By HARRISON HAMLET
(STUART, Va.) – After back-to-back losses against Piedmont District powerhouse teams G.W.-Danville and Magna Vista, Patrick County’s football team needed a win to remain in the hunt for a spot in the Virginia High School League playoffs.
On Friday night, at home, the Cougars got what they needed, beating Tunstall 30-22 on the strength of their patented running game.
“We moved the ball very well on offense and our defense stepped up,” Patrick County head coach David Morrison said. “We made some mistakes we can’t make going forward, but I was really proud of the way the guys overcame adversity over the course of the game.”
That adversity came in the form of mistakes early that saw the Cougars trail 14-7 at the end of the first quarter, and an injury in the second quarter that could have major ramifications moving forward.
Patrick County tailback Dae’Shawn Penn, who was rapidly approaching a 2,000-yard season running the ball, fractured and dislocated his ankle in the second quarter, ending his season.
“Dae was having a monster game when he got hurt. Tunstall didn’t have an answer for him,” Morrison said of his star junior. “He’s worked so hard and come so far in the last few months as a player and a young man, it was tough to see that injury at the end of the season. With a little bit of work, the doctors think he will be back as strong as he ever was, but his season is over.”
Penn’s teammates stepped up to fill the production he has supplied throughout the season, and remained focus on the game.
“Everybody stepped up and responded,” Morrison said. “It was a collective effort. We had to grind and overcome adversity and I was really proud of what our boys did.”
Rebounding from the early 14-7 deficit, Patrick County scored twice in the second quarter to take a 21-14 halftime lead. A Martin Morse field goal and a fourth quarter touchdown put the game away for the Cougars, despite some errors that saw Tunstall keep the game close.
“We made some errors that could’ve cost us worse than they did,” Morrison said. “Luckily, we came away with some points after a red zone penalty. We kicked a field goal and those points were bigger than they may have seemed to some at the time. That kick gave us a cushion and the late score closed it out.”
Will Sprowl, Jonny Crowell and Carson Merriman all helped fill the void left after Penn’s injury. On the night, Penn, Sprowl and Merriman all eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark, with Sprowl doing most of the scoring, crossing the goal line three times. Crowell scored a two-point conversion after stepping into Penn’s position in the offense and Morrison said he feels good about the way the offense was able to produce with Crowell, Sprowl and Merriman sharing the bulk of the burden.
“All of our backs learn every position and it’s for more than just our benefit in practice. It is definitely for situations like this. You have to step up and into a role you may be unfamiliar with,” Morrison said of the backfield shuffle after Penn’s injury. “Your main guy goes down, the other guys have to be ready to step up. I think they are they’re going to embrace the situation and represent the school and themselves well moving forward.”
Now, Patrick County (4-5) must prepare to face a Halifax County (6-2) team coming off a win over Magna Vista (6-2).
“Halifax is a very solid football team. They’re good in all phases of the game, are well coached and they have athletes,” Morrison said of the Comets. “They run the ball very, very well and that is the nature of the game in high school. You can play well against anybody if you run it well. Then, for our offense, chunk plays are going to be few and far between. It’s going to be a tough game, but I think our guys are up to the challenge.”
As for the playoffs, Morrison said he wants to produce one last result on the field to solidify the Cougars’ case for a place in the field. Patrick County is in the unusual position of playing 10 straight weeks to open the season, with their bye week coming in the final week of the season. That means Friday night against Halifax is Patrick County’s last chance to impress the algorithm that determines playoff seeding.
“We’ve been trying to do the math. I don’t ever want to count my chickens before they hatch, but it looks like we’re locked in (to the playoffs),” Morrison said. “A big win on Friday would change things, that would really elevate things for us. That’s something we really want, to produce on the field and leave no question.”
THS – 14 0 0 8 – 22
PCHS – 7 14 3 6 – 30