Two teams headed off in separate directions Friday night following a well-mannered handshake line filled with several variations of “atta boy” and “good luck.” The Patriot High School football team gathered in the end zone around head coach Sean Finnerty to lick its wounds, in no apparent hurry to leave the field they called home the last four months and one they won’t occupy again for another eight.
Colonial Forge, meanwhile, formed a single-file line and marched straight out of the stadium and into the locker room, eager to celebrate and start thinking about next week’s game-plan.
Forge used a balanced offensive attack and a critical goal-line stand late in the third quarter to defeat the host Pioneers 42-21 in the Class 6, Region B semifinals. The third-seeded Eagles (10-2) will host fourth-seeded Massaponax next weekend for the regional championship and a coveted spot in the final four of the largest classification of high school football teams in the Commonwealth. Massaponax lugged its triple-option offense to Woodbridge on Friday night and slayed mighty Freedom with a field goal as time expired, 45-42.
“The competitor in me always wants [the rematch],” Colonial Forge senior quarterback Madden Lowe said, referring to a so-much-for-that sequel against Freedom, which defeated the Eagles back in September with a game-winning field goal of its own. “We’ll play whoever they put in front of us.”
That team was Patriot on Friday night, but the Pioneers offered little resistance against a Forge offense featuring a quartet of running backs that churned out 299 yards to go along with Lowe’s 148 passing yards. Lowe was brilliant, missing just three times on 16 throws that rarely sailed more than 10 yards in the air before finding a safe landing in a receiver’s hands.
“That’s what they like to do,” Finnerty said of Forge’s quick-passing attack. “We were trying to do some different things defensively to keep them guessing, but that kid is a phenomenal quarterback, and they have some great guys to throw to.”
Unfortunately for Finnerty and his upstart Pioneers, Forge had some great backs to hand it to as well, none more effective than senior Max Kauthen. The 6-foot, 225-pounder gained 182 yards on just 15 carries with two touchdowns, the latter of which put the game out of reach following a goal-line stand in the third quarter by the Forge defense.
Patriot, trailing 28-14 at the halfway point of the third, embarked on a 76-yard journey that included 50 from senior tailback Tim Baldwin. The Pioneers had a first-and-goal from the 2 and their eyes set on trimming the deficit to just seven. Baldwin, however, was on the sideline after one of his cleats popped off his foot two plays earlier. An injured hand prevented Baldwin from putting it back on himself, so he rushed to the sidelines for assistance.
“That was the worst feeling in the world,” Baldwin said.
It got worse from there. Backup running back Keith Jenkins was thrown for a four-yard loss on first down, pushing the ball back to the 6. Baldwin, wearing both cleats, raced back onto the field and gained a single yard on second down, setting up third-and-goal from the 5.
Baldwin was Patriot’s workhorse Friday night and finished with a season-high 237 yards and three touchdowns (one receiving) despite running behind an offensive line missing three starters. Patriot’s passing game never found its groove, forcing Baldwin into 28 bruising carries, none of which, curiously, came on the next two plays.
Patriot quarterback Cody Rogers misfired on a slant pass to Tyler Settle on third-and-goal. Rogers rolled right on fourth down, and his throw to Baldwin landed a foot short, skipping on the turf and rolling out of bounds, ending a 14-play drive with 32 seconds left in the quarter.
“The plays were there,” Baldwin said. “Great calls. We just didn’t execute.”
Finnerty said Forge’s defensive alignment, clearly aimed at stopping Baldwin, presented an opportunity to pass the ball. He smiled when asked if he considered giving the ball to Baldwin anyway.
“I can always second guess not giving the ball to Tim Baldwin,” he said.
Forge covered 95 yards on the ensuing drive in just 10 plays, six of which ended with the ball in Kauthen’s hands on runs of 40, 3, 6, 4, 5, and 5. His final run put Forge ahead 35-14 with a little under 8 minutes to go in the game. Forge’s 299 yards rushing, which Finnerty blamed on poor tackling, were 102 yards more than its already gaudy season average."
“If we want to win a championship, we have to run the ball,” said Forge receiver Elijah Sarratt, who caught five passes for 55 yards.
Patriot’s dream of playing in its first-ever regional final ended Friday night, but only after reeling off a school-record nine-straight wins and winning 10 games in a season for the first time in school history. Baldwin transferred to the Nokesville school after back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at Broad Run and finished his senior season with 1,604 yards and 25 touchdowns. His two rushing touchdowns Friday represented half of the total Forge surrendered all season.
Baldwin, who said he hurt “all over” after the game, credited his senior class with helping alter the trajectory of the school’s football program under Finnerty, who completed his first year after seven as the head coach at Liberty-Bealeton just a few miles down the road.
“We changed the culture,” he said. “They’ve been around mediocrity in the past, no shade to anyone. They didn’t play to their potential. We set the bar high, and it’ll make everybody elevate, not just on the field, but character-wise. They attack everything with a winning attitude, on the field and in life.”
Forge, 3-0 all-time against Patriot, filled its regular-season schedule with two powerhouse programs in Freedom and four-time defending Class 5 champion Highland Springs. The Eagles who lost both of those games, are playing like a team with no regrets.
“It’s the playoffs,” Lowe said. “It’s a different atmosphere.”
Eagles 42, Pioneers 21
Colonial Forge 7 7 14 14 – 42
Patriot 7 0 7 7 – 21
P: Baldwin 35 run (Cotter kick), 2:05
CF: Sarratt 80 kickoff return (Lowe kick), 1:52
CF: Barnett 6 run (Lowe kick), 5:49
CF: Bills 22 pass from Lowe (conversion failed), 9:44
P: Baldwin 61 run (Cotter kick), 8:12
CF: Kauthen 39 run (conversion good), 6:17
CF: Kauthen 5 run (Lowe kick), 7:55
P: Baldwin 17 pass from Rogers (Cotter kick), 4:11
CF: Johnson 9 run (Lowe kick), 2:22
RUSHING – Colonial Forge: Black 6-31, Kauthen 15-182, Lowe 5-12, Barrett 4-65, Lee 1-0, Johnson 1-9. Patriot: Baldwin 28-237, Rogers 12-18, Bigbee 1-1, Jenkins 2-1.
PASSING – Colonial Forge: Lowe 13-16-0 148. Patriot: Rogers 13-25-0 109.
RECEIVING – Colonial Forge: Sarratt 5-55, Johnson-Edmonds 3-38, Bills 3-33, Palmer 2-22. Patriot: Stroman 2-16, Settle 1-13, Bigbee 4-26, Lucy 2-23, Baldwin 3-31.