For the first time since the 2012 season Hermitage and Varina came into their annual meeting with undefeated records. It showed as the fans gathered at Chester Fritz Stadium. The Blue Devils fans confident that their team was on the way back, the Herm fans confident that their team was the best in the land.
On the field, the players were just as jacked for this out-of-district rivalry and as the music pumped and the players warmed up on a crisp fading summer evening, the tension was building.
And then it was game time.
Varina won the coin toss and elected to receive. Whether or not they received or deferred would not have made a different, Hermitage came out attacking on defense as we have seen all season. The very first offensive play of Varina saw Stephen Richardson carrying the ball for the Blue Devils and getting hit by Kimaun Ewell for a loss of 5 yards. On the third play it appeared RJ Coles had enough for a first down but a bad spot forced a three and out for the Blue Devils.
Whereas Varina took steps backward on their first offensive play, the Panthers powered forward with CJ Jackson busting off a 25-yard run. The Varina defense however showed their mettle and the Panthers elected for a field goal with 9:51 to go but the field goal failed. An early chance for a Hermitage lead missed.
The rest of the first quarter was defined by defense as the Panthers and Blue Devils held one another out to 3 & out's. When Hermitage did get the ball back shortly before the end of the first quarter, Lavar Mallory of Varina intercepted a James Carney pass which proved to be the first turnover of the game.
As the second quarter got underway the Blue Devils had the ball after their interception of Carney. Faced with a 3rd & 1, the Blue Devils converted with a stiff arm from RJ Coles on the run. On this drive, the Panthers were hit with the first penalty of the game giving the Blue Devils another first down. Things began to get chippy at this point. The respect shown before the game as the captains shook hands and hugged before the game was now replaced by competitiveness... The Panthers were pushed on defense and they did not like it.
The chippiness between both resulted in offsetting personal fouls as Varina continued to move the ball on the Panther D. Then Jebril Murray came up big on defense again for the Panthers intercepting Brion Logan's pass. However the interception came out of bounds but Varina never got any closer.
Varina would have another chance... On the first snap from Hermitage, Carney fumbles the ball when linebacker Justin Stafford knocks the ball loose and Jace DePriest recovers the loose ball at the Hermitage 5! RJ Coles receives the handoff and with 9:29 to go in the second quarter he punches it in to give Varina a surprising 7-0 lead early after the PAT.
Not sure if it was a wakeup call or not but it sure seemed to spark the Panthers. A big return gave the Panthers excellent field position but a delay of game penalty pushed the Panthers back. Stephen Mayers however took a bite out of that penalty with a 22-yard run and the Panthers got a first down when Varina was called for a late hit. That proved to be big for a couple of plays later CJ Jackson busted off a 25-yard run to the endzone with lightening speed. With 6:58 to go the Panthers had answered the Varina score with one of their own.
Things were getting physical on the field with the hits both defenses were delivering. Hermitage had the ball back after Varina went backwards instead of forwards on offense. It took the Panthers three plays to deliver the message to Varina that there would not be beaten. Carney who has been on fire the past two weeks threw his second touchdown to who else but Ali Jennings who came up big for the Panthers in last weeks win over Thomas Dale. Within a span of minutes Hermitage had been down 7-0 to taking a 14-7 lead.
Varina would not go quietly... although they almost never got started. The return was fumbled but recovered. Brion Logan who had not had a lot of success throwing against Hermitage in this suddenly began connecting with Samond Pinchback and the Blue Devils were in business moving down the field. The Blue Devils Alton Coston began making plays as well putting a shoulder down and knocking a Herm defender over while picking up 19 yards on the carry. A mix of plays and overcoming penalties became the norm as Varina drove to the 20. The Blue Devils had two chances to put the ball in the endzone but two incomplete passes ensued, one of which was just off the fingertips of his guy but Hermitage tookover on downs to end the second quarter.
With a 14-7 lead the Panthers had the ball to start the second half but their ball control appeared to still be a problem. From my vantage point it appeared the ball was stripped but whatever the case was, the ball was fumbled and Justin Stafford was there to recover for Varina. Varina could not capitalize on the good field position however nor could they stop Hermitage.
The Panthers fumbled yet again but Stephen Mayers was able to recover the loose ball. Hermitage lost a ton of yards on that bumble however and the Panthers faced a 3rd & 13 from their own 22 when CJ Jackson ran to the right, leaped a Varina defender, evaded a couple of tackles and took off down the field seemingly getting faster the further he went... Just like that the Panthers had stretched their lead with a 78-yard touchdown from Jackson, his second touchdown of the night.
Down two scores it seemed Hermitage might be taking over the game but Varina would not go quietly. Floyd Jones had a big return on the kickoff and nearly broke a touchdown return. The run game working for Varina, they were able to move the ball all the way to the Herm 13 before Brion Logan nearly coughed the ball up. The ball was on the ground after the Lamond Fox hit but Logan was able to fall on it. Several plays later RJ Coles was in the endzone for his second touchdown of the day trimming the Hermitage lead with 5:46 to go in the third quarter.
Now what we saw in the second quarter was for Varina's score, Herm had an answer and that was no different in the third quarter. It was a combo of Carney and Jennings from 45 yards out that increased the Hermitage lead back to two touchdowns with 4:28 to go. Made possible with Carney hitting Jaylen Barnes with a 19-yard pass and a 14-yard CJ Jackson run.
The Herm D did their part, they held the Blue Devils to three and out. Punting the ball, the flag came out for running into the kicker, not roughing the kicker. Thinking it was roughing, Kane was livid along the sidelines, just as much as Coach Brown was when it was called running, not roughing which meant no first down for the Blue Devils.
The Blue Devils did not get the first down, they punted, Herm did not touch the kicker and the Panthers got the ball back. Faced with a 3rd & 5 it appeared the Varina defense might get the stop but Varina was called on pass interference giving Hermitage the ball at the Varina 18. With 23.4 seconds to go in the quarter Carney threw his second touchdown of the quarter hitting Jalen Smith as Hermitage began pulling away from the Blue Devils.
In the fourth quarter Varina had to punt but Hermitage went three and out punting to the Blue Devils. The punt was fumbled with Varina's Javion Walker recovering it at the 15. It did not come easy but the Blue Devils got back in the endzone. Brion Logan took a whale of a hit from Herm's big man Mateo Jackson, a hit so hard you could hear it in the stands. Logan unharmed continued to make plays such as a pass to Samond Pinchback and a quarterback keeper butt it was Coles who for the third time on this night found the endzone with 7:22 to go in the game.
The Blue Devils down two scores knowing time was not on their side went with the onside kick but there was no sense of urgency to get to the ball and recover. The Blue Devils were called for a false start on that kick and those chose to kick it off completely rather than go onside again.
As the fourth quarter went on the two teams went back and forth with neither able to capitalize. That is until Varina's next to last possession of the night. From their own 25 Varina's Coles had 27 yards on 3 carries while Logan tossed it around to Stephen Richardson and Auston Howey as the Blue Devils moved to the 20 of Hermitage and with 47.5 seconds a score appeared imminent
Then Jebril Murray happened. Last week Jebril intercepted Thomas Dale to end the Knights threat at the end of the game. This week he intercepts Logan's pass and races to the endzone to not only end the Varina threat but put the game out of the reach of the Blue Devils.
With mere seconds left there was nothing more Varina could do, they would fall to 2-1 while Hermitage would go to 4-0 with a 42-21 win.
Hermitage 42, Varina 21 - Scoring Summary
RJ Coles 5-yard run. Shane Barrett PAT.
CJ Jackson 25-yard run. Alex Burton PAT.
35-yard pass from James Carney to Ali Jennings. Alex Burton PAT.
78-yard run from CJ Jackson. Alex Burton PAT.
RJ Coles 1-yard run. Shane Barrett PAT.
45-yard pass from James Carney to Ali Jennings. Alex Burton PAT.
18-yard pass from James Carney to Jalen Smith. Alex Burton PAT.
RJ Coles 3-yard run. Shane Barrett PAT.
Jebril Murray 95-yard interception return. Alex Burton PAT.
Players of the Game
It's tough to make the call for Varina. With an offense that was able to put 21 against Hermitage and was in position to score a fourth touchdown you would look there. However no player on offense had an overwhelmingly great game... On offense it was really a team effort with a mix of players stepping up.
Despite Hermitage scoring six touchdowns I honestly look at the defense which played Hermitage tough the entire game. I look at Justin Stafford who had 11 tackles, forced 2 fumbles and had a recovery. He and the entire defense did not make it easy on the Panthers despite the final score.
On the Panther side of the ball it is a tougher call... Defense had another stellar game, Jebril Murray had the interception at the end but surprisingly enough I look at the offense of the Panthers. When I saw Hermitage against Highland Springs they were less than stellar but over the last two weeks they have really come into their own.
James Carney for a second week in a row had a big game for the Panthers. Carney had 146 passing yards and threw three touchdowns. He even took hits and always came back for more. He was a warrior against a tough Varina defense.
I must admit it appeared the Varina-Hermitage game had a more packed crowd than the Thomas Dale-Hermitage game a week prior. Varina has a shorter driver but with the Knights having been 2-0 coming in, I expected more. I expected less from Varina given their trajectory over the past few years but it appears the fans are buying into the resurgence.
I ask you is there no more enthusiastic PA announcer in the 804 than Hermitage guy? I gave him a hard time for calling Thomas Dale the Scarlett Knights but I've been to so many games and stadiums in 20 years and heard a lot of guys. Sometimes they are dry or try to be funny when they are not but Herm's guy delivers excitement to everything he says.
I do not feel the score, 42-21 was indicative of how hard fought this game was. Yes, the last touchdown was scored right at the end so honestly it was a two touchdown game. That said, these two teams defenses battled all night, it just so happened that Hermitage had a few more big plays in them. If these two were to meet in the playoffs, you can be it would be a game you would not want to miss.