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October 27, 2013
Phantoms Plug Away for 26-9 Triumph: The Heritage Hurricanes, one of the season's feel-good stories, are undefeated no more. That's because they ran into the Peninsula District preseason favorite, the Phoebus Phantoms, on Saturday afternoon at John B. Todd Stadium in Newport News.
Notching their eighth consecutive victory after dropping the season opener to nationally-ranked DeMatha, Phoebus pulled away for a 26-9 win over the Hurricanes after leading only 6-3 at the half.
The Phantoms turned to their usually dependable tough defense to hold the fort down until the offense found its footing in the second half when they gained 211 yards to finish with 335 for the contest. Phoebus scored three touchdowns in a span of 5:49 with the dagger coming on a 47-yard interception return by sophomore corner Robbie Robinson.
"We knew we were going to have to grind today. Defensively, we knew we were going to have to bring our lunch-pails and I thought the kids did a great job," remarked Phoebus Head Football Coach Jeremy Blunt.
"They came to work, had their business attire on and actually brought a lunch-pail. We were very professional in the secondary and up front we were handling our business, cleaning up all the trash and making plays.
Another sophomore, quarterback Terrell Toliver, passed for a season-high 166 yards on seven completions, connecting with Robinson for a 58-yard strike that set up a two-yard touchdown run from tailback Marshawn Williams, the leading rusher in Tidewater who's committed to play his College Football in the ACC for Virginia Tech.
Phoebus' other two touchdowns came from Williams and Charles Graham, who scooped up the ball off a blocked punt in the end zone in the first quarter. The Hurricanes couldn't mustard up much offensively in the second half and had minus two yards in the third period, squandering two possessions where they had a chance to go in front.
Heritage's lone touchdown of the day came on a three-yard run from backup quarterback Malik Deloatch, the team's starter at that position to begin the season, on fourth-and-goal. Deloatch came on for freshman Jeremiah Boyd, who sizzled in the previous four starts by leading the Hurricanes to 29.3PPG and no interceptions.
No play might've been bigger than on third down from their own 30-yard line early in the third quarter when Toliver broke out of the pocket for a 32-yard scramble. The Phantoms had to punt four plays later, but it helped tilt field position back in their favor and prevent Heritage from turning a three-point deficit into a sudden lead.
"I was feeling too much pressure. And when I feel pressure, I go. That's what they tell me," admitted Toliver. "Early in the game, we were a little sluggish. We knew we had to step it up and we got in a groove."
On a day where Williams was held to just 30 yards on the ground through two quarters of play and the offense didn't score its first touchdown until 26 seconds left in the third period, Toliver extended plays and possessions by using his athleticism on the move.
"Terrell did a great job. They have a tough defense and showed that prior to playing us," Blunt stated. "Terrell commanded the offense the way he was supposed to, Marshawn made sure that he made plays when it needed to happen, the line [picked] up blocks after a while and that's what we needed. It was a collective effort. That's Championship football."
Not on Lyles' Watch: Phoebus defensive tackle Kevin Lyles is a four-year starter with a couple of State Championship rings and would like to win a third, one off the total that his older brother, former Phoebus standout linebacker Justin 'Boombox' Lyles, won.
There wasn't any panic in Phoebus' locker room at the break with a narrow three-point advantage. However, they knew they couldn't let Heritage, a team with four wins this season by seven points or less, hang around and it would take putting them away in the fourth quarter. Lyles played a vital role in the Phantoms building a cushion.
"Coach Blunt pretty much told me that this is my team this year. It's a good group and we pretty much what we expected out of ourselves and we all want the same thing. When we saw 6-3 on the scoreboard, we were disappointed," declared Lyles.
Heritage actually out-gained Phoebus 59-55 in the first quarter and would go to half-time with 84 yards of offense, 53 coming on the ground.
While Heritage focused its blocking scheme on mammoth Phantoms senior lineman Walter Brantley, Lyles turned out to be the one that hurt them most. Lyles finished with eight tackles, five of them solo, three stops behind the line of scrimmage and 1.5 sacks. As a result, Heritage struggled to run the ball up the middle for the duration of the contest.
"Walter has been getting off all season. They pretty much were double-teaming him and single-blocked me. It really came down to block shedding. I was just shedding it and making a play," commented Lyles afterwards.
"I've been starting for four years and feel like nobody can pretty much single-block me. From there, I tried to take control of the game. I guess they forgot to game-plan about me."
It was specifically their turnaround against the Patriots, an improved squad that is now 7-2 overall, in the second half that began the defense's transformation from being capable of slowing down good teams to now one that's doing it more consistently.
"After that game, I really didn't want to be scored on the rest of the season," said Lyles.
And ever since then, the Phantoms have been really stingy defensively and getting better. They're playing with a renewed sense of pride and an attitude. That all begins up front in the trenches, where their strength and experience is shining through against the rest of the PD.
"That's senior leadership when you have Walter Brantley, Tremayne Sweat, Tyree Steward, Jamal Earls, a four-year starter in Kevin Lyles, an outstanding junior in Harry Lewis. It really helped out secondary and linebackers cover the ball," Blunt pointed out.
"They dominated the line of scrimmage. My linebackers were coming downhill and they were hitting. We had some breakdowns here and there, but the kids bowed their necks and made plays."
Home Sweet Home: By virtue of their latest win over Heritage, Phoebus moves to the top slot in the power ratings and goes into their regular season finale with the inside track to the #1 seed in 4A-South. That means whoever plays them in the first three rounds of the postseason will have to beat them on their turf at Darling Stadium.
During its eight-game winning streak, the Phantoms have outscored foes 335-78. Every win in that stretch has been by at least two touchdowns.
"We have to keep grinding right now. We're getting there. All of the things are adding up, we have all of the ingredients, so now it's just all about cooking it," Blunt believes.
The Phantoms close out its regular season on November 1st against Kecoughtan, a team with a couple of ex-Phoebus coaches. Kecoughtan's Head Coach is Alonzo Coley, the Phantoms' former offensive coordinator, and their defensive coordinator Greg Narvid, who also served in that same role at Phoebus for many years.
Phantoms 26: (7-1 Overall; 7-0 in Peninsula District)
Hurricanes 9: (8-1 Overall; 7-1 in Peninsula District)
Matthew Hatfield has covered football and 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 on High School Sports Talk from 10AM to Noon on ESPN Radio 94.1 plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.