Matoaca picked up a key Central District win against Chesterfield County rival Thomas Dale on Friday night, grabbing an early lead that set the tone for a 21-14 victory.
In a game made up of sprints and full stops, both teams’ defenses stood out — and it’s an experience Warriors coach Jay Parker hopes his team, ranked 10th in The Times-Dispatch Top 10, will build on.
“Our defense grew up today,” Parker said. “It wasn’t the cleanest game for us, and obviously we’re going to keep working and keep working, but at the end of the day, a win is a win, especially against a top-ranked team in the region.”
The Knights (2-1), ranked third, opened the scoring with a 55-yard carry from sophomore quarterback Ethan Minter setting up running back Jordan Branch up for an easy jog into the end zone.
But when the kickoff landed in the arms of Warriors wide receiver Riley Simmons, the home team was unable to keep him from making the 80-yard dash to even the score.
Then, to end the first period, Quentin Johnson maneuvered for another long run to give Matoaca (4-0) a lead that would hold for most of the game.
Johnson’s 132 yards in 20 carries stood out in a defensively smothering game. He and Cameron Johnson have driven Matoaca’s running game this season.
“Those guys are grown men,” Parker said. “I don’t think people believe me until they see it, but they do an excellent job in running the football hard. They’re physical guys and they work hard for each other.”
Neither team made much offensive progress in the middle frames. Malachi Cook, Jaedin Lee and Marcus King each had five tackles for the Warriors, while the Knights were led by Stephon Hicks with eight.
The fourth quarter saw a return to action with both Minter and Cameron Johnson — after King’s attempt was called short — running for a score.
But when the Knights failed to convert on a drive in the final minute of the game, the score held in the Warriors’ favor.
Matoaca’s win broke Thomas Dale’s undefeated streak to start the season and a five-game losing streak for the Warriors against the Knights dating to 2015.
“Don’t take anything away from Matoaca, they had a great game plan offensively and they hurt us with some things early in the game,” said Thomas Dale coach Kevin Tucker.
Thomas Dale returned to practice Monday after a two-week pause due to COVID protocols. Much of its defensive lineup had never started a game before, but it was the familiar lineup of its offensive skill players that failed to find traction.
Minter threw two interceptions while going 9 of 16 for 86 yards. The Knights also handed Matoaca two fumbles.
Tucker said that, while he was proud of the players who stepped up Friday night, he could see that his team was rusty and not as engaged physically.
“I thought the X’s and O’s we’d be fine on,” Tucker said. “It was the physical part — are we going to turn the ball over, are we going to be secure — that we didn’t do that tonight. When you have four turnovers it’s hard to beat anybody, and tonight that showed.”
The Knights should return more players from protocol ahead of its away game against Prince George on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Warriors will host No. 4 Dinwiddie, another program getting back into the swing of the season following COVID issues.
“This win should make us hungry,” Parker said. “It should keep us hungry, keep us fighting, keep us looking on to the next game. We don’t take anything for granted. It’s hard to win high school football games, especially against really good teams.”
Matoaca 14 0 0 7 — 21
Thomas Dale 7 0 0 7 — 14
TD — Branch 4 run (Rios kick)
Mat — Simmons 80 kickoff return (Gates kick)
Mat — Q. Johnson 44 run (Gates kick)
Mat — C. Johnson 1 run (Gates kick)
TD — Minter 1 run (Rios kick)
RUSHING — Mat: Quentin Johnson 20-132, David Field 9-66, Cameron Johnson 5-18, Riley Simmons 1-1; TD: Brandon Rose 11-83, Ethan Minter 11-75, Jordan Branch 8-25, Nicholas Tyree 1-2
PASSING — Mat: David Field 4-11-28; TD: Ethan Milter 9-16-86-2
RECEIVING — Mat: Marcus King 2-18, Paul Lewis 1-10; Cameron Johnson 1-0; TD: Kyon Turner 3-52, Bryce Yates 1-16, Jon Gates 2-10, Riley Simmons 3-8