by Nick Ward
Following a coveted victory over cross-town rival Albemarle High School, the Western Albemarle football team trekked to Fluvanna High School, hoping to extend their season’s unbeaten streak. Despite the hype surrounding the prior week’s victory, the Warriors had yet to face a Jefferson District opponent and could not lose focus leading up to the start of district play.
In their second straight game away from Warrior field, Coach Ed Pierce’s bunch got off to an inauspicious beginning. The Blue and Gold offense, led by senior quarterback Stephen Schuler, sputtered early in the first quarter. The night got worse for the Warriors when, after their first possession, punter Dom Losco’s kick was blocked, giving Fluvanna great field position. The Flucos highly vaunted quarterback, Ryan Foster, made Western pay, connecting with YaYa Anderson for a 23-yard touchdown pass.
The touchdown was only the third allowed this season by the Warriors and it awoke the Western offense from dormancy. Schuler’s short pass on the ensuing drive to senior wide receiver Christophe Drapanas went for a 60-yard touchdown. Drapanas caught the ball in the flat and sped down the sideline into the endzone. Western’s next possession culminated with Dom Losco seizing a 27-yard touchdown pass that seemed like a jump ball. Losco pulled Schuler’s pass down at the Fluvanna 3 yard line, broke tackles from three defenders and dove into the end zone.
Although the undefeated Warriors have solidified their offense at the top of central Virginia ranks, Coach Pierce was adamant about working on the rushing game against the Flucos. The option play gave Schuler, who has good speed along with his accurate throwing arm, the opportunity to get the ball to his playmakers in a timely fashion. But after a fumble by Drapanas on Western’s first possession of the second quarter, Western shifted more to their proven passing game. The resilient Western defense avenged the offense’s mistake, thanks to the individual effort of Taylor Pond, who sacked Foster on the Flucos’ first down. Three plays later, on fourth and eight, Losco, Tilden Thomas, and A.J. White collaborated to take down Foster again on the 37 yard line.
With good field position, the Warriors seemed sure to increase their lead after a 20-yard catch by Drapanas. Then the Warriors were called for a hold, and Schuler threw again, this time to Losco for 15 yards, but they were stopped on fourth down.
On their next drive, Nick Kuzjak caught a 39-yard pass from Schuler, putting them in scoring position again. Two plays later, on third-and-goal, Schuler completed a beautiful 13-yard touchdown pass, again to Kuzjak, after rolling out right and throwing a beautiful fade across his body, to the left-hand corner in the end zone.
Western’s defense has become notorious for forcing turnovers, and Mitchell Parks continued this tradition late in the second quarter with a diving interception on Western’s 20 yard line. The offense could not capitalize on the turnover and gave the ball back to Fluvanna in the waning seconds of the half. Tyler Ward and Abbot Wallenborn each made great plays on Hail Mary throws at the end of the half by Fluvanna, breaking up passes in the end zone.
The Warriors headed into the locker room leading 21-7.
With 5:28 remaining in the third quarter, Fluvanna made it a one-possession game with an 8-yard pass to Anderson. Throughout the night, Foster and Anderson caused problems for the Western defense, but Nathan Johnson, with his three sacks and one forced fumble, along with the other play makers on the defense would not allow Fluvanna to get into a rhythm.
On Western’s next drive, Schuler ran for 12 and then 37 yards. The 37-yard run changed the momentum of the game. Schuler broke tackles and juked past several defenders before finally being brought down on the 7 yard line. Ward, who ended the game with eight receptions and 91 yards, got wide open deep in the right side of the end zone. Schuler spotted him and the touchdown put the Warriors up 27-14 with 4:01 remaining in the third quarter.
Wallenborn recovered a fumble on the following Fluco possession and the Blue and Gold offense looked to put the game away. A 25-yard catch by Ward, compounded by a penalty for roughing the passer, put Western on the 5 yard line. Senior running back Cody Davis took the ball inside the
1 yard line on first down, but three incomplete passes in a row meant the Warriors could not score their fifth touchdown.
Western’s defense held strong again and the next Warrior drive started off with a 13-yard catch by Ward. Later, Cody Davis almost reached pay dirt again with a 25-yard run to the 1 yard line. Western would not be denied again, and in a five wide receiver formation, Schuler took a shotgun snap and ducked his head into the end zone on a quarterback dive. With 8:45 left in the fourth quarter, the Western lead was 34-14.
The defense held the Flucos at bay and the game ended with the final score Western 34, Fluvanna 20. The Warriors are undefeated coming into their homecoming game this Friday against Louisa County.