Skyhawks force five turnovers as Hughes scores three touchdowns
Billed as the “Battle of State Champions” on the program at Lake Taylor High School, L.C. Bird traveled to Norfolk, ranked as the third best team in the state according to www.maxpreps.com, to face off against the Titans, who ranked 7th. Enduring a broken air conditioner on the bus ride down, fifteen penalty flags and an athletic Lake Taylor squad, the Bird defense forced five turnovers en route to a 21-14 victory.
“We expected a battle and got one,” said Bird defensive end Mike Harris who had eight tackles, two sacks and recovered a fumble. “There were two great teams going at each other out there.”
Lake Taylor, who won the Division 5A State Championship last year, has dealt with a rash of injuries, including the top two quarterbacks on their depth chart. Quarterback Shiheem Johnson has piloted the team since.
After the Skyhawks took advantage of three Titan fumbles in the first half, it looked as if Bird would cruise to victory with a 14-0 halftime lead. That lead was built by the strength of running back Earl Hughes.
“When I came to Bird, they needed a running back,” said Hughes. “I wanted to step up and take the job.”
The senior started scoring with a bang in the first quarter, ripping off a 50-yard run. In the waning seconds of the first half, Hughes returned a punt for a touchdown, taking it 47 yards to the house.
Early in the third quarter, Hughes scored again on an 18 yard run, making it 21-0 after Sebastian Vincent’s third extra point.
The Titans wouldn’t go down that easy.
In the fourth quarter, the Titans played anywhere from seven to eleven defenders “in the box” or close to the line of scrimmage, effectively bottling up Bird’s run attack.
Lake Taylor would charge back as Johnson threw a touchdown to Aaron Chandler, converted a two point conversion and ran for a second touchdown.
The Titans’ fifth turnover proved to be the most costly. Linebacker Darius Gillus deflected a pass that was intercepted by safety Jaylan Lassiter.
On the following drive, Ervin found Hughes for a long completion after a small adjustment in wide out Shawn Payne’s route.
“They did a good job of making Terrance [Ervin] run around like a chicken with his head cut off,” said Bedwell. “But he got the ball to Earl [Hughes] when it counted.”
Hughes finished the game with 200 yards rushing, and now has 1,056 yards from scrimmage in the team’s first five contests to go with 16 touchdowns. Out of those 16, 11 touchdowns have come via the ground, four via punt returns, and one receiving.
“I love my line,” stated Hughes. “Those guys work hard for me every game.”
That offensive line relies on the leadership of senior Josey Davis, and three newcomers to the squad in junior varsity promotes Andre Davis (junior) and Trey Ramsey (sophomore), and Nick Mcara (senior) who did not play football last season. Bird’s line has a historic penchant to draw a flag for a holding penalty. Whether one agrees with the calls or not, it’s still an aggressive and thus far effective approach to blocking.
“I’m going to tell the offensive line to keep doing what they are doing,” stated Bedwell. “The line is still a work in progress.”
Many high school football gurus have already billed this year’s Bird team as better than last year’s. Some have Bird ranked No. 1 in the state halfway through the season.
“If we’re the best team, let’s stop the season now, I’ll take it,” Bedwell said. “We have a lot of work left to do.”
Check beating a top-ranked state opponent in the regular season off the list.
The Skyhawks will take their work in progress on the road to Midlothian this Friday, for a 7:30 p.m. kick-off.