Fresh off a win over Varina to advance to their second straight regional title game, the Lloyd C. Bird Skyhawks had a tall task in defeating Hermitage on their home field. The game was largely a defensive battle, and in the end Bird’s turnovers played a key role in the outcome. The Skyhawks fell 10-0 in the defensive slugfest, as Hermitage won their second straight regional championship.
“Bird is a tenacious football team; they fought their hearts out,” said Hermitage head coach Patrick Kane, formerly a member of Bird’s staff. “I have a great respect for their coaching staff and the way they do things.”
The teams battled to a near stalemate in the first half, with wet field conditions and a very strong defense hampering star running back Yahkee Johnson. Bird had problems moving the ball. In fact, Johnson was limited to a season low 67 yards on the ground- on just 2.6 yards per carry. Hermitage was also able to put some nice hits on Johnson, who has become very good at dodging the biggest hits.
Hermitage was able to break through first, as kicker John Stiebel connected on a 32 yard attempt early in the second quarter to put the Panthers up 3-0, where the score remained at the half. Two early drives were thwarted by turnovers from Bird, a fumble by Darius Gillus, and the first of two interceptions thrown by Aaron Fuller.
The Skyhawks had their best opportunity to score after a great punt return by LaKieth Hopkins; however, Hermitage was able to rise up and make the goal line stand to turn the Skyhawks away without a score.
“Our kids had an opportunity to score down there,” said Bird head coach David Bedwell. “They were able to stop us.”
The biggest play of the game came in the fourth quarter. Forced to punt deep in their own territory, Bird punter Rasheed Worsham had his kick blocked, and the ball was recovered by Hermitage’s Rahland Gordon on the Bird two yard line. Two plays later, running back Derrick Green punched in the ball to give Hermitage a 10-0 advantage, where the score remained.
Bird’s defensive effort was outstanding in this game, as they reached the quarter six times for sacks. Senior Torey Pettis closed out his Skyhawks career with a three sack effort. Purcell Burvine, Tyvaughn Kirby-Johnson and Worsham also joined the sack parade. Despite the loss, Bird’s defense allowed just 134 total yards to one of the top offenses in the Central Region. Hermitage allowed just 95 total yards from scrimmage to the Skyhawks.
“Our defense has played consistently all year long,” said Bedwell. “We didn’t get much help offense in this game to go along with it- another great effort by them [Hermitage].”
Johnson finished the season with 2,509 yards rushing, 133 yards receiving and 38 total touchdowns, one of the most memorable seasons for a running back in Central Region history. Johnson’s success is that of a long line of Bird running backs and running backs from the Chester area, including Jason Snelling, and Doug Chapman (both from Bird) and William Henderson, Rudi Johnson and Ken Oxendine. (all three from Thomas Dale). Johnson is currently being recruited by several colleges and hopes to follow in his predecessors’ footsteps.
Bird finishes their season 10-2 overall, 9-1 in the Dominion while winning their 11th straight Dominion District championship this season.
“The success at this level is great,” said Bedwell. “We obviously want to take the next step; it’s been since 2005 we’ve won a regional title,” he continued. “We’ll take a break and start hitting the weight room in January.”
The Skyhawk community will look forward to basketball now, as both the boys and girls teams are expected to contend for the district, region and perhaps beyond.