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Pair of proud programs paired in painful playoff

 

Fourteen times since the dawn of the new millennium, Malcolm Lewis’ Eagles have met Todd Jones’ Trojans on the field of battle.  Following last Saturday’s frigid regional final tilt in Tappahannock, the series is deadlocked at seven wins apiece.  Essex’s victory, which ran their unbeaten streak to 12 on the season, puts them in the state semi-finals against 11-1 Region B champion Gretna and marks their fifth consecutive victory in the series.  The Eagles have been a solid team lately, adding to the elite resume and storied history of a proud program by going 20-13 the last three years and twice making the playoffs. Over the same time, though, no team in the state has been more dominant than the boys in purple during the regular season, finishing 30 and 0, but they lack the state championship to validate those gaudy numbers.  The way they’re playing now, as evidenced by their outright dismantling of a strong Eagles squad, this could be the year that Coach Jones brings home the prize.
The word around Montross this summer was that W&L would have a down year.  “They might not be big, but they’re slow” [sic] was a favored quip.  Not true, apparently.  In a strong year for the Northern Neck district, the 9-3 Eagles battered opponent after opponent, rarely having a close game in their victories.  In fact, their only losses were to AA state-semifinalist James Monroe and Essex.  “I’m proud of our boys and proud of our season.  Essex has the better team this year and we would have had to play flawlessly and take away their big plays and they would have had to make some mistakes.” said a candid Coach Lewis.  None of these scenarios played out as Essex scored on a 70 yard pass play on the third play of the game, immediately stopped the Eagles on the ensuing drive, and followed up with a quick drive to go up 14-0 early and really never looked back.  
Coach Lewis: “I’ve always thought that Essex executes a few very basic plays exceptionally well and they do it from game one through the end of the season.  We try to keep developing our offense, innovating, and putting in new twists throughout the season, such that we get a bit more dangerous each week.  We also, though, run the risk of trying to do too much.”  Unfortunately, he did not get much of a chance to showcase his bag of tricks on Saturday because the rout was seemingly on by the end of the first quarter.  A diving DJ Brooks did catch a touchdown pass from Scott Taylor in the corner of the end zone to cut the lead to 14-7 early, but Essex answered with yet another touchdown on their next drive.  They padded their lead with another two touchdowns in the second quarter while continuing to stymie the frustrated Eagle offense.
So the Trojans head to their date with destiny in Pittsylvania County this week and the boys in blue and gold will switch to the hard wood or the wrestling mat for the winter.  Essex has won this round, and the last several rounds, but the rivalry, and the debate about which is the more storied program, continues. 

David Wilkerson

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