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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Eagles get over Bulldogs

BOX SCORE

WOODBRIDGE—The spotlight was on Colonial Forge senior defensive back Malik Shabazz yet again in a playoff game at powerhouse Hylton, but for much different reasons.

Almost a year to the day, Shabazz was pressed into duty at quarterback as an injury fill-in against the Bulldogs in a road loss in the region championship game.

His services weren’t needed at quarterback this time. He was the lynchpin in a masterful defensive performance for the Eagles in a 27–13 payback win over Hylton on Friday night in the second round of the 6A–South region playoffs.

“Last year I played quarterback, and it left a sour taste in my mouth the whole year,” Shabazz said. “I wanted to come back out and get a little bit of redemption. I knew that this team was going to play good, gut it out and play with a lot of heart.”

It was Colonial Forge’s first win over the Bulldogs in four tries, and it sends the Eagles (9–3) to a region semifinal matchup with 12–0 Ocean Lakes next week, likely on Friday.

Shabazz had a hand in two critical turnovers—an interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter and a fumble recovery with the Bulldogs threatening at the Eagles’ goal line in the fourth —and he also had a big fourth-quarter pass breakup on a home-run pass that appeared headed for six points.

“He was huge,” said Eagles coach Bill Brown, who started the program at Hylton and won two Group AAA, Division 6 state championships there. “He’s just played lights out for us this year. He’s been so so solid out there.”

The Eagles, who held the Bulldogs (10–2) to a season low in points, forced four turnovers. Senior Daniel Ezeagwu also had an interception and a fumble recovery.

“It was about perfect.” Ezeagwu said of the defense’s performance. “It was real nice. I’m so proud of my boys. I’m so proud of everyone.”

Colonial Forge went with a two-quarterback rotation again, and it was more than effective as senior starter Damen Daniel completed 6 of 8 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. Junior Gary Jennings came in and provided a change of pace with 145 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.

The Eagles, who fell behind 21–0 in their region championship loss to Hylton last year, got off to a fast start in the rematch. They stormed out to a 14–0 first-quarter lead thanks to the passing of Daniel, who completed a 52-yard touchdown pass to Ezeagwu on the team’s second offensive play and Shabazz, who picked off a pass from Bulldogs Travon McMillian and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown.

“That was huge. It changed the game,” Shabazz said. “I think after we got the pick-six, it shook them a little. It rattled them. I don’t think they expected us to come out and play like this.”

McMillian, a Virginia Tech commit, accounted for 207 of Hylton’s 332 yards (142 rushing). He rushed for touchdowns of 23 and 21 yards in the second quarter, but that was all the offense the Bulldogs could muster.

They threatened midway through the fourth quarter with Forge still clinging to a 21–13 lead. Hylton had three chances to get in the end zone from the Eagles’ 1-yard line. The Bulldogs were actually inches from pay dirt on third-and-goal when a low shotgun snap skirted past McMillian. Shabazz fell on the ball to sap all the momentum away from the Bulldogs.

“We just toughened up. I knew we were going to stop them on that goal line,” Ezeagwu said. “We’re a tough team. When it comes down to goal-line defense we’re tough.”

Forge iced away the victory on its next possession when Jennings ran around left end for a 67-yard touchdown.

“So many times they had to come back and suck it up,” Brown said. “I’m so proud of them because they worked so hard. I’m so proud of them because they had to fight and they came out on top.”

Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442

nwarters@freelancestar.com

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