Central High Chargers use “opportunity to get back on track.”

Published 3:29 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2023

‘It was an opportunity to get back on track.” That’s how Central High Chargers Coach Will Thomas summed up Friday night’s win over Prince Edward. The Chargers piled up plenty of points, but the game still went down to the final quarter, as Central picked up the 55-44 victory. With that win, Central improves to 5-1 on the season. 

For Lunenburg, it was nice to get back in the victory column four days after a 13-10 loss to James River District rival Buckingham halted their 24-game regular season winning streak.  There was a definite hunger for redemption and not wanting to start a losing skid.

“I think we felt like we blew our chances on Monday, so it was an opportunity to get back on track.  Buckingham played us so well defensively.  Prince Edward’s offense is far ahead of their defense.  I think Larry (White) would tell you that, and that number six for them is a beast (DeJuan Little),” Thomas said. 

Central High now leads the all-time series with Prince Edward 33-0. That’s after a game where a running clock lead early in the second half shrank to just a two-score advantage in the fourth quarter.

“So we played a bunch of our kids because they went two or three games without playing any.  The second team scored, Prince Edward would score and then we fumbled,” Thomas recalled.  

“Even though we’re still up 28, they score again and it’s 21 all of the sudden.  They get an onside kick and score.  It was getting too close at that point and we probably put them in a little too early.  We have to work on our backups, which a lot of them are JV kids.”

Central High Chargers give recognition  

Helping the Central High Chargers gain a wide advantage on the scoreboard were a few of the usual standouts, in particular ball carriers Connor Mattox, Thomias Morrison and Amarion Moore.

Mattox ran for 129 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.  He also had 10 total tackles and a fumble recovery, which he returned 60 yards for a score.  Morrison added 88 yards and 2 TD’s on 11 attempts.  Moore rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on six carries.  As a team, the Chargers amassed 389 of their 415 total yards via the ground game.

Defensively, Seth Bishop led the way with 13 total tackles, three for loss.  Antonio Jones chipped in nine total tackles, five behind the line of scrimmage with a forced fumble.  Conner Buchanan also was in on nine total stops.

In grabbing a sizable lead, it allowed the Chargers to experiment some on offense.

“After the Buckingham game, we tried some things where we wanted to work on where we could spread out the [defense] a little bit.  It didn’t look too good, but did at points and we ended up fumbling and got a little stale to where we were up 35-12 at half-time after scoring like our first four times we had the ball,” Thomas pointed out.

The stretch run begins now for the Central High Chargers, who next take on Randolph-Henry in Victoria on October 6.  Only one more regular season home game remains after that – October 20 vs. Cumberland – and before you know it the playoffs will be here as the hot summer months are clearly in the rear-view mirror.

“I tell them all the time that when game five is done, this thing goes.  We have four games left.  For you seniors, this is it,” noted Thomas, whose squad hopes to turn its attention to the postseason in a month.

“It has gone fast.  Our open week is the week before the playoffs.  It’s a little different with our region now taking eight teams than our previous one taking six.”

Central High Chargers

Tailback Connor Mattox reaches out and snags a pass, moving the chains and picking up a first down Friday night. Photo by Dispatch photographer John Karratti.

Statesmen struggle to overcome injuries

It’s hard losing one starter in a high school football season. Losing two is a challenge. But lose three or more, like Randolph-Henry High has, and it completely changes things. You have to restructure game plans, as the replacement players often have different skillsets. There are some plays you can’t run anymore and new ones you have to draw up, to play to the strengths of the new starters. 

“The kids play hard, for sure, but it’s just been one thing after another,” said Randolph-Henry Head Coach Ray Conner. “It can be a struggle at times to adapt, like we’ve had to.” 

The challenges brought on by injury played a role in this week’s game as well, as the Statesmen had to adapt and fill roles. They were shut out 52-0 at home, against a resurgent Buckingham Knights squad. 

The problem is that for the Statesmen, each of the injured players were starters on offense and defense. So they didn’t just lose three, even for a short period. It was more like they lost six. And try to find any team that can quickly overcome that kind of impact. 

Sophomore Cameron Sizemore suited up as both a tailback and middle linebacker, so it was almost like losing two players at once. The same goes for Colton Mann. The junior played both wide receiver and outside linebacker, meaning that the Statesmen lost a blocker on one side and a key part of the defense on the other. Malachi Gamble was a wide receiver and a defensive back. 

Season shifts 

The team’s seen several other players go on the injured list for at least one game, but there’s concern Gamble and Mann won’t return this year. Conner confirmed that Gamble is out for the season. As for Mann, “it’s iffy”, Conner said. 

Mann’s loss hits hard for Conner, as he had praised the junior at the beginning of the year, seeing a strong season ahead. 

“He’s been probably one of our most improved players,” Conner said in August. “It’s tough, transitioning from tight end to receiver. You have to work on catching and running routes, there’s a lot of offseason training involved, developing a little more speed. But he’s done it.”

As a result of those injuries, it’s almost turned into a rebuilding year of sorts for Randolph-Henry. Underclassmen find themselves in new roles, as the 1-5 team heads down the stretch for the season’s final four games. 

“When you lose All-District talent, there’s not one just ready to be put in,” Conner said. “That takes time to learn the position as a starter.” 

Up next for the Statesmen is a road trip to Victoria this Friday. Then it’s another road trip to take on those Prince Edward Eagles, followed by a home game against Amelia and a final game against Nottoway. 

Despite the injuries, Conner said he makes sure his team understands the privilege they have, to suit up and play each week. 

“Each week is still a great honor,” Conner said. “To play the game we love, to play in front of the crowd. We’re not gonna forget that.”