Warriors Are Playoff Bound

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By David Wagner

The story line for Western Albemarle football this season has been offense, and lots of it. The Warriors are 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the Jefferson District with one regular season game left. They will host the Fluvanna Flucos on Friday, November 8 at WAHS. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

The Warriors swept Valley District opponents Spotswood (17-14), Waynesboro (50-27) and Fort Defiance (41-6) along with Jefferson District foes Orange County (62-14), Albemarle (41-39), Louisa (42-16), Charlottesville (63-48) and Powhatan (37-36). Their only loss was to county rival Monticello (31-21) on October 18. Led by senior quarterback Kent Henry, Western has averaged 41.5 points a game while giving up 25 points. With the help of a superb supporting cast, the Warriors have posted some pretty gaudy numbers in the passing game and Henry’s athleticism has complemented the running game tremendously.

For the season, Henry has completed 110 of 188 pass attempts for 1,868 yards. He’s been sacked 13 times for minus 68 yards bringing his passing yards to an even 1800 in 9 games. He’s thrown 30 touchdown passes to six different receivers and has only thrown 8 interceptions (3 of those in the Monticello game). His top passing performance of the year came against Fort Defiance. He threw 5 touchdown passes to five different receivers, completing 14 of 18 passes for 294 yards. Henry is also the team’s leading rusher with 926 yards on 109 carries for 12 touchdowns and two lost fumbles. His best rushing performance came against Orange County when he tallied 160 yards and four touchdown runs on only eight carries. He’s rushed for over 100 yards three times and has been held under 70 only once (Monticello).

The receiving corps has held up its end of the bargain. Senior Stephen Hearn is the leading receiver on the team in yards (589), catches (37) and touchdowns (10). He’s had three multi-touchdown games, catching two touchdown passes against Fort Defiance, Albemarle and Louisa. His second touchdown in the Albemarle game was a thrilling, game-winning catch as time expired. Henry found Hearn in the back of the end zone to give the Warriors the 41-39 win on the game’s final play. Hearn had a season and team high 10 receptions and 139 yards receiving in the game to propel the Warriors to victory.

Senior Chase Stokes has been remarkable as well. Playing high school football for the first time this year (he’s a basketball player by trade), the 6-4 Stokes has added 28 catches for 485 yards and 9 touchdown receptions. He caught three touchdown passes in the 50-27 rout of Waynesboro early in the season and has 11 catches for 209 yards and one score in the last two games. With the season-ending injury to Nick Drapanas, Stokes’s emergence could play a vital role in the Warriors’ playoff goals.

Drapanas’ injury had an impact on special teams and defense as well. Drapanas missed a couple of games early in the season and was then sidelined with a broken collarbone against Monticello.  Before his season ended, Drapanas had totaled 308 yards on 14 catches for three touchdowns. He also played an important role on punt and kick returns. He ran a punt back 45 yards for a touchdown in the season opener at Spotswood that proved to be the game-winning score. He also had several big plays returning kickoffs and was a key player in the defensive secondary. His presence will be missed.

Two other key components in the passing game have been Burkes Summers and Tre Banks. Summers added 11 catches for 201 yards and 2 touchdowns while Banks has 10 receptions for 189 yards and 3 touchdowns. They have stepped up to fill the hole left by Drapanas and very likely will be important in the playoffs. Defenses will have to give Hearn and Stokes more attention, which should leave opportunities for Banks and Summers. They are both averaging over 18 yards a reception; Hearn is averaging 15.9 per catch and Stokes is averaging 17.3. They have both been making plays when given the chance.

Oliver Herndon has been another important player on offense. He is the team’s second leading rusher with 412 yards and 6 touchdowns on 73 carries for a 5.64 average per carry. He hasn’t broken the 100-yard barrier in a game yet, but he’s come close, 96 yards versus Waynesboro and 91 yards versus Charlottesville. Herndon gives the Warriors a serious running threat besides Henry.

The defense has been susceptible to big plays, giving up nine touchdowns on plays of more than 50 yards and getting hit for 13 other plays from scrimmage of more than 30 yards. They were particularly suspect in the Albemarle and Powhatan games. Albemarle scored on three plays, runs of 73 and 78 yards and a passing for 67, and Powhatan had touchdown runs of 62 and 72 yards. Western won these two games by a combined three points.

Charlottesville also burned the Warriors on three big scoring plays but one of those came on special teams (a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown) and two 48-yard touchdowns (one rushing, one passing). One came late in the contest when Western had the game in hand and the second string defense was on the field.

Monticello added an 89-yard touchdown pass as well, the longest play from scrimmage allowed by the Warriors all season. The Monticello and Powhatan games were also marred by big play touchdowns that came on questionable coaching decisions. On the first possession of the game at Monticello, the Warriors faced a fourth and nine at their own 36 yard line. The Warriors lined up as if they were going for it with Henry in the shotgun. Just before the snap, he then dropped back for a quick kick punt, but Monticello blocked it and returned it for a touchdown giving the Mustangs a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the game.

In the Powhatan game, the Warriors had a second and fourteen at their own 17 yard line with less than 30 seconds to play in the first half. As Henry dropped back to pass, the Indians got pressure on him and came away with an interception that also went for a touchdown and allowed the Indians to tie the game at 21-21.

The defense has played very well in spots and has been particularly tough in the red zone, but if they want to make a run into the playoffs they will have to prevent big play scores. They have struggled to regain momentum at times after allowing big plays, and it won’t get any easier. Against playoff teams it will be even more difficult to shut down good offenses after surrendering big plays.

But with a dangerous offense of their own, the Warriors have a legitimate chance to advance in the Conference 29 playoffs.