DEFIANCE - Judging by the 41-6 score in Patrick Henry's victory over Wayne Trace in last night's Division V regional semifinal at Brown Stadium, it would seem things are back to normal for the Patriots.
Truth is, the victory was normal - with an asterisk.
Things were normal in that Patrick Henry relied on its big-play offense to improve to 12-0. The Patriots racked up 438 yards of total offense on just 44 plays. What's more, PH scored 21 points in the third quarter despite running just six plays in the period.
"They've been in this position quite a few times, and they're going to make big plays," Wayne Trace coach Bill Speller said. "They've made big plays all year long, so that shouldn't surprise anybody."
But an asterisk was appropriate for the number of opportunities the Raiders had to stay in the contest and possibly stay close to Patrick Henry. Wayne Trace never could come up with the big play and instead saw the school's best-ever season end at 11-1.
The Patriots struck first as Brian Yarnell took the opening kickoff and brought it back 75 yards before getting knocked out of bounds at the Raiders' 4. Two plays later, Drew Kuesel scored and PH had a 7-0 lead.
Wayne Trace seemed poised to strike back midway through the period when it drove down to the shadow of the PH end zone. But with their backs to the walls, the Patriots made three straight stops inside the 2-yard line to deny the Raiders the score.
"That was big," PH coach Bill Inselmann said. "That took a lot of wind out of their sails, and it gave our defense confidence.[Playing] defense is about passion, and if you get confidence and play harder it helps."
On one of those plays it looked as if Raiders quarterback Nathan Davis squirmed into the end zone, but that became just the first of several PH breaks that eventually buried Wayne Trace. Two second-quarter drops, including one by a wide-open receiver behind the Patrick Henry defense, further stifled the Raider offense.
"We felt Nate was in the end zone and the score should be 7-7, but the break didn't go our way," Speller said. "We dropped a touchdown pass, break didn't go our way. There are a lot of 'ifs,' but the bottom line is they made more plays, they're a heck of a ball team, and they're moving on."
Patrick Henry took a 14-0 lead when Marc Krauss got behind the Raider defense and hauled in a 38-yard scoring strike from Zack George with 5:04 left in the first half.
In the third quarter Patrick Henry had the ball just 1:22, yet scored three times to break the game open. On the Patriots' first play of the period George threw a sideline pass to Brad Leonard, who broke free thanks to several fine blocks and rambled 87 yards for the score.
On the second play of his team's next possession George found Leonard alone over the middle and hit him for a 59-yard TD strike. Then Kyle Brubaker intercepted a Wayne Trace pass and returned it to the Raiders' 1, setting up a one-yard touchdown plunge by Josh Strub.
That gave PH 21 points in the third quarter against a team that had allowed just six in that period in its 11 previous games.
"They had some good coverages, and they have some good players in the secondary," said George, who completed 9-of-19 passes for 326 yards and set a school record for TD passes in a season with 34. "But I tried to put the ball where my receivers could make a play. I thought I did a decent job of that, but my receivers really picked it up."
The victory gets another asterisk because Wayne Trace's star running back, Lance Sinn, was held out on offense. Sinn, who finished with 1,500 rushing yards this season, suffered a shoulder injury last week. He practiced sparingly this week and had just two carries for five yards but did play on defense.
"[Not having Sinn] hurt them more in their unbalanced formation because he's their go-to guy in the 'I' backfield," Inselmann said. "Any time you don't have a main cog in your machine, it's going to hurt you."
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