When a team jels, adversity is but a speed bump. When a really good team jels, it doesn’t really matter how many speed bumps there are. That was case for Woodberry Forest as they hosted the top-ranked VISAA Division 1 team in the state, Benedictine. The Tigers turned the ball over on offense at a frustrating level. They watched starting quarterback Lindell Stone go down with an injury in the second series of the game. Still, thanks to a late field goal in the first half, a crucial touchdown drive in the third quarter and a defense that was unbelievably opportunitistic, Woodberry managed to cruise through the problems it faced, taking down the Cadets 10-0 to remain unbeaten on the year.
“When we’re in camp before football starts we talk about stuff like this, being a good teammate, loving your friends when they make mistakes,” said Tigers coach Clint Alexander. “We talk about being a palms free program, there are no palms up when mistakes are made. That never means you love your teammates. You get out there and you respond. So I could not be more proud of the defense today.”
The story for Woodberry at the end of the day was just how well it’s defense played with its back against the wall. In the first half, the Tigers only let the cadets sniff the redzone once, and that resulted in the Cadets missing a 37-yard field goal. In the second half, Woodberry saw a pair of interceptions from Nathaniel Tyrell and Duke Sherrell late in the fourth quarter, both at the goal line and a pass defended in the endzone before that by Logi Portugal. With the game almost out of reach in the final minutes of play, the Cadets came close to breaking the shutout but a tackle by Ryan Grady on Benedictine receiver Donoven Tennyson to set up Sherrell’s essentially game-ending interception.
“We wanted to stop the run,” Sherrell said. “We watched their last two games on film and wanted to put them in passing situations. We’ve got the best secondary in the state of Virginia, so if we could take away the run we knew we’d be okay.”
As to that, the Tigers were stifling against the run, forcing Benedictine to essentially abandon it and turn to the passing game. And from there Michael Davenport and Tyrell were able to lead the secondary to bend and not break against a talented receiving corps.
“We’ve got such a great secondary that we’ve been able to survive loading up the box, not having to double over the top on the receivers,” Alexander said. “They have to offenses so we scripted for a 2-back offense and an 1-back offense.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Tigers saw it’s first two drives end in the redzone because of turnovers. After Stone went down early in the first after an 18-yard run, Woodberry’s offense became all about the running game with H.T. Minor, Khalid Thomas and Evans Riviere toting the ball. In the final minute of the second quarter a long run from Thomas set up a Liam Hedge 37-yard field goal to make it 3-0 at the half.
“That field goal was huge, he was kicking into the wind off the bad hash,” Alexander said. “His mom’s struggling with some health problems and I told Liam, ‘Come and kick this one for Mom,’ and she was in the stands today and he just nailed it. That was so touching.”
The Tigers found the endzone on their second series of the third quarter, again with Thomas setting up the score. The freshman’s second long run set the table for Minor to punch in a 1-yard rushing touchdown and make it 10-0.
From there, it was all about the defense until late in the fourth where the Tigers earned a pair of first downs after Sherrell’s pick to burn out the clock and wrap up the win.
“We just kept loving each other up, even when we made mistakes we rallied,” Sherrell said. “We had some luck but that comes with work. We work everyday to be this way. We come back on Mondays ready to work. We don’t want to get complacent. That’s how we like to win.”
On the day, Minor had 63 yards on 15 arries while Riviere added 78 on 16 touches. Thomas finished with two rushes for 55 yards and had 26 yards on a pair of catches. Zach Roderick had four catches for 48 yards. Stone was 4 for 4 passing with 44 yards before he had to leave the game, Zaytoun went 8 for 19 for 73 yards.
“It’s nice to get that feeling at the end of day,” Zaytoun said. “We know we’re the number one team in the state and while we haven’t been playing up to our potential as much as we would like, it’s nice to know that we’ve gotten here.”
Woodberry (5-0) host St. Christopher’s on Friday.