By Garth Shanklin
The Fayetteville-Perry football program is still a pretty recent addition to the school. The squad’s first varsity season was just six years ago, with their first home game being a 56-7 loss to the Williamsburg Wildcats. While the players and coaches may have changed, Williamsburg’s dominance in the series has not.
The games have become much closer as of late, however. In 2015, the Wildcats edged out a 17-6 victory in Fayetteville, one of only two losses the Rockets had all season. This year’s game was even closer, as Fayetteville held a late lead only to see victory snatched away in an 18-14 loss.
Neither team did much offensively throughout the contest. Fayetteville ran five straight rushing plays to start the game, which resulted in back-to-back punts.
Williamsburg’s offense wasn’t much better, as injuries have taken their toll on the Wildcats. They scored a combined 83 points in their first two games this season, but have mustered just 21 in the two since.
They struck first against the Rockets, as Cameron Hart connected on a 29-yard field goal with 5:35 left in the first quarter.
The lead lasted for exactly one quarter. Fayetteville’s Chase Jester broke several Williamsburg tackles on an 80-yard sprint to the end zone. The Rockets extra point was blocked, giving them a 6-3 lead at the 5:47 mark of the second quarter.
Fayetteville had another chance to score thanks to a second long run from Jester, but the Williamsburg defense forced a turnover on downs, giving the Wildcats the ball at the three. They fumbled the snap, and it appeared Fayetteville had recovered the ball in the end zone. After a brief discussion, the referees awarded the Rockets a safety, giving them an 8-3 lead.
That score held through halftime and until the Rockets returned the opening kick of the third quarter all the way to the Williamsburg 25. Three plays later, Jester was in for his second touchdown of the day. The two-point conversion failed, and Fayetteville led 14-3 with 10:29 left in the third quarter.
Williamsburg answered, marching down the field and scoring on a six-yard touchdown pass from Nate Bogan to Andrew Smith, cutting the Rocket lead to 14-9. The Wildcats failed on the initial two-point conversion attempt, but a pass interference penalty gave them a second chance, and Bogan converted to make it 14-11 Fayetteville with 9:11 left in the third quarter.
The teams traded turnovers and punts for most of the third and fourth quarter, until Williamsburg took over on downs at their own 35 with 2:09 remaining and no time outs.
A double-pass and a roughing the passer call on Fayetteville put the Wildcats at the Fayetteville 25 with 1:44 remaining. Three plays later, Bogan scored on a six-yard run to put Williamsburg ahead 18-14 after Hart’s extra point.
Fayetteville took over at the Williamsburg 48 with 46.2 seconds remaining. Clock management and timely receptions moved them to the Williamsburg 14, where they had two shots at the end zone. The first pass by Luke Wiederhold was incomplete and the second was intercepted by Adam Donohoo as time expired.
Fayetteville head coach Kevin Finch said the Rockets played as well as they could.
“Our kids played their hearts out,” Finch said. “It was back and forth. I feel for our kids, they really laid it out on this field. We had a couple breaks not go our way, but that’s football. Other than that, I thought we did some things very well. We moved the ball, controlled the clock. Those are the things we like to do.”
Williamsburg held the ball for just over 13 minutes of the 48-minute contest. In that time they gained a total of 274 yards, 186 of which came through the air. Head coach Scott Lefker said the team is dealing with injuries at key spots on the offensive line, which could be hindering the team’s offense.
“We’ve got a lot of kids hurt,” Lefker said. “We started a freshman at a guard, a freshman at a tackle. We started a center that has never played center or varsity before. We’re hurting up front. They’re learning, and they’ll get better. But right now, we’re young, we’re beat up and we’re hanging on.”
Williamsburg had scored 83 combined points in the first two weeks of the season. The Wildcats have totaled 21 in the two weeks since. Finch said the Rockets made a few changes to their schemes defensively, but the team’s week of practice had the greatest impact on their success on defense.
“We just tried to switch up a couple different coverages and fronts,” Finch said. “The players had a great week of practice. It was the best week of practice I’ve seen since coming to Fayetteville. Every day, they had good reps and the people going against them were challenging them and pushing each other and I think that helped. Even the people that weren’t on the first team were pushing and giving better reps. It was a team effort, from the first senior all the way down to the last freshman.”
Meanwhile, the Rockets themselves were in the midst of a solid run offensively, having put up at least 30 points in back-to-back games. Lefker said the team prepared to defend the run while acknowledging the squad faced a size disadvantage.
“We tried to put everybody in the box,” Lefker said. “They invite 11 guys in. We wanted to respect them a bit on the outside, but we put eight, nine players in the box and banged all night long. They were bigger than us, probably a tick faster. Our kids got in there and held tight, sometimes we held on and let them drag us. We were able to get in there and get stops when it counted. I’m glad to get out of here with the win.”
Wiederhold finished the game having completed four of eight passes for 23 yards and an interception. Bogan completed 11 of 23 attempts for 142 yards and a touchdown. He also was intercepted once. Smith completed four passes in four attempts for 44 yards for the Wildcats.
On the ground, Jester tallied a monster 218 yards on 29 carries and a pair of scores. Austin Brockman carried the ball 20 times for 58 yards for Fayetteville. Bogan led the Wildcats with 18 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown.
Smith also collected six receptions for 118 yards and a score. Nate Fisher and Skylar Minton had sacks for the Rockets defensively.
Finch said the team would have to rely on each other to move past the loss.
“I couldn’t be more proud of their effort,” Finch said. “They break every one of our huddles this year with family, and they’ll need to rely on each other as a family today because I know it hurts. To put in that much effort and heart you hate to see a team lose like that. We have great kids with strong character, and they never quit. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Lefker said the Rockets simply wanted the win more than the Wildcats for most of the game, but he was happy to see his team pull out the win.
“We had a little bit of heart, and our kids dug deep,” Lefker said. “At the end of the day, it was ‘Who wanted it more?’ and Fayetteville wanted that game more than us for three and three-quarters of the fourth quarter. In the end, we wanted it more and we pulled it out. It’s not surprising the game was like that, Fayetteville’s a good team.”
The victory puts the Wildcats at 3-1 on the season, despite the rash of injuries. Lefker said the team has gotten used to winning games, and that feeling is what helps them push through tough contests.
“Even when we’re having down years now, our kids are used to winning” Lefker said. “It’s good, and when they lose it hurts. They’re not used to that. We just hope that carries us through games like tonight.”
The team did receive a bit of recognition earlier this week. The first state football computer polls were released on Tuesday, Sept. 20 and the Wildcats currently rank as one of the top teams, as they are tied with Delphos Jefferson High School in Division VII.
The Rockets will host Hillcrest at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept 23. Williamsburg will battle Minford at 7 p.m. at Osborne Field in Williamsburg.