The Stonewall Jackson football team gathered at the 20-yard line after Friday night’s game at Gar-Field, took a knee, and awaited the arrival of head coach Carroll Walker.
As Walker made his way toward his huddled players, a few of them glanced to the other end of the field for one more look at the final score. One player sighed when he realized the scoreboard had already been turned off.
That disappointment played right into Walker’s message following the Raiders’ 41-7 win. He’d rather his players not focus on Friday’s score.
“First-game jitters,” he said as he began his post-game address. “Not bad, but not good enough.”
Generally, a 41-7 season-opening victory – on the road, no less – is more than enough to get a bunch of teenaged football players excited.
Not this bunch. Not this year.
“We had too many mistakes,” said junior defensive lineman Tyleik Williams, despite sacking Gar-Field quarterback Bishop Fitzgerald three times. “We just expect better.”
Since going winless in 2015, the Raiders have gotten progressively better, winning twice in 2016, three times in 2017, and five times last year, a season that ended with a first-round playoff defeat to Centreville.
The bar has been raised for 2019.
“We’re trying to get to states,” Williams said. “We’ve had a couple down years, but we’re on the path to get better.”
Playing into December will require a better effort than the one the Raiders put forth Friday night, but 1-0 certainly feels better than 0-1. Even if it wasn’t perfect.
The defense recorded eight sacks…but the offense turned the ball over three times (twice on downs).
The offense rolled up nearly 400 yards of offense…but the Raiders committed 10 penalties.
Not bad, but not good enough.
“I’m just like the kids,” Walker admitted. “I had some play-calling jitters, too. We were nervous, but we need to work the kinks out.”
Junior quarterback Toviel Jung completed 9 of 13 passes for 169 yards and one touchdown, an 86-yard spiral that hit receiver Khalid Shabazz-Williams perfectly in stride early in the second quarter to break a 7-7 tie.
Jung played most of the game, but alternated a bit with Potomac transfer Dashon Reeves, who provided more of a running threat. Reeves, however, did throw two touchdown passes, including a 7-yard strike to Elijah Reese in the final minute of the third quarter to extend the lead to 34-7.
Fitzgerald, Gar-Field’s signal-caller, didn’t enjoy such moments. He scored the Indians’ only touchdown on a 1-yard run in the first quarter, but the junior was harassed all night long by Stonewall Jackson’s front seven.
Gar-Field finished with 15 plays that went for negative yardage. If it wasn’t Williams or senior defensive tackle Amir Lewis flushing Fitzgerald from the pocket, it was linebackers Shawn Murphy and Amari Wofford chasing him sideline-to-sideline.
“That’s really important,” Williams said of the Raiders’ defensive pressure. “The game revolves around us. If we don’t do well, the team won’t excel.”
Fitzgerald averaged a little more than 2 yards on his 18 carries and was forced into several passes under duress, completing just 9 of 20 throws.
Gar-Field was fresh off a 41-14 thumping of Justice last week – the school’s first season-opening win since 2010 – but the momentum didn’t carry into Friday’s game. Penalties were a problem, as was the aforementioned Stonewall Jackson defense.
Regardless, head coach Tony Keiling expressed confidence in his team’s ability to brush it off and re-focus for next week’s game at Hylton.
“We’re young, and we’re disappointed,” Keiling said. “We had more penalties tonight than in any game I’ve coached. But we can regroup. They’ll learn from that.”
Stonewall Jackson plays its home-opener next week against Forest Park. Lessons will be learned, Walker said. Mistakes will be corrected.
“We’re not happy,” he said, “but guess what? We’ll take it.”
Stonewall Jackson 41, Gar-Field 7
Stonewall 7 14 13 7 – 41
Gar-Field 7 0 0 0 – 7
SJ: Coates 5 run (Melendez kick), 8:22
GF: Fitzgerald 1 run (Fitzgerald kick), 4:36
SJ: Shabazz-Williams 86 pass from Jung (Melendez kick), 9:16
SJ: Coates 1 run (Melendez kick), 4:14
SJ: Wofford 2 run (kick failed), 4:57
SJ: Reese 7 pass from Reeves (Melendez kick), 0:37
SJ: Jackson 19 pass from Reeves (Melendez kick), 10:41
RUSHING – Stonewall: Albea 9-110, Jung 6-(minus 22), Reeves 6-30, Coates 3-38, Wofford 5-28. Gar-Field: Fitzgerald 18-42, Coltrane 6-6, Wilkerson 9-29, Kaloko 2-11, Brown 1-(minus 5).
PASSING – Stonewall: Jung 9-13-0 169, Reeves 2-3-0 40. Gar-Field: Fitzgerald 9-20-2 140.
RECEIVING – Stonewall: Reese 4-41, Shabazz-Williams 2-91, Coates 2-18, Jackson 2-52, Wofford 1-7. Gar-Field: Dancy 5-94, Coltrane 2-9, Kaloko 1-2, Young 1-35.