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JUSTIN RICE: Accolades on effort are nice, but Jackets’ goal was a state title

JACKETS PROUD OF OVERCOMING

ADVERSITY,BUT LOSS STILL HURTS

LYNCHBURG—Losing is hard, and assurances that your team overachieved just to make the state championship game can only ease so much hurt.

So yes, there were tears on James Monroe’s sideline Saturday as the Jackets sat and watched Brookville accept the Group AA, Division 3 state championship trophy.

Overachievers? The little engine that could? David, destined to strike a fatal blow against Goliath?

JM’s players didn’t want to hear it; they walked off the field thinking they were good enough to win.

“We expected to win this game,” Jackets senior Tony Scott said. “We knew we could win this year.”

The difference between the Bees and Jackets?

“They’re just state champions. That’s all,” said offensive lineman Kyle Washington. “They played well, but we were good enough to win the game. I just don’t think we played up to our ability.”

And maybe Washington and Scott are right. Maybe these teams are that close. Maybe a holding penalty that erased a JM second-quarter touchdown would have made the difference, had the official just left the flag in his pocket.

Or maybe not.

Jackets coach Rich Serbay was the last person out of JM’s locker room. The emotions had cooled. There was disappointment in his voice; there was also resignation.

“We were coming in here trying to pull off an upset,” he said. “The better team won. That happens all the time in sports and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

That’s an easy argument to make—that Brookville was just the better team.

The Bees were led to the state championship for the second straight season by quarterback Kendall BeCraft, who was outstanding at the finish in the 2011 final, and an efficient manager of the offense in this year’s. Senior Anthony Calloway had 123 rushing yards and his 63-yard touchdown run was the very definition of determination and tough running. And the the edge that Brookville had on the offensive line was apparent: The Bees rushed for 248 yards on 48 carries.

The advantage was especially apparent in the second half, when drives of 14 and 10 plays led to a touchdown and a field goal and grew the Bees’ lead from 14–7 at the half, to 24–7 in the fourth quarter.

But Brookville also hasn’t faced the hurdles James Monroe has.

The Bees didn’t graduate all of their offensive line. They’re not on option No. 3 at quarterback. Their best cornerback isn’t in street clothes. Their running back rotation hasn’t been a revolving door because of injuries and off-the-field issues.

“We had to start from scratch,” Serbay said. “It’s absolutely awesome that we got where we were. I hope my kids and our loyal fans will understand how far we’ve come, running in a car with a gas tank that’s on empty.”

At least some of JM’s players seemed to get it. No—this game didn’t go the way the Jackets hoped, but that doesn’t erase the success that was this season. This was still a two-loss team, a region champion, a state finalist.

“I feel like that right now,” receiver She’Mar Ellis said. “I’m not as mad as I was last year. They were just the better team. There’s no other way to put it.”

Serbay agreed with Ellis: This defeat was not nearly as bitter as last year’s 34–33 nail-bitter against Brookville, and was easier to accept, given how much JM has overcome.

“Last year I was disappointed; we were the better team and we let it slip through our hands,” he said. “This year we just got beat by the better team.”

But still, defeat tastes sour, and defeat in a state championship game is especially bitter. It will be some time before many of JM’s players can feel good about this year, no matter how much the team overcame or

by how many steps it overachieved.

“It’s going to take me a while to do that,” senior Adrian Boone quietly added.

Justin Rice: 540/368-5045

jrice@freelancestar.com

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