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September 18, 2010

Special teams keys No. 78 Hermitage's win

In a hard-fought battle testing the conditioning, poise and wills of each team, No. 79 Richmond (Va.) Hermitage prevailed over Richmond (Va.) Meadowbrook, 14-3, to move 2-0 on the season.

It was Meadowbrook's second-straight loss as the Monarchs fell to 0-2.

Game Keys

1. Defense plays to potential... The buzz around the Hermitage program since the end of last season has been centered on a defense that looked to rank among the best in the state anchored by DI prospects Curtis Grant, the No. 8-ranked player in the nation, and defensive end Diamonte Bailey (Virginia commit) who were being joined by a number of returning starters.

Facing a talented group of playmakers from Meadowbrook, Friday was surely going to be a test for the state's No. 4-ranked team and it's one that it passed with relative ease as, though the Monarchs pushed into Panthers territory a couple of times, the defense stiffened up keeping Meadowbrook from the end zone.

Though Meadowbrook running back Domico Phillips broke several runs, including a 57-yarder to the Hermitage 14-yard line on his team's first possession which led to a field goal, when coach Patrick Kane most needed a stop, the group rose to the occasion, led primarily by Grant at linebacker, Joquan Roney in the trenches and Justin Gist from the secondary.

2. Special teams... Trailing 3-0 at the half, Hermitage was in need of a spark and got two big plays from its special teams unit in a matter of minutes. Forcing Meadowbrook to punt deep in its own territory after punting on its first possession, Hermitage broke though the punt protection as junior Salvador Acosta made a diving block of the punt attempt then scrambled to his feet in time to scoop up the loose football.

However, on the next play, Daryl Irby picked off a Hermitage pass ending what was, at the time, Hermitage's best scoring opportunity.

The defense held again, forcing a three-and-out and the Hermitage special teams unit struck again. Attempting to field the punt at his own 43-yard line, Justin Gist muffed the punt but calmly scooped up the loose ball with Monarchs bearing down on him. Getting hit immediately after making the pick up, Gist slid away from tacklers and broke free up the right sideline where, two cuts later, he found nothing but open space and a posse of blue jerseys in front of him leading to a 57-yard scoring return and to the first lead of the contest for the Colonial District power.

3. Missed opportunities... When two quality teams meet, especially early in the season, games can get a little ugly as newcomers to Friday nights are still adjusting to the speed of the varsity game, offenses haven't quite figured out their timing and coaches are still searching for the right combination of personnel and formation packages.

Sometimes, quality programs do enough to force other quality schools into making enough mistakes that strange things happen.

A little of both happened in this game.

On the night, two possessions ended with missed field goals, three on failed fourth down conversions, six on punts, three on fumbles and one on an interception as both offenses were solid enough to piece together 20- and 30-yard drives, but neither defense was broken big. That changed, though, when a fourth quarter slant pass from Brendon Riddick to B.J. Clark went for 70 yards to the Monarchs' 5 yard line, leading to the one-yard touchdown run from Riddick that virtually sealed the victory with just over ten minutes to play.

Post-game interview with Hermitage head coach Patrick Kane

Top Performers

1. Curtis Grant, LB, Hermitage... With Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell in town to check out the All-American linebacker, Grant did not disappoint, notching 16 tackles by running sideline-to-sideline, stuffing rushes up the middle, overpowering blockers on some plays and running around them on others as the Panthers linebacker seemingly locked down his five-star status and solidified his standing as one of the top defensive players in the nation.

2. Justin Gist, DB / PR, Hermitage... His 57-yard punt return for a touchdown was the game's most electrifying play and signified the moment that the game turned in the Panthers favor as it seemed to light a spark under their collective seats. But, even without that play, the senior would have easily joined this list as his ability to fill the alley and send Monarch runners tumbling was on display on several plays as his pressure outside kept Meadowbrook bottled up.

3. Domico Phillips, RB, Meadowbrook... From his opening drive 57-yard run through the final whistle, Phillips, who picked up his first DI scholarship offer from Kent State earlier this week, gave the Hermitage defense fits as the senior ran hard, low and quickly both between the tackles and outside the hashes as a potential home run threat on every handoff. Though the Monarchs never hit paydirt, Phillips had the defense on its heels and tackling air on several runs, leaving a trail of players off balance. On the night, the workhorse back carried 34 times for 212 yards.

Photo Feature

School Time (Qtr) Scoring Play Game Score
MBK 7:01 (1) 24-yd field goal Briones 3-0
Herm 5:22 (3) 57-yd punt return Gist, PAT Steibel good 7-3
Herm 10:14 (4) Riddick 1-yd run, PAT Steibel good 14-3

Rod Johnson is the Football Editor for VirginiaPreps.com, the #1 High School site on the Rivals.com Network. He also co-hosts the VirginiaPreps.com Hour alongside Matthew Hatfield weekly every Saturday at 11 AM on ESPN Radio 94.1 FM in the Hampton Roads area. Rod can be reached via e-mail at vaprepsrod@cox.net or via Facebook.

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