JAMES CITY – Friday was not a great night defensively for Lafayette High's football team, but the Rams made up for it by repeatedly forcing turnovers and making big stops. None was bigger than cornerback Marcus Paige's interception at his own 3-yardline with three seconds left in the game, clinching the Rams' 28-20 win over visiting Brunswick County.
Paige's pick pretty much summed up a game in which the Rams (1-0) allowed 368 yards but forced five turnovers. Brunswick (0-1) had driven from its own 8 to the Lafayette 13 in a drive that began with 2:27 remaining, before quarterback Javonte Green's pass sailed over the arms of his intended receiver and into the hands of Paige.
"It felt great to seal the victory."
The pattern was established early as Rams forged a 14-6 halftime lead behind a time-consuming running game and a bend-but-mostly-don't-break defense that produced two big plays. Junior lineman Matt Nesselrodt had a hand in both of the defense's biggest plays of the first half.
After driving from their own 10 to the Rams 35 behind the rushing of quick backs Alan Smith and Andre Morgan, the Bulldogs attempted to go to air on second-and-14. But Nesselrodt wrestled Green into an errant desperation pass that Damien Robinson picked out of the air and returned 45 yards for a touchdown to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.
Morgan's running spearheaded another Brunswick drive, inside the Rams 30, on the Bulldogs next possession. Nesselrodt ended the march by stopping Morgan five yards short of a first down on a fourth-and-7 at the 25.
The Rams rode that momentum on a six-play 75-yard drive sparked by runs of 31 and 13 yards by Brandon Jones (14 carries, 123 yards), and a 19-yard scamper around the left corner by Rodney Taylor. Will Capers (20 carries, 123 yards) capped the drive by bowling over a defender en route to an 8-yard touchdown run that gave the Rams a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Brunswick's second pass attempt of the game went much better than the first, as Green connected with wide-open Donald Hardy (four receptions, 125 yards) on a fly pattern for a 57-yard touchdown that made it 14-6. The score remained that way as Rams linebacker Josh Beska tackled Morgan short of the goal line on the two-point conversion rushing attempt.
Linebacker Matt Rogers had two key fumble recoveries for the Rams in the third quarter. The first, at the Brunswick 23 led to quarterback Connor McGinty's 2-yard touchdown run that increased the Lafayette lead to 21-6. The second ended a Brunswick drive that had advanced to the Lafayette 8.
Green and Hardy connected on a 30-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to cut the Lafayette lead to 21-14. But Capers' 47-yard kickoff return set the stage for McGinty's 14-yard touchdown run pushed Lafayette's lead to 28-14 with 8:26 to play.
Green's 20-yard touchdown run pulled the Bulldogs back to within 28-20 with 5:46 remaining. But the Rams clinched the game by forcing Green into two more turnovers, a fumble and Paige's game-deciding interception.
"We played a very good football team and they brought out the fact that we aren't good in space defensively," Lafayette coach Paul Wheeler said. "But the kids hung in there and made some big plays."
LAFAYETTE 28, BRUNSWICK CO. 20
Brunwick 0 6 0 14 – 20
Lafayette 7 7 7 7 – 28
Laf – Robinson 45 intercepton return (Vaught kick)
Laf – Capers 8 run (Vaught kick)
Bwk – D. Hardy 57 pass from Green (run failed)