They say revenge is a dish best served cold.
So it was unseasonably yet fittingly in the low 40s Friday night at Varina when the No. 5 Blue Devils hosted No. 1 Highland Springs. A long 497 days had passed since Varina ended the Springers’ streak of 40 straight wins and four consecutive state titles with an upset in the 2019 Class 5, Region B semifinal.
The wait for redemption was long, but the payoff oh so sweet. Jordan Jackson carried 19 times for 176 yards and a touchdown, Jamareeh Jones had a late interception to seal the deal and Highland Springs exacted revenge on its East End rival with a 17-7 win at Varina.
Jones, a Boston College recruit, was in tears after the game. He threw the last of four interceptions at the end of Varina’s 2019 win, and came full circle with the late pick this time around.
“Get back,” Jones said when asked what caused the emotion. “It was the reverse of what happened two years ago. I threw the pick, sealed the game for them, this year I caught the pick and I called game. ... I wasn’t losing to them again my senior year.”
Jackson said he called game too, on a 48-yard touchdown carry down the left sideline in the fourth quarter, just after Varina had cut the deficit to 10-7 on a 7-yard TD plunge by Jailin Walker with 5:24 to play.
Jackson runs with a chip on his shoulder, and got progressively harder to bring down in the game’s latter stages.
“I knew what I had to do, all game they were pinching inside,” he said, describing the touchdown run that he bounced to the outside. “So I knew if they go inside, I got Mike [Hodge] on the outside to block. And that’s touchdown. ... Once it gets late into the game, it’s real hard to stop me.”
Springers coach Loren Johnson said the game had a playoff atmosphere.
Each side of the stands was mostly full in accordance with loosening coronavirus restrictions that began this month. Cowbells rang, horns blared, feet stomped on bleachers and fans oohd and aahd in unison at big hits.
It was one of many games this weekend featuring an environment as close to normal as the Richmond football scene has experienced since the end of the 2019 season.
“Any time you’re playing Varina, it’s going to be a ball game,” Johnson said. “These kids hang out together, they know each other, they grew up together. So it’s one of those neighborhood rivalries that always is going to be a barn burner, always going to be a dogfight and come down to the end.”
The Springers never trailed, but a stout Varina defense kept the Blue Devils in it until Jackson’s touchdown.
Highland Springs quarterback Juwan Dent completed a 60-yard bomb on the first play of the second quarter to explosive receiver Quanye Veney.
Veney was dragged down at the 1-yard line, then Dent punched it in on a keeper to give the Springers a 7-0 lead. They added a Jayden Alsheskie field goal to go into the break up 10-0.
The Springers marched to the Varina 20 to open the second half, but the Blue Devils defense stood tall and forced a turnover on downs. Varina harnessed the momentum to drive down to the Highland Springs red zone, but a costly drop caused them to commit their own turnover on downs.
It was one of a few missed opportunities for the Varina offense Walker had two long touchdown receptions called back, the first for a hold, and the second on a block in the back. The Blue Devils defense also dropped a sure-fire pick 6 shortly before halftime.
Varina had just four plays that netted more than 10 yards, and none over 30. A disruptive Highland Springs defense, led by Oklahoma recruits Damond Harmon (CB) and Kelvin Gilliam (DE), held the Blue Devils to 157 yards of offense (81 rushing, 76 passing).
The Springers have now held five of six opponents to under 10 points this season. Johnson credited the dominance to his defensive coaching staff.
“Everybody that helps on that side of the ball does a phenomenal job,” he said. “Without those guys, we don’t have Highland Springs football.”
Though the Springers controlled the action most of the way, the Varina side of the stands erupted with sudden hope after Quincy Jefferson picked off Dent early in the fourth.
On the ensuing drive, quarterback Bobby Dunn found receiver Isaiah Kidd on the left sideline. Kidd put the moves on a couple defenders to get down to the red zone and set up Walker’s touchdown.
Suddenly, it was a 10-7 game with a little more than five minutes to play. But Jackson put the nail in Varina’s coffin a few plays later.
The Blue Devils (4-2) are eliminated from playoff contention with the loss. The Springers (6-0) clinch a spot in the 5B playoff field, along with Hermitage (6-0), Manchester (5-1) and Prince George (5-1).
“I don’t know where we’ll be seeded, but we get a chance to continue playing,” Johnson said. “And I hope the weather warms up for us.”
Highland Springs 0 10 0 7 — 17
Varina 0 0 0 7 — 7
HS — Dent 1 run (Alsheskie kick)
HS — Alsheskie 24 FG
VAR — Walker 7 run (Owusu kick)
HS — Jackson 48 run (Alsheskie kick)
Passing: HS: Juwan Dent 4-8-83-1; Jamareeh Jones 1-1-6-0; VAR: Bobby Dunn 6-16-76-1.
Rushing: HS: Jordan Jackson 19-176; Juwan Dent 8-21; Jamareeh Jones 5-26; Khaliyl Nasir 1-0; VAR: Jailin Walker 14-41; Isaiah Kidd 1-1; Bobby Dunn 11-31; Tae’mon Brown 1-6; Kenneth Lowery 2-2; Curtis Green 1-0.
Receiving: HS: Quanye Veney 2-61; Michael Hodge 1-4; Jabari Parker 1-6; Takye Heath 1-18; VAR: Tyrell Harris 1-5; Carlo Thompson 1-26; Tae’mon Brown 1-5; Jailin Walker 2-24; Isaiah Kidd 1-16.