“Nobody thought we’d get this far,” coach Alex Fruth told his team after a narrow 35-28 loss to Hopewell in the Class 3 state semifinals.
“Don’t know if anyone in the state outside of our guys in the locker room thought we would accomplish what we did this year, and especially this last game,” Fruth said.“We are a solid team that never really let who we played dictate how we played.”
The heavily favored Blue Devils (14-0), now looking for their second state title in three years, received that message early and often as Goochland (12-2) defied the odds and had them on their heels for most of the game.
“I thought our team, our coaches and our fans gave the state a glimpse of what we know to be true: that Goochland football and its fan base are top notch,” Fruth said.
Hopewell took the early lead on a drive that looked like a pattern that might repeat itself. But Goochland’s defense stiffened, and a usually dependable running game for the Blue Devils stalled.
“Defensively those guys did a great job containing one of the top offenses in the state and obviously one of the best running backs potentially in the nation,” Fruth said, referring to Gatorade Virginia Football Player of the Year Trey Henderson. “Coach Summitt, Gibbs, Fitzgerald and Dohse really had a good plan for those guys.”
Sophomore quarterback CJ Towles attacked the Blue Devils through the air as the second period began, with Kam Holman catching touchdown passes of 14 and 35 yards and setting up a third with a 45-yard reception.
By halftime, a stunned Hopewell crowd was mostly silent as the Bulldogs left the field with a 21-7 lead and a defense that had recorded four turnovers in the first half of the action.
Kindrick Braxton and De’Andre Robinson both had first half fumble recoveries; Braxton also made an interception.
But with running backs like Henderson, Robert Briggs and Kaiveon Cox, it was only a matter of time before the Hopewell train got on the track.
Henderson rolled-out an 81-yard run early in the third period to pull the Devils within one score, but a persistent Goochland offense answered, utilizing a fake punt to maintain a drive, and scored a touchdown when Towles snuck the ball across the goal-line, putting the Bulldogs up 28-14.
Hopewell turned up the heat in the fourth quarter with a steady dose of the run game, depending on its bevy of backs that helped amass the team’s 13-0 record going into Saturday.
When Henderson was briefly injured in the fourth quarter, Cox reeled off three consecutive first down runs to solidify a drive that again put the Blue Devils within one score. A mishandled kickoff and shanked punt were all the Blue Devils needed to punch their ticket to a state championship game at Liberty University this weekend. Henderson delivered the final dagger with a two-yard scoring run that made the final 35-28.
Goochland’s performance was no surprise for the people closest to the program including Fruth, who praised every aspect of the effort.
“Special teams made plays that kept us in the game and took advantage of one situation after another,” Fruth said. “Coach Fitzgerald had a gutsy plan that we stuck to regardless of score. Our offense did a good job adjusting when things weren’t going well and made some big plays that weren’t really a part of our initial game plan. Our offensive line did a great job slowing down some really good defensive linemen.”
But it wasn’t the X’s and O’s of the loss that were foremost on his mind following the game. It turned to a dozen-and-a-half seniors who were leaving the field for the final time in a Goochland uniform.
“This senior class has left an incredible legacy for future teams,” Fruth said. “Their overall record on the field is impressive, but their time and dedication to this program has been outstanding.”
It was a combination of players that resulted in the right chemistry.
“Some of these guys have been a part of this program since they were middle school kids and worked as our ball boys,” Fruth said. “Others came in this season and made an incredible impact on the team in a very short time.”
Fruth noted the number of games these players have participated in, considering four years of post-season play. “Devin, Connor and Kindrick have played more games as starters then some kids play in their entire careers...this is a fun group also, which made it enjoyable throughout the season.”
The seniors provided the leadership, but the remainder of the players provided a will to improve and win, according to Fruth.
“We ask these guys to improve each and every week,” he said. “These guys took that message to heart and made it happen each week.”
Fruth’s team answered any questions about its belonging in Class 3 with its performance at Hopewell last week, but the challenges remain as next year’s version of Goochland football begins to form.
The coach said it’s never too early to begin the next mission.
“Last year doesn’t matter, last year’s accomplishments are not ours,” he said. “We need to pick up where we left off, get in the weight room and start building the next edition of Goochland football. Don’t expect to be successful just because last year’s group was.”
As Devin McCray exited the field for the final time following the loss on Saturday, he wasn’t thinking of the 52-5 record he compiled in his four years as a starter. Classy until the end, an emotional McCray wasn’t reliving his many accomplishments or record breaking performances.
“I’m just proud of what my teammates and this team accomplished,” he said, “and how we played today, and this season.”