Heritage of Lynchburg came into last night's Northwest Region title game at Potomac with its heralded backfield of J.T. Morris and Chris Parker, who between them had rushed more than 3,000 yards.
But as it has all season, Potomac's defense answered the challenge and with John Newsom gaining 112 tough yards the Panthers claimed a 14-3 victory, beating Heritage for the second straight year for the Virginia AAA Northwest Region, Division 5 championship.
Fourth-ranked Potomac (12-0) advances to next week's state semifinal game against the Central Region champion, which will be determined today when Huguenot plays Varina. The Central Region champion will host the semifinal.
This game matched strength against strength: Potomac has been tough to run on all year and Heritage had little trouble running against anybody. But the Pioneers (11-1) met their match this night. In fact, the Pioneers resorted to the pass as they threw 16 last night after throwing only 47 in 10 regular season games.
"It's a great compliment to our defense that they felt they had to throw that much," said Potomac Coach Bill Brown.
"On film we saw they would only throw four or five times per game," said defensive end Matt Morrell. "But they surprised us and caught us off guard."
And it was the Pioneers' passing that put them in position to score. Quarterback Troy McCoy connected on passes of 11 yards to Tyrone Tyree and 16 to Andre Poindexter, which moved the Pioneers to the Potomac 12 midway through the second quarter.
Parker (11 carries, 39 yards) ran eight yards to the 4 but was stopped for no gain on the next play. Morris (18 carries, 84 yards) got to the 3 and Adam New came in to kick a 21-yard field goal for a Heritage lead.
"That was a good lift for us," said Morrell. "With two great backs to look for you have to play good technique and always keep your head in the game. All year our defense has been the mental, emotional leader and we felt that way tonight."
Potomac took advantage of a huge break late in the quarter. Linsay Horne got off a booming 53-yard punt that Dale Jones tried to field with his back to the play. He dropped the ball, picked it up and broke a tackle before once again losing the ball with Potomac's Kevin McAfee recovering at the Pioneers 27.
Seven plays later Newsom just got into the end zone from one yard and, after Sal Colangelo converted, it was 7-3 Potomac at halftime.
Heritage controlled the third quarter, running 20 plays to Potomac's 6. But the Pioneers couldn't score and the Panthers maintained their edge. It wasn't easy.
Potomac took over on downs after stopping the Pioneers at the Panthers 25 early in the quarter. The Pioneers then recovered a fumbled punt and had first down at the Potomac 23. But on third down as Morris was lunging for a first down, he fumbled and Keith McAfee recovered.
On the Pioneers' next possession they were faced with fourth and two at midfield and Morris gained only one and Potomac took possession.
"Some of our guys go both ways and after that fumble we brought our excitement and intensity to offense on the next series," Morrell said.
And five minutes later, the Panthers had added to their lead. Quarterback Gilbert Telleria made the key play of the drive when he faked an option and dropped back to pass. A defender stepped in his path so Telleria bounced to the left sideline and gained 24 yards to the Pioneers 17. Six plays later Newsom again scored from the 1 with 6:29 to play.
Morrell sacked McCoy on the next Heritage series. The Pioneers gave up the ball on downs with 4:05 left and Potomac ran out the clock.