MAX MEADOWS, Va. – Nobody is going to mistake Trojan kicker Adam Jones for a quarterback. Not the way he clumsily danced out of a makeshift pocket Friday night, and certainly not after throwing a pass that looked like a Thanksgiving turkey taking flight to avoid the butcher’s knife.
But Jones was heady in the waning minutes of John Battle’s Group A, Division 2 VHSL quarterfinal against Fort Chiswell, and what looked to be a failed PAT kick turned into a pass – albeit an ugly one – that kept the improbable turnaround season for the Trojans rolling in the most improbable of ways.
“I just threw it up,” Jones said. “And God took care of the rest.”
It was Jones, stepping toward the ball for the game-tying PAT attempt with 1:16 left to play, who watched the snap sail through holder Brent Tipton’s hands. It was Jones who, somehow, managed to scoop the ball off the ground as his teammates yelled “fire, fire” (John Battle’s call sign for a botched PAT or field goal snap).
It was Jones who hurled that ugly pass through the brisk air where Robert Luchini – known for doling out hits, not hauling in passes – swallowed it into his chest at the 6, turned up the field and barreled into the end zone.
And that’s how John Battle is moving on to the Division 2 semifinals with a 15-14 win over the Pioneers.
“You’re looking for whatever is going on,” Luchini said. “You see the ball going up and you know you got to get it. It’s all you got to do. It’s all I did.”
The play, which began with a loud groan from the packed-full visitor’s side of Fort Chiswell’s stadium, an eye-blink later had the Trojan fans erupting in cheers, hollers and one banging soup pot.
The play, which came as a result of Carter Harlow’s 2-yard score, even had Trojan coach Steve Wright – whose post-game comments mirror the excitement of a McDonald’s lunch menu – breaking into a smile and sighing with relief.
“I just stood there stunned,” he said.
The Pioneers did the same, slowly walking off the field as the referees conferred for a brief moment before placing the ball for the kickoff.
It left Fort Chiswell plenty of time for a game-winning score, which seemed all too probable with Daniel Hamm (20 carries for 110 yards) and Corey Vaughan (11 carries for 64 yards) on the field. A return down to the John Battle 45 on the ensuing kick did little to calm any nerves on the Trojan sideline.
But the Battle defense clamped down, pressuring Pioneer quarterback Brett Mabry into three incompletions and an intentional grounding flag that left it fourth-and-10 from the Battle 24 with under 18 seconds left.
Mabry’s desperation heave fell short of the end zone – and its intended target – setting off a raucous celebration in the Battle bleachers as the Trojans went to victory formation.
"It's big for our team," Wright said. "These kids have worked so hard, they deserve this."
The Pioneers took a 7-0 lead into halftime after Vaughan capped a seven-play drive with a 7-yard scamper - a drive that started at the Battle 29 when Chase Rathbone picked off a Logan Honaker pass.
"We knew it was going to be a dogfight," Wright said. "They had a great game plan for us. It gave us fits."
The Trojans answered with a nine-play, 61-yard drive. It was Harlow’s first score of the night and it came two plays after Honaker connected with Josh Matney for a 16-yard gain down to the 3.
Harlow finished the night with 75 yards on 14 touches and Matney caught five passes for 63 yards.
But it was Harlow’s second score, and the ensuing not-so-botched PAT that had the Trojan sideline humming.
“God looked after us on that play,” said Tipton, the holder, who admitted he was “scared to death” after the snap sailed through his fingers. “It’s not supposed to happen like that. God has a plan for everything and I think something special is happening right now.”
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John Battle 0 0 7 8-15
Fort Chiswell 0 7 0 7-14
FC-Vaughan 7 run (Gregory kick)
JB-Harlow 1 run (A.Jones kick)
FC-Vaughan 16 run (Gregory kick)
JB-Harlow 2 run (Ro.Luchini pass from A.Jones)
First Downs: JB 11, FC 17; Rushes-Yards: JB 38-134, FC 35-185; Passing Yards: JB 81, FC 128; Passes (C-A-I): JB 7-18-1, FC 13-27-2; Fumbles-Lost: JB 0-0, FC 0-0; Penalties: JB 2-10, FC 2-15; Punts: JB 5-39.2, FC 5-31.6.