By HARRISON HAMLET
(RADFORD, Va.) – It was an inauspicious start.
Radford’s football team blocked a Patrick County punt just moments into Friday night’s Virginia High School League Group 2 playoff opener and scored one play later.
The Bobcats expanded on that lead to take a 28-0 halftime lead on the way to a 35-0 win over Patrick County, eliminating the Cougars one game into their first playoff run since 2008.
Patrick County head coach David Morrison said that his team struggled to stay focused after a start that left his players “shell-shocked.”
“We just didn’t come out ready to get after it. We weren’t focused and ready to play. That put us behind early on and they jumped right on us,” Morrison said. “That shell-shocked feeling in the players’ eyes was something they didn’t know how to respond to. We played all the way through it, and I’m proud of the way they responded and played in the second half. But, that first jump to the game took us by surprise as a team.”
Morrison noted that “there is a reason Radford is the No. 2 seed in the region” and that the Bobcats were well-coached.
“They just out-played us in every facet of the game,” Morrison said. “We showed some flashes on offense where we moved the ball and had some chunk plays…we just couldn’t muster enough to get the job done.”
When asked if the team might have taken a deep breath of satisfaction after securing a playoff berth, Morrison was clear – goals need to be high for teams to remained focused deep into November.
“I think in order to be successful, every single player on the team has to be bought into the vision and what that goal is. That goal has to be to win a state title,” Morrison said. “If everybody is satisfied with beating Halifax and being 5-5 and going to the playoffs, you’re not going to do well going forward…Whenever that sense of satisfaction creeps in, it is very tough to overcome. It becomes hard to refocus the team at times.
“We want more, we want bigger, we want better.”
Injuries in the offensive backfield prevented the kind of preparation Morrison was hoping for, as he and his staff spent as much time teaching players new positions as they did preparing for Radford since the November 1 victory over Halifax County.
“Chris Drewery and Will Sprowl both played really well and had some chunk plays for us on Friday,” Morrison said. “After we lost Jonny Crowell and Dae’Shawn Penn to injury, we spent the last two weeks teaching guys new positions to make up for those losses. That was the hardest thing for us, just creating a gameplan that resembled what we wanted to do with brand new personnel.”
As inauspiciously as Friday night’s beginning was for Patrick County, 2019 represents an auspicious new frontier for the program under Morrison.
The Cougars return 17 of their 22 starters in 2020 and Morrison has a good feeling about where his group is headed.
“That’s one of the big positives is that this season is step one, it’s a building block to bigger things,” Morrison said. “All the young guys coming back should take this as a stepping stone. We have to be better and work harder and do things a little differently to reach higher goals. One thing is a bigger commitment to the weight room in the offseason.”
Morrison credited his senior class, made up of six players including both starting middle linebackers (Bryson Fulcher and Jess Edwards), for setting a high standard for the future of the program.
“It’s only a few, but they have really worked hard in the last few years and those two linebackers are going to be sorely missed,” Morrison said. “Those guys all bought in and have been a driving force in the change we’re seeing in the program. It’s going to be tough moving forward without them. I hope we can fill their shoes but it is going to be very tough to replace those guys.”
With the offseason ahead to work towards an even brighter future, Morrison hopes to instill a sense of urgency into his team.
“We need to approach each opportunity professionally. I hope these guys see that a little bit more. With some of the stuff we’ve gone through, I hope they see that you never know when your last play is going to be,” Morrison said. “We’re just lucky that we get to play this game. Moving forward, hopefully our guys understand our time in high school football is limited and we want to make the most of it. We have to have guys that really take over as leaders within our program and I feel like we have a really solid core of guys that can lead both vocally and by example moving forward.”
Patrick County’s season concludes with a 5-6 overall record. Radford (9-2) moves on to face Gretna (8-3) on Friday night.