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NW Region, Division 6 Football: Bruised Eagles just get tougher

By STEVE FRANZELLO

THE FREE LANCE–STAR

When Colonial Forge quarterback Damen Daniel fell to the ground in the third quarter of last week’s Northwest Region, Division 6 semifinal game at Stonewall Jackson, he felt a sharp pain.

    TONIGHT’S GAME

    Northwest Region, Division 6 final

    Colonial Forge (10–2) at C.D. Hylton (9–2), 7:30 p.m.

    SATURDAY’S GAMES

    Northwest Region, Division 5 final

    Mountain View (8–4) at North Stafford (10–1), 2 p.m.

    Region I, Division 4 final

    Courtland (8–4) at Smithfield (10–1), 1:30

    Region I, Division 3 final

    Park View–South Hill (10–2) at J. Monroe (10–1),

    1:30 p.m.

Daniel had just planted his left foot to throw a pass, and an incoming Raider defender hit him on his left side. As he fell to the ground, his knee buckled under the pressure of the added weight.

“He hit me just as I was stepping into my throw,” said the Eagles’ junior signal caller. “His weight caused it to bend, and I had to come out.”

An examination earlier this week showed no structural damage to the second-team All-Commonwealth District quarterback’s knee, but his status for tonight’s regional championship contest at top-seeded Hylton is doubtful. An MRI was scheduled for late Wednesday.

If he can’t play, junior Malik Shabazz, who came in and directed an important fourth-quarter scoring drive in the 31–30 victory over the Raiders, will get the call.

“It’s kind of hard when you have to go in for the starting quarterback, but I’m comfortable with it,” said Shabazz, who completed 5 of 9 passes, including a 35-yard strike to Daniel Ezeagwu. “And we have a lot of playmakers on this team with a lot of heart.”

For many teams, the loss of their top offensive threat and team leader might be disastrous. But for Colonial Forge, which has dealt with a seemingly endless string of mishaps, it is just another obstacle in what has been a long road to respectability.

With few starters returning from last year’s 6–5 squad, the inexperienced Eagles began the season as underdogs in the competitive Commonwealth District.

“I always think we’re going to be good,” said their veteran coach, Bill Brown. “But this year, we really didn’t know how things were going to turn out. But once you get to know these kids and see how much fight they have, it gives you a lot of encouragement.”

The encouragement grew during the regular season, where the Eagles went 8–2 and earned a share of the district title. With Daniel (17 touchdowns) leading the new spread offense and their defense posting four shutouts, they surprised everyone but themselves.

“We wanted to prove ourselves from the get-go,” said senior linebacker Mike Campbell, the team’s leading tackler. “A lot of people took us for granted, but we’ve played hard and overcome a lot of injuries.”

The injury list grew so long that Brown and his staff were forced to bring in new starters at a number of positions. At times, they had to improvise. In the late stages of last week’s win, both centers were out, so tackle Spencer Guthrie had to do the snapping.

“At one point in that game, I thought, ‘This is it—we’re at the absolute bottom,’” Brown said. “But these guys find a way to win. No matter what happens on Friday, I’m proud of what they’ve done.”

At various times during the season, the injured ranks included veteran starters like linemen Raymond Marion, Guthrie and Todd Desgrosseilliers, linebacker David Ezeagwu and backs Justin Brown and Ramone Miller.

But young talent stepped in and got the job done, especially on offense, which was hit the hardest. Three sophomores, Johnathan Kitimitto, Antonio Carter and Riley White, were major contributors to the success of the revamped line after starters went down.

“At first, we didn’t know how good we could be, but we got on a roll and started winning,” said all-purpose back Jeff Moore. “I think a lot of people didn’t realize how much talent our young guys had.”

It’s been that kind of effort that has helped carry the Eagles to four wins in their last five games, including a pair of playoff victories over two quality opponents.

In those wins, they defeated two of the state’s top quarterbacks (Virginia Tech-bound David Prince of Patrick Henry–Roanoke and Greg Stroman of Stonewall Jackson, the Cedar Run District’s offensive player of the year).

Tonight they’ll get another major challenge against the athletic Bulldogs and their heavily recruited quarterback, Travon McMillian, who has rushed for 1,089 yards and 15 touchdowns. Six weeks ago, Hylton beat the Eagles, 35–16.

Despite those numbers, Brown believes his team has the ability to continue its journey and bring home the first regional championship in Colonial Forge’s history.

“We’re going to have to play a great game,” Brown said. “But we keep finding ways to win. With all the injuries, we’re still 10–2. In terms of effort and the ability to bounce back, this is probably the best team I’ve ever coached.”

Steve Franzello: 540/374-5440

sports@freelancestar.com

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