POWHATAN – For Powhatan head football coach Mike Henderson, it’s hard to put into words what his seniors have meant to him. Henderson was announced the new head coach early this year, and he himself noted that it’s “tough when a new guy comes in and you’ve been in the program for your whole life playing for one of the best coaches” in Jim Woodson, the area’s winningest football coach who retired at the end of the 2018 season.
But the seniors embraced Henderson, and they welcomed him in.
“Just glad I’ve had the chance to coach them; they’ve taught me a ton,” Henderson said, “and I was just really happy we could get a win for them tonight on Senior Night.”
The seniors were a heavy part of Powhatan clicking in all three phases of its 24-0 shutout win over James River, snapping a four-game losing streak and keeping the Indians’ hopes for the playoffs alive.
“The guys kept working,” Henderson said. “The last couple of weeks (against Monacan and Manchester) were a little tough obviously, but they kept working and came back to practice Monday and no one was hanging their heads. It’s nice to see it pay off.”
Defense reverted back to its early-season form against James River, dishing out solo tackles aplenty, sacking the quarterback three times and recovering four fumbles.
“We matched-up a lot better with these guys, but still, we went, we played…tough, hard-nosed football,” Henderson said, adding that it was a “great performance all the way around” across defense, special teams and offense, with Mitchell Johnson leading the way in the running game.
Johnson, who broke multiple tackles throughout his 26 carries, finally broke through for a big night as he rushed for 135 yards and a goal-line touchdown in the fourth quarter. The sophomore strung together chains of successful runs, including three carries over the final nine yards of his touchdown drive to propel him into the end zone.
“Every week he’s been getting better,” Henderson said of Johnson. “He works so hard in practice, he truly does…he takes every play in practice at running back, even if it’s our first team defense that’s out there, and he’s just starting to see the holes so much better, and he’s really hitting it. He deserved that touchdown – he deserved a few touchdowns – but that was terrific. I was really happy for him to get that, and our offensive line had a great push up front the whole second half.
Powhatan’s defense recovered all three first-half fumbles in its own territory with the Rapids’ offense driving. Powhatan senior TJ Gates (8 tackles, 7 solo) also brought early pressure on a blocked punt at the Rapids’ 20, setting up Powhatan’s first scoring drive of the night from a short distance. Junior Aaron Nash, who alternated at the quarterback position with sophomore Hans Rehme, laced together back-to-back runs of 9 and 11 yards up the middle, with the 11-yarder taking him across the goal line for the touchdown. Nash ran for 34 yards and the TD on 6 carries, and he also finished the night four-of-seven passing for 35 yards and a touchdown that he passed 7 yards to senior Nate Moyer.
Senior Brien Clay recovered the first fumble of the night and took it to Powhatan’s 36; the Rapids forced the Indians to punt, but senior Mason Pinnell got hit after kicking the ball away, prompting the referee to throw the yellow flag for a roughing-the-kicker call. The penalty against the Rapids not only kept the Indians’ drive alive, but it pushed them forward to midfield.
Despite a false start call against Powhatan, Johnson’s six tough runs - including five in a row - put Pinnell in position to kick a 34-yard field goal through the middle of the uprights and extend Powhatan’s lead.
The Indians would go into halftime up 17-0 thanks in part to a fumble that Wyatt Lowe (9 tackles, 7 solos, 2 sacks, TFL, forced fumble, fumble recovery) recovered at Powhatan’s own 40. The long drive featured runs of 11, 14, 10 and 8 yards from Johnson, as well as a catch that Nate Moyer made shortly before slamming his way on past multiple defenders to reach the Rapids’ 15.
“The corner came up and hit me and I just spun off of it and then hit the safety again,” Moyer said, “and kept going – tried to keep my feet moving.”
And then, after Johnson ran the ball to the 7, Nash, from the QB position, rolled out to his left and rifled the pass to Moyer, who beat his defender inside and got open to make the catch in the end zone. Moyer finished the night with 4 catches for 36 yards and the touchdown.
Powhatan’s resilient defense also gave its offense a short-field shot at points on a pair of brilliant plays in the latter stages of the first half. After the Rapids got the ball back at their 20 following a punt that rolled into the end zone, Lowe took down the ball carrier 5 yards behind the scrimmage; on the next play, Lowe and Chase Gayness (10 tackles, 5 solos, sack, 2 forced fumbles, fumble recovery) led their teammates in swarming the quarterback for a sack, further dropping the Rapids back to their own 8. After the quarterback grounded the pass on 3rd and long, the Rapids punted the ball out of bounds, thus giving Powhatan possession at the Rapids’ 27.
Gayness also recovered a fumble that he initially raced a whopping 68 yards to the end zone, but three personal foul calls on that play – two against James River, one against Powhatan – ultimately erased his incendiary score while giving the Indians starting position at the opponent’s 34.
In their return to the field, Joshua Jordan recovered a fumble in the second half while also tacking on three tackles, and Jaysun Carroll (five tackles) responded to his interception getting negated on a penalty by keeping the Rapids out of the end zone before the clock hit zero for halftime on the next play.
The seniors got to shine brightly throughout the game. Cam Arnold racked up 8 tackles including 4 solos. Tristen Bradley made 5 tackles and Isaac Trent had 4. Brien Clay delivered 4 tackles and added the fumble recovery. Lance Fleming made a couple of tackles. Tyler Hall was credited with an assisted tackle. Dylan Pulley added a couple of tackles and, near the end of the game, carried the ball twice for 28 yards.
“Great crowd, great seniors,” Henderson said. “Just great to be part of this, great to get back on the winning side…every time we win, we get to keep playing we think.”
Powhatan looks to battle its way into the Region 4B playoff picture with a win next Friday at Huguenot at 7 p.m.
“Very excited - we’re gonna have to play perfect,” Moyer said. “But I think we can do it.”