has 38 touchdowns on the season.

The match-up between Bird and Hermitage promises to be a good battle, as Bird comes in at 10-1 and Hermitage at 11-0. One of the knocks on Hermitage this season is that they played in a relatively weak Colonial District. However, they ran the table and defeated Thomas Dale 14-0 to match up with Bird. Hermitage will have to stop the run effectively against Johnson and the Skyhawks if they want to gain their second straight state tournament berth. Bird lost the regional final to Hermitage 17-14 last year.

“It feels good to have a chance with what happened last year,” said Clarke, a Virginia Tech commit. “We want to remember how it felt to lose so it doesn’t happen again.”

Thomas Dale finished their season at 7-4 overall with losses to all playoff teams (twice vs. Bird, at Varina, and at Hermitage) and ran the table in the Central District with a perfect 7-0 season.

Get out and support your Skyhawks as they try to take the Regional Title on the road vs. Hermitage at 7:30pm.

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