Saints march in, sending Panthers back to basics

Freshman quarterback Dylan Hitt consults with Rappahannock High School head coach Terrence Johnson during a timeout. Photo by Christine Krapf.

As he showed the game film from Friday night’s contest with St. John the Baptist of Front Royal, Rappahannock County head football coach Terrence Johnson kept repeating one word.

Fundamentals.

“I truly believe that we are better than every team that we have faced so far,” Johnson said. “It’s a block missed here or there. We just forget about our fundamentals. If the kids play our system, we are going to win. We could be 3-0.”

The Saints took advantage of those mistakes as fullback Joe McMahon rushed for 215 yards and three touchdowns in a 40-0 win to spoil the Panthers’ home opener in front of a record crowd under the lights on Sept. 10.

McMahon scored on runs of 28, 70 and 97 yards. Alex Puray had 95 yards rushing and caught a four-yard scoring pass from quarterback Tony Bergida.

St. John led, 28-0, at halftime.

Rappahannock County has this week off, and the break in the schedule could not have come at a better time, Johnson said.
“We’re going back to fundamentals,” he said. “It’s going to be Day One all over again.”

Assistant coach Justin Maffei agreed.

“We still believe in these kids,” he added. “They need to believe in themselves. We have a plan, and it’s going to make this team successful.”

At times, the Panthers looked strong. Early in the game, the defense stopped the Saints on their first drive and forced a punt. But a fumble gave St. John’s the ball deep in Rappahannock territory and set up McMahon’s 28-yard run early in the first quarter.

A bad snap on a punt led to Bergida’s three-yard run and a 12-0 lead.

Rappahannock County’s offense, behind quarterback Dylan Hitt, mounted a nice drive, moving the ball from its 32 to the St. John’s 30 early in the second quarter before the Saints took over on downs.

Johnson and Maffei praised the play of senior tackle David Williams and junior guard Smith Clifton on the drive.

“David had a great game for us. He did a nice job with his blocking,” Maffei said. “Smith, it was his first week as a lineman.” He usually plays tight end. “But he learned a new position this week, and he did an adequate job for us,” Maffei added.

Clifton moved to a lineman’s spot, as the Panthers were without senior D’Angelo Robinson.

Hitt started at quarterback, as senior quarterback Matt Fletcher has been hobbled by a bad ankle.

The Saints, after taking over on downs, got a second run from McMahon. Bergida’s touchdown pass to Puray, along with back-to-back, two-point conversion, gave St. John a big halftime lead.

McMahon scored on a 97-yard run and Charlie Price had a 55-yard dash in the second half to close out the Saints’ scoring.

Rappahannock County missed an excellent chance to get on the board as the fourth quarter opened. Senior linebacker Cody Casey picked off a Bergida pass and returned it 30 yards to the St. John 28.

Junior Tim Ridgeway (88) is tripped up trying to return a kickoff in the first half. Photo by Christine Krapf.

On the first play from scrimmage, freshman fullback Billy Hogan rambled down to the 15 for the first down. Two plays later, the Panthers found themselves on the Saints’ six-yard line as the third quarter ended.

Maffei called a time out after Hogan’s first-down run to offer his Panthers a word of encouragement.

“I told them that we will score if you want it,” he said.

But the St. John defense tightened.

The Saints later took over on downs, ending Rappahannock County’s biggest scoring chance of the evening.

Playing the game without Robinson and a majority of the contest without Fletcher definitely hurt the Panthers, Johnson said. The two seniors start on both offense and defense.

Robinson is also the long snapper for punts and field goals.

The two should be in uniform and ready to play when the Panthers host Southern Garrett (Md.) on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.

“It’s good we are off,” Johnson said. “We’re banged up, and we need to get healthy. We don’t need to hit each other today. We need to heal.”

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