BRIDGEWATER – The rerun was not as exciting, or satisfying, as the original.
Randolph-Macon spent the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Old Dominion Athletic Conference football championship tilt at Bridgewater College both playing from behind and experiencing more than its fair share of deja vu. In the end, again, their hopes for victory rested on a successful onside kick.
As opposed to last Saturday’s win over Washington and Lee, there was no miracle, as the Eagles secured both the kick and their first ODAC title since 2005 with a 28-21 victory, ending the Yellow Jackets’ seven-game winning streak and their hopes for back-to-back conference crowns.
“Our margin for error is not very big,” noted Yellow Jackets head coach Pedro Arruza, a nod to his team’s penchant for falling behind in games this season. “Our kids played really hard, put a lot into this game. I could have coached better. We could have played better. When you have two good football teams that battle it out, you just can’t get in a hole like that.”
That hole was a 21-0 lead built by Bridgewater in a first half filled with frustration for the Yellow Jacket offense. Their opening drive reached the Eagles’ 23, but ended when they failed to convert on fourth-and-2 when quarterback Presley Egbers was tackled for a 2-yard loss. Two plays later, Bridgewater tailback Demetrius Jalepes broke free on a 55-yard run to set up a 7-yard touchdown reception to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.
Bridgewater scored on the first play of the second quarter as quarterback Jay Scroggins found Chad Jones for a 22-yard strike, then added to their lead with 2:38 left before halftime by rushing out an odd formation heavy to the right side of the field and catching the Randolph-Macon defense flat footed. Viante Tucker ran behind then past blockers, untouched for a 34-yard score.
With just 110 total yards of offense in the first half, Arruza called on senior and former starter Burke Estes, to help launch another Yellow Jacket comeback.
“I thought we needed a spark,” Arruza said of the decision to change signal callers. “I thought (Egbers) was a little bit rattled, and I felt we needed to have a veteran in there.”
Improved offensive play, and inspired defense, kept Randolph-Macon alive. Scroggins was held to 16 passing yards after halftime. The Eagles earned just 103 yards of total offense. Tre Frederick, who surpassed the 5,000-yard mark in career rushing during the game with a 112-yard performance, scored on a 3-yard run with 5:28 left in the third quarter to make it 21-7.
With 9:39 left, Estes used a pump fake to free tight end Sam Tanner (Lee-Davis), who fought his way into the end zone to cut the margin to eight. But Chris Vidal’s extra point went wide. It was 21-13.
The Yellow Jacket defense was close to brilliant in the second half – close due to one play that inflicted fatal damage to their comeback hopes. Just as Josh Breece had done twice the week before, scoring on running plays of 75 yards up the middle, Jalepes took a handoff on first down of the ensuing Bridgewater possession, and outraced the Yellow Jackets for a 71-yard touchdown run. It was 28-13.
To Randolph-Macon’s credit, the Yellow Jackets never quit.
Driving 63 yards in 12 plays, on fourth down at the Eagle 12, an Estes pass was intercepted by Chase Rosenthal, but he fumbled on the return. DeAndre Gill recovered at the Bridgewater 32 with 2:41 left. The offense returned, scoring on an Estes 4-yard run with 1:17 left. Estes tossed a quick pass to Tim Hanratty, who, aided by a push from Robby Owens, crossed the goal line for a 2-point conversion for a 28-21 score. It was onside kick time again.
But instead of a Yellow Jacket recovery, the ball landed in the arms of an Eagle on the ground at midfield. The comeback try was grounded.
There is still much to play for if you’re Randolph-Macon. Saturday, they play “The Game” against archrival Hampden-Sydney, on Senior Day at Day Field, seeking a sixth-straight win in the series. A second-place finish in the ODAC could send the Yellow Jackets to the inaugural Neptune Bowl in Virginia Beach against The Apprentice School. Two more wins would give Randolph-Macon nine, tying the mark for most wins in a season.
“Our kids will bounce back. They always do,” Arruza said.
Rob Witham can be reached at email@example.com.