For the third time in 15 years, the Thomas Dale Knights and the C.D. Hylton Bulldogs met in the 6A South Regional Quarterfinals, and this time, the Knights prevailed victoriously, 17-14.
Led by Roderick Wilson’s 19 tackles and one sack, the Knights’ Dark Zone defense was present early and often against the high-powered Bulldog offense.
“Wilson’s 19 tackles is one heck of a game at any level,” head coach Kevin Tucker said. “We’ve asked our guys on defense to come out and do things they’re not used to and they have all stepped-up this year.”
After holding Hylton to a three-and-out on their first drive, Thomas Dale’s offense came out of the gate firing on all cylinders.
They only needed three plays to hit the end zone. Setup by a 24-yard catch and run by Trent Williams, Matt Lawton found Brian Bullock crossing over the middle for a 31-yard touchdown.
Dark Zone held Hylton quarterback Donovan Williams to another there-and-out. On the ensuing drive, Lawton and Bullock would hook up again for a touchdown, this time on a 67-yard skinny post.
“Brian [Bullock] should have been named offensive player of the year in our conference,” head coach Kevin Tucker said. “He came to play; they doubled and tripled covered him but he still found a way to get open.”
While Thomas Dale’s offense capitalized on big plays in the first half, it was their defense that made the difference. The Knights’ defense held the Bulldogs to 64 yards of offense; 38 of those yards came on a single scramble by the Hylton quarterback.
At the break, the Knights were up 14-0 and had the Bulldogs on the ropes.
“We did a great job keeping them out of the end zone in the first half,” Tucker said. “But I think we got too lackadaisical on offense and that was my fault.”
The second half offered a change in pace. Dale’s offense looked a little flat while Hylton mounted an 18-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by a 9-yard touchdown pass. Hylton was unable to convert the point after because of a bobbled snap.
The drive was methodical but kept alive twice by Thomas Dale penalties and questionable spots. Though Hylton scored, the drive cost them over eight minutes on the clock.
The defenses battled it out in the trenches for the next 10 minutes until a short punt by Thomas Dale’s Plato Eliades was returned for 25 yards setting Hylton up on Thomas Dale’s 7-yard line. From there, Williams was able to sneak it in and convert the 2-pointer, tying the game at 14 with 3:36 to play.
“I asked the guys with three minutes to go do they want to be sitting at home next week or playing football,” Tucker said. “This is the drive that decides it.”
It would be the unstoppable duo for the third time of the night to answer Tucker’s question. Lawton hit Bullock on a simple slant and Bullock would work his magic in space, breaking numerous tackles before he was able to pick up 47 yards and put Dale on Hylton’s 16-yard line. Bullock finished the night with four catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
From the 16, the Knights managed to fight their way to the five where kicker Plato Elaides would be given the opportunity to redeem himself. And he does. He converted the 20-yard chip shot putting Thomas Dale up 17-14 with 35 seconds remaining.
Hylton was unable to find a miracle and Thomas Dale advances to the next round where they meet a resurgent Cosby Titans.
If the Knights hope to be successful in the regional finals and beyond, they need to become more disciplined. Their defense can be impenetrable at times but penalties have cost them all season according to observers. Against Hylton, Thomas Dale committed 10 penalties for 110 yards. Some of those penalties were 15-yard personal fouls that allowed Hytlon to keep drives alive.
Although Thomas Dale handled Cosby pretty well in their first game of the season, this is not the same Cosby team.
Cosby is coming off a game where they ran the ball very well. Running back Joe Hunt annihilated Riverbend for 213 yards and 2 touchdowns on 22 carries.
The Titans have emerged after a change to their quarterback situation when Grant Squyars was named the starter. Squyars has added balance to the offense that features the three-headed running attack of Joe Hunt, Trevor Laury, and Caleb Grimes. A rejuvenated offense including Conference 3 Offensive Player of the Year and tackle Drew Birchmeier, coupled with a solid defensive front, Cosby provides a tough task for the Knights.
Thomas Dale host Cosby on Friday, Nov 27 at 7 p.m. For live coverage of the game, follow @RVAGameBreak on Twitter.