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Lockdown secondary, short-field chances key Goochland football's 27-6 win over Armstrong
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Lockdown secondary, short-field chances key Goochland football's 27-6 win over Armstrong

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Defense

Goochland's Corey Mullins tackles Armstrong's ball carrier in a varsity football game at Armstrong High School on Sept. 17, 2021.

RICHMOND – Relentless defense and two high snaps on Armstrong’s two attempted first-quarter punts led to two first-half scores by Goochland’s offense, and the Bulldogs pulled away on a scoring burst in the final 6 minutes to deny the hosting Wildcats 27-6.

“It feels good - especially after two weeks ago, after the Collegiate loss, it feels good to bounce back after we put in a new offense,” said Goochland’s Derek Pierce, who caught a late-game interception and returned it a whopping 90 yards for a touchdown.

The Bulldogs’ secondary heavily enforced a no-fly zone whenever the Wildcats’ offense tried to go for big-play passes.

“It all comes with the practice – we practice every day as hard as we can,” Pierce said, “and then the results are here on Friday.”

Pierce with his fiery pick-six and Eyan Pace with a third-quarter interception near the end zone epitomized the lockdown play by the Bulldogs’ defensive backs.

“Give Armstrong a ton of credit, because they did a really good job coming in with a good offensive game plan," Goochland head coach Alex Fruth said while adding: "Our kids just responded well on that part of the field.”

Armstrong had a big chance to score early after Leonte Oulahi barreled all the way down to Goochland’s 14-yard line on a huge punt return early in the first quarter. But Goochland’s defense only allowed 2 yards on the drive before a delay-of-game penalty backed the Wildcats up to Goochland’s 17. Dylan Myers pressured the quarterback on an incomplete fourth-down pass that turned the ball back over to the Bulldogs’ offense.

Following another Goochland punt, Armstrong, starting on its 27, moved as far up as its own 31 due to a penalty against the Bulldogs and was subsequently held to a punt attempt. The snap flew too high, and while the punter managed to field it, he had to fall on the ball on the Wildcats’ 4 as Goochland’s Nik Cotner rushed in to check him.

A penalty against Armstrong halved the distance to the goal, and Jamason Pryor helped give his Bulldogs a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard touchdown run to the right.

The Wildcats finally broke through for a first down, but they were held to midfield with Pryor in the secondary denying a deep passing shot by the home team, forcing the punt.

“I think we got them out of what they wanted to do. They want to run the ball, and once they got out of their comfort zone and were willing to get out of their comfort zone, that’s a different game,” Fruth said. “They’re not going to be as efficient at what they want to do when they have to go to the things that they need to do.”

Armstrong had another high snap, and the punter was blown up in the backfield, with Goochland’s tackle giving the ball back to the Bulldogs’ offense on the Wildcats’ 33.

Gabe Liptak needed just two plays to cover the remaining distance to the end zone, as he broke a tackle and sprinted up the middle on a 27-yard tear to help increase his team’s advantage to 14-0.

Goochland’s defense bent on its next series – Armstrong moved the chains from its own 20 to the Bulldogs’ 34 – but it didn’t break. Corey Mullins led the way on a sack to make it 4th and 10 for Armstrong on the 39, and Justin Morton made the tackle to force a change of possession back to Goochland’s offense.

Aidan Allen defended another deep shot during the Wildcats’ next offensive series, which stalled out and led to yet another turnover on downs in the half.

Armstrong opened the third quarter on another steady march, but saw the series end on the pick by Pace. The Wildcats would go on to string together two long passes from quarterback Devon Cheatham to Oulahi to push the ball down to the Bulldogs’ 30, but proceeded to lose 15 yards as De’Andre Robinson dished out a 10-yard sack and Alex Rosenbaum wrapped up the ball carrier who recovered a botched snap for a loss on the next play.

But Oulahi converted the daunting first down on a zigzagging run down into the Bulldogs’ red zone, and Cheatham swept around the left side and into the end zone to put the Wildcats on the scoreboard in the early part of the fourth quarter. Armstrong’s extra-point attempt was blocked.

After Goochland punted again, the Bulldogs swarmed Armstrong’s ball carrier for a loss to force fourth down, and Pierce picked off the deep strike that followed.

From the 10-yard line, Pierce tore down the left-field sideline.

“I thought I had a lot of green, and then I’d seen two black jerseys coming towards me,” Pierce said, “so I cut back across the field – I’d seen I had a blocker over there.”

Pierce rumbled the rest of the way into the end zone for the pick-six.

A big loss on a fumble recovered by Armstrong on its next drive and a short punt gave the Bulldogs' offense the ball on another short-field opportunity, and Liptak capped the drive with an 11-yard slice up the middle for his second rushing touchdown of the night.

Goochland’s defense put the exclamation mark on its standout effort when it recovered a fumble with 1:30 left in the game.

The victory was a bounce-back effort by the Bulldogs, who were coming off of a bye week and a home loss to Collegiate the week before that. But the search continues for their identity on offense, which Fruth said they needed to find after the loss to the Cougars. The Bulldogs on Friday capitalized on their short-field situations, but struggled to move the ball downfield on the longer hikes.

“We’re still trying to figure ourselves out – we’ve made a lot of changes, we’ve got kids at different spots, and it shows,” Fruth said. “There’s going to be some things that we’re going to have to clean up and fix. The good thing is we’re going to have a lot of great film, we’ll be able to watch this, we’ll be able to break it out down, and it’s going to be a good learning experience for them.”

Tyler Black landed 3 of 4 point-after touchdown kicks.

“It boosts us a lot, honestly,” Pierce said of the win against Armstrong. “But we’re going to start back on Monday, start working for Western Albemarle.”

After they played at Albemarle in Charlottesville and hosted Orange County during the condensed 2020-21 season this spring, Goochland will officially begin Jefferson District regular-season play, beginning with this coming Friday’s home game versus Western at 7 p.m.

From here on out, Fruth expects that his team will have a “pretty good test” each and every week of district play.

“Everybody’s got some kind of weapon and some kid who’s probably as good as they get,” Fruth said. “We’ll have a pretty good challenge ahead of us.”

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