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Region I, Division 4 Final: Cougars dig in deep, halt Packers when it counts most

BEND-BUT-DON’T-BREAK

DEFENSE HELPS COURTLAND

REACH STATE PLAYOFFS

SEE ALSO: Prep Pairings

BY JUSTIN RICE

THE FREE LANCE–STAR

SMITHFIELD—Courtland was out-gained and out-possessed, but it did matter; the only stat that counted—the scoreboard—ended in the Cougars’ favor, and they’re moving on to the Group AA, Division 4 state semifinals.

Seth Yurgel hit a career-long, 38-yard field goal to give Courtland the lead and its defense stopped four Smithfield second-half drives into its own territory—including a fumble recovered in the end zone—to lift the Cougars to an 18–15 win Saturday in the Region I, Division 4 final.

It’s the second region title in the last three years for Courtland (9–4) and sets up a state semifinal game next Saturday at Briar Woods (13–0), which beat Loudoun County 31–0 in the Region II, Division 4 final on Friday.

“Our motto is no excuses, be coachable and play with passion, and we did that today,” Courtland coach J.C. Hall said. “Never underestimate the heart of a Cougar.”

Courtland’s defense was all heart Saturday, especially in the second half.

The last five Smithfield possessions advanced the ball into Courtland territory—with the Cougars’ offense stalled clinging to an 18–15 lead—but none resulted in points.

The biggest of those stops came with literally just inches to spare.

A Cougar fumble with seven minutes to play had set the Packers up at the Courtland 22, and on third-and-1 from the 13, Smithfield quarterback Jermaal Wells swept around left tackle with a clear path to the goal line.

Courtland defensive back Patrick Edwards was being driven back by his blocker as Wells neared the go-ahead touchdown, but he slipped free just in time to grab Wells as the quarterback dove for the end zone. Wells stretched the ball out for the goal.

Hall didn’t have a good view of the play. He thought Wells had scored.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh, shoot. What are we going to do to regroup here?’” he said.

But it never came to that.

As Wells stretched, the ball popped loose and rolled into a pack of Cougars that had raced into the end zone. It was Edwards who came away with the fumble.

“I just grabbed his legs and the ball flew out,” Edwards said. “We just had to hang in there and keep forcing it. I had to do something, and that’s what I did.”

The next Smithfield possession—the Packers’ last—ended in just three plays when Wells’ pass found Courtland linebacker Matt Knowles, who made the game-clinching interception.

“He threw it right to me,” Knowles said. “All I had to do was catch it. I got the wind knocked out of me, but I was happy to make that catch.

“That’s what we do. It’s not about the yards. It’s about the points.”

What turned out to be the game-winning points came on Courtland’s very first possession of the second half.

Chris Carpenter made a 37-yard run-and-catch from Eric Washington to move the ball to the Smithfield 20, and Yurgel slipped a 38-yard field goal inside the uprights to break a halftime tie.

Yurgel had attempted only two field goals this year, one of which was blocked.

“I had confidence in him,” Hall said. “He’s got a foot; we just haven’t had the opportunity. And if we miss it? So what? We’re not losing.”

That Courtland had to rely on its defense at the end would have seemed an odd prediction, given how well the Cougars started on defense.

Brandon Mason had a 25-yard run on the Cougars’ second possession of the game and scored five plays later on a nine-yard run for a 7–0 lead.

And Brandon Taylor caught a 52-yard pass from Washington, setting up Anton Jenkins’ short scoring run early in the second quarter. The Cougars faked the extra point and ran in the two-point conversion for a 15–0 lead.

Smithfield rallied back, though.

Kyron Croker’s third-down 36-yard scamper led to a short scoring run by Wells with 7:19 before the half, and Wells threw a short touchdown pass and ran in the two-point conversion with 33 seconds left in the second quarter to tie the game, setting up Yurgel’s second-half kick and and the Cougars’ defensive stand after the break.

“We work hard all week and the harder you work, the more luck you have,” Courtland defensive end Jared Fehrens said. “I’m perfectly fine with that.”

Courtland 7 8 3 0 — 18

Smithfield 0 15 0 0 — 15

First Quarter

Ct-B. Mason 6-yard run (S. Yurgel kick)

Second Quarter

Ct-A. Jenkins 3-yard run (C. Carpenter 2-pt run)

Sm-J. Wells 1-yard run (J. Anderson kick)

Sm-M. Curry 6-yard pass from J. Wells (J. Wells 2-pt run)

Third Quarter

Ct-S. Yurgel 38-yard field goal

TEAM STATISTICS

Ct Sm

First downs 9 11

Rushing yardage 37-113 52-209

Passing yardage 99 81

Passes 5-10-1 7-16-1

Punts-Avg. 5-31.4 6-29.8

Fumbles-lost 2-2 1-1

Penalties-yards 5-20 7-69

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing: Smithfield—Kyon Croker 17-82; Jermaal Wells 9-62, TD; Trevon Batten 9-51; Marquis Childress 6-12; Bruce Cypress 11-2. Courtland—Brandon Mason 6-51, TD; Anton Jenkins 13-41, TD; Darien Grant 14-20; Eric Washington 2-2; Chris Carpenter 2-(-1).

Passing: Smithfield—Jermaal Wells 7-16-1 81, TD. Courtland—Eric Washington 5-10-1 99.

Receiving: Smithfield—Marcel Curry 3-31, TD; Trevon Batten 2-30; James Green 1-10; Bruce Cypress 1-5. Courtland—Brandon Taylor 2-54; Chris Carpenter 1-37; Darien Grant 1-12; Zach Braswell 1-(-4).

Justin Rice: 540/368-5045

jrice@freelancestar.com

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