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Central’s season ends in second round

The fourth-seeded Central High School varsity football team was in a close regional playoff game with fifth-seeded Altavista High School on Friday night for two-and-a-half quarters, trailing only 14-10. But then the visiting Colonels pulled away.

They scored 21 points in a 5-minute stretch of the second half and ended up with a 42-10 victory, ending the Chargers’ season in the second round of the Virginia High School League Region 1A East playoffs.

“They just punched us in the mouth,” Central Head Coach Will Thomas said. “They kind of gave us a dose of our own medicine, and we had no answer for them.”

The fact that the Chargers’ season ended the way it began — with a loss to Altavista — masks the fact that they improved significantly as the year progressed.

The Colonels also improved, moving junior Jacob Adams to the quarterback position during the course of the season.

“We didn’t see him last time,” Thomas said. “He makes them so much better. He’s just tough. He’s quick, he’s fast.”

Both teams had success moving the ball against each other in the first half Friday.

Altavista got on the scoreboard first about five minutes in, taking a 7-0 lead following a rushing touchdown by Adams.

On the ensuing drive, Central moved the ball some with contributions on the ground from senior Malik Foster and junior Keenan Anunay, but the offense was held back by holding penalties.

Nevertheless, on 2nd-and-20, sophomore Jackson Dalton connected with Anunay in stride for an approximately 35-yard touchdown pass, leading to a 7-7 game with 24.2 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Colonels responded on their next drive. A big run got them to the Chargers 19-yard line, and more solid running along with a Central personal foul got them to the 2-yard line where they ran it in to go ahead 14-7 with 10:19 left in the half.

The Chargers were unable to continue the back-and-forth game of scoring, punting on their next possession. But they managed to hold Altavista scoreless on their next drive, too, keeping the score 14-7 at halftime.

“We hung in there with them a little bit,” Thomas said. “The first half, we had a lot of penalties, which is unlike us. But we kind of overcame it — it was 14-7, then we kicked a field goal, it was 14-10. But we couldn’t get going. We couldn’t get on a roll.”

The 38-yard field goal by Central senior Ben Atkins came on the first drive of the second half, which was fueled, in large part, by Colonels penalties.

The Chargers were punting on fourth down from inside their own 30-yard line when Altavista was called for roughing the punter, giving Central a fresh set of downs. Then a facemask penalty advanced the Chargers to the Altavista 42.

On 4th-and-4 at the 36, Anunay ran for a key first down, reaching the 22. He later got his team to the 15, but the Colonels began a habit of cutting through the offensive line, meeting Central runners in the backfield for losses.

They held the Chargers to a field goal, but the score was a close 14-10 with 5:10 left in the third quarter.

Then, Altavista went on its game-defining run.

It scored on a 13-yard touchdown run about three-and-a-half minutes later.

Next, a Central fumble gave the Colonels the ball in Chargers territory, leading to an approximately 22-yard touchdown pass from Adams to Altavista’s quarterback-turned-receiver, senior Mateo Maulbeck. This helped make the score 28-10 with 4.7 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Central went backwards on its next drive, with more tackles for loss, and punted. The Colonels later scored on a 17-yard run and went up 35-10 with 8:33 still to go.

Altavista (9-3) added on a 7-yard touchdown run with 1:20 left for the game’s final score.

The game was more lopsided on the scoreboard than the season opener when the Colonels came back to win 33-19, though Central was limited by a couple of factors Friday.

It finished the regular season with momentum, but that was somewhat halted by a first-round bye week, and then Foster, the team’s star quarterback, struggled with illness for much of the week leading up to Friday’s game.

Thomas said he could not blame the loss on either factor, though, and pointed to Altavista’s strong play and his team’s sub-par execution as the key reasons behind the defeat.

“I hate that we didn’t play our best game tonight,” he said. “I wish we could have given them a little bit better game. You always want to give them your best.”

Central finished the season with an impressive 8-3 record.

Thomas said in his nine years of coaching, this season was more like a roller coaster ride than any other, with losses of players due to injuries and more and a wide range in quality of play on the field.

“We started pretty rough,” he said, alluding to the opening loss to the Colonels and adding that he wondered if his team was ever going to get its mojo. “We finally did. … Some people really improved.”