Dark Zone delivers, Thomas Dale wins 28-24

CHESTER – The game was still undecided inside the last 15 seconds.

Quarterback Meziah Scott ran right for the pylon on fourth down from 2 yards out.

He was met by an onslaught of Thomas Dale defenders who downed him on the 1-yard line to give the ball back to the Knights’ offense with only 7 seconds left.

The Dark Zone prevailed at home as Thomas Dale (5-2) came out 28-24 winners against the Petersburg Crimson Wave, (5-2) who refused to bow out against the Knights.

The game kicked off to an electric homecoming atmosphere from the fans at Ed Karpus Stadium.

“Homecoming week is a funny week because the kids are having a lot of fun and the focus in practice isn’t always what you would hope as a coach,” said Thomas Dale head coach Kevin Tucker. “I said all week that, ‘At three o’clock, I expect you to be ready for business.’”

That’s just what the Knights were after deferring the opening kickoff.

Petersburg prepared to get its offense revving after fielding the opening kick to its 15-yard line. Scott dropped back to pass but was met by a huge hit from Darius Sterling, causing a fumble. Three quick runs and the Knights had a touchdown. The extra point was missed for a 6-0 score.

After a three-and-out, the Knights’ offense was back on the ball. Chris Tyree took the first play to the left sideline. He caught the edge and was off to the races, taking it 52 yards for a touchdown. He also took the ball across the plane on the 2-point conversion and made it 14-0 with hardly 3 minutes gone.

“As a head coach you like those but then again you don’t always like those,” Tucker said. “I’m more of the old school philosophy: grind it out and take 7 minutes off the clock. To me, that takes more out of a team than two quick scores does.”

The Wave came roaring back in the second quarter. The drive opened with a short pass to Brandon Harvell who picked up 19 yards after the catch. From the 45, Scott found running back Upton Bailey on a crossing route, and Bailey ran for a touchdown. The two-point conversion was made for a 14-8 score.

A snap for Dale on the next drive left the punter helpless as he had to accept being tackled for a huge loss. Petersburg took over on the 12-yard line. Brandon Harvell took the ball from running back up the middle. He cut left across the secondary and made it in for another touchdown - and a 16-14 lead.

“Petersburg is a good football team,” Tucker said. “They’re young, strong up front. They have a great quarterback, strong running backs and some great receivers.”

The Knights retook the lead on their next drive. A one-yard kickoff meant the Knights took over on the Wave’s 31-yard line. A keeper from Quarterback Ejay Walker and 9-yard pickup from Tyree across the ground got Thomas Dale to the 16-yard-line where the Knights were held to fourth down. The short field goal attempt was placed through the uprights for a 17-16 lead.

With six minutes left in the half, the Wave weren’t done. A quick three-and-out forced Petersburg to punt. The high kick bounced off the hands of Dale’s punt returner, and Petersburg recovered the ball at midfield.

Scott completed two fourth down conversions from short yardage with his legs to keep the drive going. From 20 yards out he hit Teon Harris with a perfectly placed pass over his shoulder for 18 yards. Brandon Harvell finished the drive, bouncing off the pile of lineman in the middle and rolling into the endzone to go into halftime with a 22-17 Petersburg lead.

“We missed some tackles this week on the quarterback,” Tucker said. “We have to figure out a way in practice this week to make sure they wrap up and get to the ball. We did that for two days straight to get those guys to club and wrap and wrap and still tonight we’re letting guys go. It’s one of those days where young guys have to get experience in a hurry.”

The story of Dale’s season has been all about injuries. Week two, the Knights lost defensive powerhouse and starting cornerback Jasiah Williams on the second play against L.C. Bird. In week three, they lost senior linebacker and JMU commit Rick D’Abreu to a season-ending ankle injury. Every week the list seems to get deeper as Tucker and his staff are forced further into their squad.

This week, Walker on a quarterback keep rolled left and cut up the middle where he was leveled low after a gain of 16. Junior quarterback Courtenay Burrell came in to replace him.

“Ejay [Walker] just has the experience and he throw a really good ball. Courtney is a junior but he doesn’t have a whole lot of game experience at the varsity level,” Tucker said. “He gets reps in practice every week so he runs the same plays that Ejay runs. It’s just the game experience that Courtney has to get more of.”

The third quarter almost ended in a stalemate until the last Thomas Dale drive of the quarter. The Knights drove down the field with jet sweeps and motion in the backfield but were finally stopped on the 25. The 35-yard kick was powered through the uprights to cut the deficit to two, at 20-22.

With 10 minutes left, and a potential game-winning drive on the cards for the Wave, Sterling forced through the Petersburg line like he had all night long. His tackle on Scott forced a fumble on the 5-yard line. Tyree took three handoffs straight at the Wave’s defense. He finally made it in on the third attempt for the Knights’ first lead since early in the first quarter. The two-point conversion was made, and the Knights were ahead 28-22.

Scott got the ball back in his hands with a chance at redemption; a homecoming upset on a 58-yard game winning drive.

He went 57.

Scott, facing pressure on the first play, miraculously rolled outside and picked up 30 yards. He kept it again to get to 7 yards from goal with under a minute left.

The Knights held firm once again on third down with the clock ticking from 32 seconds.

Scott rolled outside on fourth down looking for the pylon. He was taken down within arm’s reach of the goal line by a pile of Dale defenders who roared in triumph.

A safety on the next play padded the score at 28-24, but with only 7 seconds left, the game was done. The Hail Mary pass made it nowhere near the end zone from 43 yards out.

NEXT FRIDAY AT 7:

The Knights will play at Hopewell while the Crimson Wave hosts Dinwiddie on Homecoming.

“We missed some tackles this week on the quarterback,” Tucker said. “Next week we play Hopewell who has a running back and a quarterback that can absolutely fly. We need to make some adjustments to apply pressure to them and get better at putting together some drives to keep our defense off the field for five, six, seven minutes so they can be fresh.”