All season long, South County Coach Gerry Pannoni has nagged senior linebacker Oren Burks to block more kicks. Burks satisfied his coach and his teammates on Friday night by blocking a punt that set up the Stallions’ winning touchdown in a 19-14 victory at Madison in the Virginia AAA Northern Region Division 5 playoffs.
Burks blocked a field goal in the first half and a punt in the second, the latter of which junior Michael Gibson recovered to give the Stallions the ball at the Madison 10-yard line midway through the fourth quarter.
“Coach Pannoni is always on me about blocking punts and says if I put my mind to it I can do anything,” said Burks, a Vanderbilt recruit. “We’ve been working on it all week.
“It’s getting off the ball fast and low, that’s the key, and get your hand out shooting from the hip. It wasn’t clear [that I could block it]. I was just going 100 percent. You never know what’s going to happen.”
That goes for blocked punts and salvaged seasons. The Stallions (6-5) lost five of their first six games before concluding the regular season with a four-game winning streak that stretched to five Friday. South County will travel to No. 14 Yorktown (11-0), which beat Jefferson 37-7, in a region semifinal next week.
Pannoni takes particular pride in his special teams and has designated punt-blockers and designated scoop-and-score guys. Before the game, he watched Madison senior punter Nick Dorka and took note of his timing and kicking points.
“All our blocks are designed for [Burks], basically,” said Pannoni, whose team reached the Division 5 championship last season. “We work it real hard. That’s one of the things I take pride in, making sure our special teams can do some special things.”
The special teams highlights went beyond Burks’s blocked punt. He and junior Mikail Vinson blocked field goals in the first half, junior Christian Alvarado kicked 33- and 26-yard field goals and an Alvarado kickoff trickled dead at the 1-yard line, where a Madison return man had to hastily pick it up to avoid a South County recovery.
In addition, Madison snapped the ball over the punter’s head for a 38-yard loss that set up one of Alvarado’s field goals.
South County senior Aaron Jackson also turned in a key defensive play in the third quarter when he made a diving interception in the end zone to thwart what could have been an 89-yard touchdown drive.
Madison (8-3), which led 14-9 at halftime and entering the fourth quarter, had a field goal blocked and threw an interception on its first two possessions of the game. After South County sophomore Gerald Hulett picked off the pass, the Stallions drove 68 yards and settled for a 33-yard field goal by Alvarado.
Madison had another chance to score early in the second quarter when senior Mitchell Goddard intercepted a bobbled pass to give his team possession at the South County 31. South County blocked another field goal to retain the lead, and four plays later Symmes heaved an 82-yard touchdown pass to Jackson for a 9-0 lead.
Later in the second period, Madison drove 75 yards for a touchdown, the key play being a 36-yard end-around by sophomore receiver Nate Williams. Four plays after that, Goddard connected with senior Tom House for a five-yard touchdown pass.
Goddard and House would hook up again with 23 seconds left in the half. On third down from the South County 4-yard line, Goddard pump-faked to House, rolled to his right as if to run and then fired to House in the end zone.