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December 3, 2012
Dolphins Grind Out Win to Reach State Championship: Harold Heischober Field at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex was the scene for the Group AAA Division 6 State Semifinals between the undefeated Ocean Lakes Dolphins and the Northwest Region Champion C.D. Hylton Bulldogs. The Eastern Region Champion Dolphins bolted to a three-touchdown lead at half-time and held on for a 21-14 victory.
With the win, Ocean Lakes is now 14-0 overall and will be playing in the State Championship game at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville on December 8th.
"It's the first time, but it's beautiful to the ears for the Ocean Lakes Dolphins and the community. I think it's not just the football team headed up there, it's everyone that's been apart of this program from the beginning, on the field and off the field," commented Coach Chris Scott of Ocean Lakes afterwards.
Even at the end of a scoreless first quarter, Ocean Lakes had already piled up 110 rushing yards on 18 carries. C.D. Hylton ended the opening half with only one first down, 46 total yards and failed to convert any of their four third down opportunities.
Time of Possession was a major factor through two periods of play as well with the Dolphins claiming a decisive 16:51 to 7:09 advantage, converting 8 of 12 third downs to keep the Bulldogs' defense on the field.
Filling in for the injured Corwin Cutler, the UVA commit who's out for the rest of the playoffs with a torn ACL, junior quarterback Churchie Harold threw for 146 yards in the first half. Harold got off to a slow start, going 2-for-7 with just six yards out of the gate. He settled down in the second quarter and actually got hot by completing six of his final seven pass attempts to end the half with a pair of touchdowns to senior Andre Dessenberg and junior Mike Alston.
A Delaware commit, Dessenberg grabbed his 22nd touchdown pass of the season, tying him with Damon McDaniel of Landstown for the most in a season for a Beach District player. That also puts him just three away from tying the VHSL single-season touchdown receptions record.
C.D. Hylton, which didn't commit its first penalty in the game until 8:38 remaining, got on the board with a couple of touchdown passes from junior QB Travon McMillian to Terrin Allen-Neal, who scored the first time after breaking a couple of tackles and found the end zone again after catching a deflected ball. That brought the Bulldogs within a touchdown with 10:16 to play.
"We had all the momentum, so the strategy for the second half was we didn't want to waste time and C.D. Hylton's a good team capable of making a comeback," noted Ocean Lakes junior running back Brandon Simmons. "Our plan was to try to run it down their throats, wear the clock down and not make mistakes."
Getting Nnadi, McGill and company to harass McMillian and keep his rushing total down was one of the Dolphins' main objectives going into the matchup.
"He's an explosive athlete, All-State sophomore, All-State junior, rushed for 1000, thrown for 1000," Scott said of McMillian. "We also knew their starters on the defensive line are their starters on the offensive line, and their middle 'backer. The more that we could it 275 to 290 pounds of offensive line on those guys and wear them down, then those guys had to turn around and come right back on the field and line up in front of two 6-foot-2, 305-pounders."
The Dolphins benefitted from two takeaways, the second coming off a pass T.J. Griffin deflected into the arms of teammate Anthony 'SeSe' Wolters, who made a key sack on third down with under five minutes to play in the game.
Simmons was able to help put the game away, breaking off consecutive 11-yard runs to keep the clock churning and he ended up with a game-high 110 yards on the ground on 25 attempts.
"When it gets down to the wire, you've got to pull everything out that you have in your game. All that heart," Simmons stated. "I like to play with emotion, but not emotional. I try to keep a composed head, and to be a leader for my team, I can't get down on my team because they look at me."
Ocean Lakes' offensive line from left to right featuring Alex Skidmore (Duke commit), Daniel Boothe, J.D. Dunaway, Connor Kearney and Javon Majors controlled things for the duration of the game.
"We feel like it's been the difference all year long. We have so many explosive athletes. A lot of times, those explosive guys get the tabloids, the thanks or the pats on the back because those are the guys that can it into the end zone. But we could not do it without our guys up front," Scott said of his o-line.
"Going into the postseason, not only have they produced over 2300 yards of passing and protecting the quarterback, they've also produced over 2000 yards rushing. That's a big deal. They take pride in it, we know what we have up front, we're confident in it, they have a job, we play one way and we put it on their shoulders and they delivered."
Having an experienced, sturdy group up front allows the Dolphins to be multi-dimensional offensively and attack opposing defenses out of formations to get their weapons the ball in space.
"It really helps having them," remarked Lewis. "They're real big. Plus, they're good blockers."
Two plays later, Ocean Lakes found the end zone to increase their lead from 14-0 to 21-0, and essentially it was the game-winning touchdown.
"I think we've been aggressive all year in our play-calling on offense, defense and special teams. Why go from it now? We tried to hit them with the hook-and-ladder and were just about six inches from taking that thing down the sideline," explained Scott.
"After that, we could've taken the knee, but we've got playmakers and you can't leave it out there on the field. We wanted to play to win and the players make the Coach look good when it goes right."
Fred Hendrith, Myke Knox and Jahvoni Simmons all stepped up. Each has had multiple double-digit tackle games on the season and solidified a position that was somewhat of a question mark entering the season.
"Fred Hendrith has been an unbelievable player and what other people don't know is he's a great running back. He's been selfless because we had a guy not play this year that was an All-Beach returner. He's stepped in and been so solid for us all year long. Very disciplined, very quiet, but a hard-nosed guy that's played a position going into the season he wasn't going to do," Scott went on to say.
"Myke Knox has led us all year in the middle with big tackles, and Jahvonni Simmons, who picked up his first BCS offer from Virginia yesterday and has an offer from ODU, has had two unbelievable playoff games. And he's only a sophomore."
Facing one of the best rushing attacks around, not only will those two d-tackles be important, so too will these linebackers that have been instrumental in helping the Dolphins pitch six shutouts during the regular season.
In order to capture the crown, they'll have to knock off another undefeated team in Central Region Champion L.C. Bird, which got a 400-plus yard rushing performance from Paul Robertson in defeating Oakton in the other Division 6 State Semis matchup.
Getting to this point after seeing their starting quarterback go down to injury three weeks ago has extra meaning for the Dolphins, a team predicted to finish third in the Beach District behind Salem and Bayside before the season began.
"This means a lot," said Lewis, getting a chance to play for a ring as a tenth grader. "In the regular season, no one picked us to do this, but we knew what we could do. Everyone has bought into what Coach Scott and the coaches have been preaching. Winning the State Championship would mean a lot to us and the school."
Following their win over Hylton, the fact that the Dolphins will be playing in the State Championship game for the first time in school history hadn't really sunk in to all of the players. It probably won't until kick-off on December 8th.
"Probably when I get to the game, I'll feel it," Simmons admitted. "These guys are like my second family. We work hard and it feels great. Even though we're going to the State's, we've got to always go back to the drawing the board, see what we did wrong and get better. It's just another game and we can't overthink it because if you overthink it things could go wrong sometimes."
Matthew Hatfield has covered Eastern Region Football & Basketball since 2004 for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related updates, and you can also read his work in the Suffolk News Herald. To contact Matthew, please e-mail email@example.com, and don't forget to listen to him Saturdays from 10AM to Noon on ESPN Radio 94.1 plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.