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December 8, 2013
Tigers Roll, Head to Charlottesville
Tigers Punch Ticket to Charlottesville: They were not to be denied. On a chilly Saturday afternoon at Beard-DeLong-Easley Field in Chesapeake, the host Oscar Smith Tigers controlled the line of scrimmage from start to finish in blanking the visiting Colonial Forge Eagles, 17-0 in the 6A-South Region Championship.
For Oscar Smith, it was their first ever State Playoff shutout and third postseason shutout in school history. The Tigers will be headed to UVA's Scott Stadium in Charlottesville for next Saturday's 6A State Championship against Centreville, the same team they beat 47-21 for the title just two years ago.
Out of their 64 offensive plays, Oscar Smith ran the ball 55 times, a new high for the Tigers in the playoffs, and churned out 205 yards. Meanwhile, Colonial Forge was held to just 49 yards of offense
"Game-plan was to come in, run the ball, try to establish that power and eat the clock. The field wasn't in good shape, so you've got to find another way to win," declared Oscar Smith Head Football Coach Rich Morgan, now 27-8 in the postseason with the Tigers. "We found a different way to play today, but with the defense it doesn't matter; they always come to play. How we do it doesn't matter as long as the outcome is the same."
On its opening possession, Oscar Smith marched 85 yards in 12 plays, all runs by junior tailback DeShawn McClease, in 5:46. On the day, McClease rolled up 200 yards on 46 attempts, a new career-high, and scored his 28th rushing touchdown of the season.
It would be the only offensive touchdown of the day for Oscar Smith, but they didn't need another because of the way their defense performed and the execution of their special teams unit, which got a 20-yard field goal from Brad Davis before half-time and key 33-yard punt to pin Colonial Forge at its own 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
In the first half, Oscar Smith held a decisive Time of Possession advantage of 19:29 to 4:31.
"We told the kids before the game we're going to run right at them, create holes, and when we did it to the tune of 85 yards and scored, I think that uplifted everybody. They knew it was coming," stated Morgan.
"From then on, the defense fed off of that, and I know we only scored 17, but with the weather conditions, a lot of that was by choice because we're going to keep the ball on the ground, not take chances and play good special teams."
Colonial Forge came in averaging 27.5 points per game and hadn't been shutout in the playoffs since 2004. The Eagles finish their season at 10-4 overall.
Another defensive lineman often overshadowed by the stud talents around him is Keshaan Cufee, whose defensive touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone gave Oscar Smith some breathing room and a three possession lead. Behind them, the linebackers and defensive backs did their duty and Colonial Forge was stymied to only two total yards and no first downs in the opening half.
"Today, they were sensational again," Morgan said of the defense. "Sacks, interceptions, fumble recoveries, big plays, big hits, big stops, they did it all."
It wasn't limited to the d-line either. Line coach Scott Brunet's group of Brown, Cuffee, Jahlil Bagby, Antoine Hunt and Dominic Jordan on the offensive front along with Sweat at tight end paved the way for McClease all game long, allowing him to maneuver left, right or up the middle any time he wanted.
Even the weather wouldn't be a deterrent to the Tigers on their quest to reach the State Championship game.
"We practice in all kind of conditions, so it didn't really bother us. We had to pound it and work. We kept our head down and kept running," McClease stated. "Coming into the playoffs, Coach said it was running back season and I knew it would be my time. Honestly, I give all the credit to my line because without them, I couldn't have done what I did."
As a result, this 2013 Oscar Smith team has never been threatened, winning every game by at least 13 points and outscoring foes 636-68 through 14 contests. What's been the difference?
"Last year's team, we had a lot of selfishness. This year, we play for the man beside us," McClease noted.
Adverse off the field circumstances have brought them closer together and only made them hungrier for the program's third state title since 2008.
"We came with a passion and a mindset that we will not be stopped and we will go to State's," said Brown, an All-American who was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year earlier in the week.
"The thing that touched all the players was when Coach said we lost a lot of teammates, a lot of parents with Coach Morgan's dad dying this year, Coach B's dad dying this year and one of our teammates' parents died this year. He told me right before the game, 'You want your mom to be watching you that State Championship game?' That made everybody want to go hard."
This time, Ezeagwu, who's being recruited by such schools as UVA, ODU, James Madison and Towson among others, was held in check. He had five total touches go for just 11 yards, never burning the Oscar Smith defense.
"Depending on where he was, we blitzed certain formations when we thought he was coming on the sweep. We put Monty Fenner on him in man-to-man. Monty doesn't have any Division I offers, but he shut him down the whole game, maybe he should," Morgan remarked.
"Then we put a safety over the top, and when they tried to go deep, Monty jammed him and Keyvone Bruton was back there to make some picks. I thought we had a good game-plan against #15, and once we took him out of the game, we felt like our front four would be able to stop the running game and they did."
"It's right there in front of us now and we just have to go get it," McClease went on to say. "All we have to do now is keep our heads down, keep grinding and the best team will come out on top."
For Brown, it'll be a dream come true. He'll get to play his final game in a Tigers uniform on the field that he will play his College Football.
"It's going to be just like karma," Brown pointed out. "I'm having fun. Every time we get on the field, it's going to be physical."
Capturing a third state title in six years would be a rare feat, one none could've imagined when Morgan, a New York native, arrived to the Chesapeake program in 2002.
"This group is a very tightknit group. They love playing for each other, there's great camaraderie, we've had no issues with these guys and they just come out and give us their best effort all the time," Morgan commented.
"The coaches enjoy coaching them. It's fun to go to practice because the just go out there and play football. It's one of those dream type seasons where everything is just the way it's supposed to be, and we're just hoping it can be that way for one more week."
Smith Tigers 17: (14-0 Overall)
Forge Eagles 0: (10-4 Overall)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and don't forget to listen to him every Saturday at 10AM on ESPN Radio 94.1, plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.