Thomas Dale junior linebacker Maddax Lee knelt and embraced sophomore quarterback Ethan Minter in the end zone before the Knights’ game Friday against visiting Henrico.
It was the first of many meaningful and emotional moments Minter would share with his teammates, coaches and family during Dale’s 46-13 win over the Warriors.
Minter’s father, Tony, died Tuesday from COVID-19.
“I told him that we were going to have a great game, that I loved him, he’s one of my best friends and that we were going to get it done for his father,” Lee said of the pregame moment.
Flowers and a Knights cap adorned Mr. Minter’s traditional seat in the stands throughout the game. Players and fans alike donned No. 12 decals and paint in honor of Mr. Minter, who wore No. 12 in his playing days. His son changed his number from 8 to 12 to honor his father. A moment of silence was held prior to kickoff.
Dale coach Kevin Tucker said his sophomore QB felt like he needed to be “with his football family” this week. So he came to practice Thursday and decided to play Friday in honor of his dad.
“This was the toughest week of my coaching career,” Tucker said when asked how he prepared young men to play football under such tragic circumstances.
“We’ve had a tough year, from having one of our players laying in a hospital bed to Mr. Minter falling ill. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve rallied around each other, reminded the kids that we’re a family and it’s more than just football. It’s the game of life.”
Minter is the offensive catalyst for the Knights (4-1, ranked No. 8 in The Times-Dispatch Top 10), and he played with an inspirational spirit Friday, carrying six times for 69 yards and two touchdowns while completing 5 of 9 passes for 63 yards and another score through the air.
“He was playing with a 12th man tonight,” Tucker said of his quarterback, adding that Mr. Minter was “like a dad” to many of the Knights’ players.
After Minter’s first touchdown run of the night, a 6-yard scamper up the middle on a read-option, receiver Kyon Turner and running back Jordan Branch led the rest of the Knights’ offense in a dash to embrace their quarterback.
Coaches and teammates followed suit throughout the night any chance they got, including after Minter’s second running score, his 5-yard touchdown toss to receiver Donovan Woods and his impromptu 2-point conversion after the snap for an extra point attempt went awry.
Dale plans to honor Mr. Minter throughout the remainder of its season.
“We’re playing with 12 guys on the field for the rest of the time,” Tucker said. “It’s something I think our kids are going to rally around for the remainder of the year.”
Lee was all over the field, leading the Knights with 15 tackles and adding a 5-yard reception and 9-yard carry at fullback.
As the third quarter kicked off, many of the 1,700 in attendance lit up the night sky with cell phone flashlights to honor Mr. Minter. The crowd let out an impassioned roar as the ball was kicked off, and the Dale student section went into a “We love Ethan” chant.
Lee said it was important for the Knights community to show Minter love and compassion through such gestures.
“It took a lot of guts for him to come out here and perform,” Lee said of Minter. “He felt like he had to do it to make [his father] proud.”
After the game’s conclusion, Minter shared one of the more meaningful embraces of the night, this one with his mother Catherine.
“I just want to thank the community for all their support, prayers and love,” Catherine Minter said. “This meant a lot to all of us.”
For Henrico (1-4), running back Corvin Wallace finished with a rugged 64 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Quarterback Sean Macon carried 17 times for 69 yards and a score.
On the Dale side, defensive back Zaquan Wallace put forth an MVP-caliber performance with a blocked punt and two interceptions, the second of which he returned 54 yards for a score. Running back Brandon Rose carried five times for 120 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown where he showed a lightning-quick burst through the hole after shedding a host of tackle attempts.
Henrico 0 6 0 7 — 13
Thomas Dale 7 21 15 3 — 46
TD — Branch 5 run (Rios kick)
TD — Minter 6 run (Rios kick)
Hen — Macon 10 run (kick failed)
TD — Minter 11 run (Rios kick)
TD — Woods 5 pass from Minter (Rios kick)
TD — Rose 75 run (Minter run)
TD — Wallace 54 interception return (Rios kick)
Hen — Wallace 7 run (Carlson kick)
TD — Rios 22 FG
Rushing: TD — Woods 1-10, Rose 5-120, Branch 8-57, Minter 6-69, Cotton 7-47, Lee 1-9, Tyree 1--2; Hen — Wallace 16-64, Macon 17-69, Hawkins 1-3, Peyton-Trapp 2-1, Scott 6-31, Sanders 3-15, Edwards 2-28.
Passing: TD — Minter 5-9-63-1-0; Hen — Hawkins 3-6-29-0-1, Macon 2-11-18-0-1.
Receiving: TD — Turner 2-43, Woods 2-15, Lee 1-5; Hen — Edwards 1-10, Sumler 2-25, Peyton-Trapp 2-12.
Shaban Athuman contributed to this report.