By Alan Franklin
The Western Albemarle Youth Football Warriors captured their second straight Jefferson District Youth Football League (JDYFL) Championship for the Presidents Division (12-13 year olds) Nov. 19 under the lights at Albemarle High School. The championship game was a rematch of the regular season finale just two weeks prior, when the Western Warriors erased a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes and defeated its fierce rival the Albemarle Patriots in the final seconds of the game, 42 – 38, to cap of an undefeated regular season. For a core group of players, it is the fifth title in six years.
“Being undefeated is extraordinarily difficult,” said Coach Jeff Buetow. “Every week we were the team to beat. Teams consistently brought their best games against us and we absorbed a lot of body blows along the way. These boys exhibited a level of mental toughness that was truly exceptional. That might be the most important take-away for them as they move on. It will serve them well throughout their lives.”
Going into the championship Albemarle clearly had a score to settle. No team wants to lose to their rival in the closing seconds of a game. The Warriors also wanted to complete a perfect season and repeat as champions. The game did not disappoint. On a windy afternoon both teams knew that the long ball was going to be difficult and that the running game was going to be critical.
“Against a team as well coached as Albemarle we knew that our kids had to be prepared for a physical and fundamentally sound football game,” Buetow said.
Albemarle scored first to take an 8-0 lead. The Warriors answered with a 10-yard screen pass to John Buetow from Henry Meulenberg with outstanding blocking by the entire offensive line (Jeremy Ewers, Kainan Miller, Spencer Franklin, Duke Hampton, and Jherkeem Banks) as well as the wide receivers (Desmond Roberts, Ross Bassett, Nate Hamm and Dylan Cosgrove). Buetow ran up the middle for the 2-point conversion to tie it up at 8. The defenses took over for the balance of the half and the game remained tied at 8 going into the break.
To open the second half, Western took over on downs after a great stop by the Warrior defense. The offense next marched 80 yards behind the running of Buetow, who finished off the drive with a 25-yard touchdown run. Albemarle tied the score on a broken play with just three minutes remaining in the game.
Following the kickoff, Buetow took the first play for a 48-yard touchdown run, shedding tacklers along the way. The Warrior defense took over from there to seal the championship victory. Buetow was awarded the game’s Most Valuable Player and finished with three touchdowns and more than 200 yards rushing.
The Warrior defense was exceptional. Albemarle is big, fast, and physical. “Our defense started the game a bit overwhelmed by the physicality of the game. But true to their character, they found their equilibrium and effectively shut Albemarle down in the second half. That last defensive stand was pure dominance. The Albemarle offense was completely out of sorts due to the pressure and great coverage!” exclaimed coach Buetow. “We rotate over 20 players through that side of the ball and every one of them showed up today!” The defensive ends (Ian Murphy and Nate Hamm) and the interior line (a rotation that includes Kyle Keyton, Xander Smith, Patrick Barnett, Spencer Burnett, Jackson Hughes, Jonathan Moon, and Ben Stevens) did a great job throughout the game. The linebackers (a rotation including Keagan Cress, Nathan Fitzgerald, Matthew Perry, Calder Bean, and Dylan Cosgrove) were critical as well—particularly Bubba Shifflett and John Buetow, who both seemed to be in on every tackle. Defensive backs Kyler Cress and Ross Bassett played shut-down corner and safety Cyrus Hammer was equally impressive. “Our defense just did what they always do,” said Coach Buetow. “They make the life of our opponent absolutely miserable. Each player knows his responsibility, trusts his teammates, and executes with ferocity. Great stuff!”
Special teams also played a critical role. In order to avoid Buetow and Roberts deep, Albemarle decided to kick primarily on-side squib kicks. Kyle Keyton was clutch fielding a couple of kicks with the entire Albemarle team bearing down on him. “Pure clutch and guts,” said special teams coach Alan Franklin.
An emotional coach Buetow said, “I can’t express how proud I am of these kids and our entire community. Clearly the players make it happen, but we have a great coaching staff. Coaches Meulenberg, Hampton, Franklin and von Lewinski sacrificed an awful lot to get these kids ready to play. Additionally, we get tremendous support from WAHS Varsity Head Coach Ed Redmond and his staff as well as athletic director Steve Heon. And we have just terrific volunteers like Rachel Simon and Beth Bassett. Thanks to all of them as well. Finally, hats off to Albemarle. Their kids were a class act in a really tough game.”
The JDYFL was formed following the 2015 season as the Thomas Jefferson Youth Football League (TJYFL), Pop Warner, and the youth AAU programs combined into a single league. It is the only youth football program serving the Jefferson District. Participating districts include Western Albemarle, Albemarle, Charlottesville, Monticello, Fluvanna, Orange, Greene, Lynchburg, Rockingham, and Augusta. It is the most competitive youth football league in the history of Central Virginia youth football. Western Albemarle fielded competitive teams in three divisions of the JDYFL in 2017, the Founders (8-9 year olds), the Governors (10-11 year olds), and the Presidents (12-13 year olds) with approximately 80 players.