Early season struggles.
Postseason berth on the horizon.
Yep, looks like it’s deja vu all over again for Waynesboro’s football team.
The Little Giants, who lost five of their first six games this season, have righted the ship with Valley District wins over Robert E. Lee and Turner Ashby. They stand at 3-5 and should be able qualify for the Region 3A West playoffs with wins over Broadway and Fort Defiance in their final two games.
Waynesboro was able to accomplish that feat two years ago by winning their last two games, then, last year, winning their last three. It’s a pattern that has not gone unnoticed by head coach Derek McDaniel.
“Every year, it’s a different group of kids,” he said. “They jell at different rates and different speeds, and some don’t jell at all. But what people have to realize is that we have a lot of young kids and a lot of inexperienced kids, and it’s taken half a season for them to get their feet under them, understand what we’re trying to do and have them buy into that.”
It was evident that something clicked in Friday’s 50-28 thrashing of Turner Ashby at JMU’s Bridgeforth Stadium.
“One of the things we ask our wideouts and wings to do is block,” McDaniel said, “and if you look at last week’s film, they did a great job.”
But more than that, McDaniel is mot impressed by his players’ unselfishness.
“We had seven touchdowns [against Turner Ashby] and six different players scored them,” he said. “What I like seeing is that it doesn’t matter who scores. They’re happy for each other and they’re blocking for each other; all signs they are understanding what we want.”
Riverheads slipped Page County a change of pace in the Gladiators’ 63-15 win Friday night.
The Red Pride, as usual, had their ground game in high gear, but head coach Robert Casto also let quarterback Chase Armstrong air it out early. The senior completed 2 of 3 passes for 63 yards in the first half as Riverheads took a 56-8 lead into the locker room.
“We wanted to throw the football a little bit and work on some things,” Casto said. “Our quarterback can throw it and our receivers can catch it. … I thought Chase made a couple of good plays early and there were a couple of good catches. All in all, I thought out kids came out and did what they were supposed to do and the rest is history.”
As far as his team’s progress since the start of the season, Casto is pleased with what he’s seen.
“Our guys are getting it and they understand what we want and what we expect out of them,” he said, “and that’s where you should be at this stage of the season.”
Buffalo Gap looks like it has shaken off tough losses to Riverheads and Stuarts Draft, getting back in the win column Friday with a 13-8 win over Luray. The Bison are now fifth in the 2A East power ratings, and can enhance that standing over the next two weeks with wins over Page County and Stonewall Jackson.
After that — a showdown with East Rockingham in the season finale. The Eagles stunned the Bison in last year’s matchup, winning 49-39.
After Fort Defiance lost 47-0 to Spotswood on Saturday night, head coach Dan Rolfe said that, right now, it’s not about trying to get a win, but simply trying to be competitive.
The Indians lost the week before by 43 points to Turner Ashby. The week before that, Broadway beat Fort 38-20, one week after Lord Botetourt blanked Fort while hanging 77 points on the Indians. It hasn’t been pretty.
“You can feel it in games, you can sense it, once that first thing happens, the shoulders go down and we’ve always preached and talked about ‘bad things are going to happen, it’s how you respond to that,’” said Rolfe. “Right now, once that first thing happens we expect it to happen again and then again and again.”
Fort had some positive moments Saturday, including what appeared at times to be a solid rushing attack, but turnovers crushed them. Fort committed six, including five in the first half.
“When you put the ball on the ground you’re not going to have a shot to win a lot of games,” said Rolfe. “That’s the frustrating part as a coach.”
As the losses pile up for Fort Defiance, how difficult is it for players to continue to get through practice and games every week?
“As someone who loves the sport, I say it’s not that hard,” said senior lineman Zach Boyers. “But it’s starting to get harder. And now that we’re three weeks left in the season, I’m trying to take every practice, one practice at a time just because this will be the last time I’ll ever play football.”
Compiled by Tom Jacobs. Sports writers Patrick Hite, Joe Pittman and Mark Griffin contributed to this story .