Defense Lifts Essex Past Altavista, 16-8

Trojans To Play For State Title Saturday


Essex’s Kyran Howard cuts upfield against Altavista’s Jamari Slayton en route to a 16- yard touchdown in Saturday’s Class 1 state semifinal contest.

Essex’s Kyran Howard cuts upfield against Altavista’s Jamari Slayton en route to a 16- yard touchdown in Saturday’s Class 1 state semifinal contest.

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

Dorothy may have said those lines in “The Wizard of Oz,” but the Essex High football team is evidence of those words.

The Trojans (14-0) ran their home field record to 35-4 during Todd Jones’s second stint as head coach with a hard-fought 16-8 win over Altavista Saturday in a Virginia High School League Class 1 semifinal contest that was played in Tappahannock.

Essex, which lost its previous six state semifinal appearances, improved to 14-0 and earned the right to play Galax in this Saturday’s Class 1 state championship game at City Stadium in Salem. Galax (10-4) defeated previously unbeaten Honaker 49-36 in the other semifinal.

Saturday, the Trojans — who are a perfect 5-0 in home field state playoff appearances — were held to a season-low 130 yards total offense but their defense produced four takeaways and blocked an Altavista punt.

Essex, the only Class 1 unbeaten left standing, scored off a fumble recovery and the blocked punt.

Essex lineman Tristan Marshall brings down Altavista’s Ross Farmer in the Colonels’ backfield.

Essex lineman Tristan Marshall brings down Altavista’s Ross Farmer in the Colonels’ backfield.

Altavista, which entered the contest averaging nearly 300 yards and 39 points per outing, was held to 143 yards on 45 snaps. Its 8 points were its lowest output of the season.

“Defensively, our guys kept digging,” said Jones, who secured his 235th career victory (including wins at Pulaski County and Washington & Lee). “We were pretty much lights out defensively, coming up with some big turnovers. Altavista made some plays against us, but our guys stepped up when we really needed them.”

“Not very many teams have stopped our offense and not many have made us turn the ball over,” Altavista coach Matt Deloach observed afterward. “We chose the wrong venue and the wrong game to do both. Our defense played well, but offensively we couldn’t move the ball.”

Offensively, the Trojans got 96 hard-earned, ground yards (on 21 carries) from senior running back Avari Walker whose 18-yard TD dash late in the third quarter helped stake Essex to a 16-0 advantage.

Essex defensive back Marquelle Payne races upfield after pirating an Altavista aerial during fourth quarter action.

Essex defensive back Marquelle Payne races upfield after pirating an Altavista aerial during fourth quarter action.

After Altavista closed to 16-6 on the final play of the third quarter, Trojan defensive back Marquelle Payne snuffed out the Colonels’ next possession with an interception at the EHS 35 that he returned to midfield.

“It kinda came out of nowhere,” Payne said. “That play transpired by us watching film and playing our part in our zone (defense).”

Altavista running backs Ladainian Stone and Ross Farmer combined to average 177 yards rushing in the Colonels’ previous 13 outings. Against Essex, they managed just 119.

“We saw what they were going to try on film,” said Essex linebacker Bryan Roane, the Region 1A Defensive Player of the Year. “We were more physical than they were.”

“We were aggressive and wanted it more than them,” Essex defensive back Damari Young observed. “We did a good job of meeting (Stone and Farmer) head-on and taking out their legs.”

“It all started Monday in practice and our scout team gave us some good looks,” said Essex linebacker Zion Darby who recorded the blocked punt that set up Walker’s TD. “Our D line did a good job of bringing pressure and stripping the ball.”

Altavista running back Ladainian Stone encounters mass of Essex humanity on this first half carry.

Altavista running back Ladainian Stone encounters mass of Essex humanity on this first half carry.

“I really put a lot on our scout team because they give us good looks in practice to make sure we’re in position to make plays,” Essex linebacker Warner Beazley added. “We did a good job of taking on their blockers and having the next man step up.”

Essex’s initial touchdown — a 16-yard pass from Zay Bundy to Kyran Howard near the end of the second quarter — was set up by a Taivion Holmes fumble recovery.

Avontré Johnson added the Trojans’ two other takeaways on fumble recoveries.

The afternoon’s strangest play occurred midway through the third period with Essex in front 8-6.

Stone hit Bundy who was attempting a pass. The ball hit the ground and was scooped up by Stone who carried it for an apparent touchdown.

The Trojans’ Bryan Roane brings down Altavista running back Ross Farmer.

The Trojans’ Bryan Roane brings down Altavista running back Ross Farmer.

The officials, though, huddled and ruled the play an incomplete pass.

After Essex turned the ball over on downs, the Trojans forced an Altavista three-andout with Darby registering his punt block on fourth down.

Walker scored four plays later and Bundy found Izaya Terpening for a two-point-conversion to make it a 16-0 contest.

Meanwhile, Jones praised the school division’s central office staff (Dr. Harry Thomas III, Roger Gross, and the Internet Technology Department) for making the home contest a reality.

Efforts were made to truck in additional visitor seating and the IT Department provided a camera to ensure the contest was streamed on the NFHS Network, as required by the Virginia High School League.

“I honestly think having this game at home helped put us over the top because of our fan support,” Jones said. “I’m really appreciative of the efforts of everyone who helped make this game happen in Tappahannock.”

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