A ‘heartbreaking’ loss

CHESTER — Hylton senior Ahmad Brooks and the Bulldogs owned virtually everything but the stadium in the first half of the Group AAA state semifinals against host Thomas Dale.

But in the second half, the Bulldogs gave it right back to the Knights. Literally.

Three costly second-half turnovers, a botched punt and some stellar offensive line work by Thomas Dale ultimately doomed Hylton (12-1) in a 27-22 loss on Saturday. The win gave the Knights (12-1) just their second berth to a Group AAA state championship game in school history.

The Knights play Robinson next Saturday at the University of Richmond.

“Obviously, they came back out and weren’t going to go that easy and we made a couple of mistakes and we paid for them,” Hylton junior Jeff Overton said.

For Brooks, who scored two first-half touchdowns on a 2-yard run and a 44-yard screen pass from Davis, it was the end of a stellar career. Because of an ankle injury that prevented him from playing in last year’s 29-19 regular-season loss to Potomac and the 42-0 loss to Deep Creek in the state semifinals, Brooks had never been part of a loss in his three-plus seasons as a Bulldog.

“I ain’t never cried like that before, besides getting a whooping from my father,” Brooks said.

“It was pretty bad,” Hylton senior quarterback Chaz Davis added. “You see 350-pound guys crying, I was crying myself. Some of these guys’ careers aren’t over but I know mine is. We don’t have a feeling like this often.”

Brooks’ touchdown catch put the Bulldogs up with a seemingly comfortable 22-8 lead heading into halftime. However, the Knights came out and pushed the Hylton defensive line back on its heels with two time-consuming, 13 and 10-play scoring drives to slice the deficit to 22-21.

Fullback Darious Nelson capped the first drive of 76 yards with a 2-yard touchdown run and sophomore tailback Nick Fleming followed suit on a 2-yard plunge after the first of two fumbles by Davis put the Knights at the Bulldogs’ 33-yard line. Hylton safety Jerome Quintana preserved the one-point lead after picking off a pass from backup quarterback Pierre Lee in the end zone on the two-point conversion attempt.

“After the first [scoring] drive, the offensive line said we had them worn down,” Thomas Dale coach Vic Williams. “We thought we could go right at them.”

“The offensive line had been working hard all year and in the second half, they just came out to work,” added Fleming, who rushed 26 times for 144 yards.

Up 22-21 with 5:31 left in the game, the Bulldogs self-destructed even further. After going three plays and out on its next possession, Hylton lined up to punt with punter Tom Bizzarri standing at the 10-yard line. However, long snapper Silas Hall hiked the ball low to Bizzarri, who mishandled it and let it go by him. The ball rolled into the end zone and Jonathan Chapman fell on it to give the Knights a 27-22 lead.

“The ball got away from him,” Hylton coach Bill Brown said. “He’s a wide receiver who did a super job for us all year. He just made a bad snap at a bad time.”

“When I saw the punt [go by], I said, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’ ” said Overton, who saw limited playing time after suffering from a migraine headache caused by a hit he delivered on Fleming in the first half. “… And after that, it just went downhill.”

The Bulldogs tried to jump start their stagnant offense in their next-to-last possession by inserting Overton in for Davis. However, Overton fumbled attempting to break a tackle five yards downfield.

The Hylton defense held Thomas Dale on downs and got the ball back with 33 seconds left. After a Brooks first-down run of 15 yards and a roughing the passer penalty on the next play, the Bulldogs had the ball near midfield. With six seconds left, Brooks completed a halfback pass to Davis, who raced in the middle of the field to the 34-yard line was tackled as time expired.

The game started auspiciously for the Bulldogs when Thomas Dale took a 6-0 lead in just its second play from scrimmage on a 56-yard run from scrimmage by Fleming. Lee then found Derius Swinton wide open in the front of the end zone for the two-point conversion to make it 8-0.

However, Brooks, a highly-touted middle linebacker, returned the ensuing kick 53 yards and scored on a 2-yard run after the Bulldogs drove the remaining 38 yards on 11 plays. On Hylton’s next possession, teammate Ben Harrison ripped off a nifty 48-yard TD run with 35 seconds left in the first quarter to give the Bulldogs the lead at 12-8. However, the Bulldogs failed for the second consecutive time on a two-point conversion attempt to keep the score at 12-8.

Harrison finished with 104 yards on 11 carries.

Brooks made it 18-8 when he took a screen pass at the Thomas Dale 44-yard line and rambled untouched into the end zone with 4:03 left in the first half. Bizzarri booted the extra point and added a 31-yard field goal with 2:42 before halftime to round out Hylton’s scoring.

After halftime, Brooks accounted for just nine yards on three carries, including two carries in which he lost yardage. The Knights ran 33 offensive plays to the Bulldogs’ 17 in the second half.

Williams said the only adjustments he made at halftime were mental.

“We didn’t change anything at half, we just told them to get after them more, whoop them more, gang tackle,” Williams said. “We told our blockers to stay with their blocks longer. We didn’t really believe we could win it until that second score [of the half]. Once we scored, I thought we could win it.”

“Every time he [Ahmad] got the ball, their linebackers were on him three yards in the backfield,” Hylton coach Bill Brown said.

Despite falling short of their third state championship game berth in the past four years, the Bulldogs exceeded Brown’s expectations.

“I thought that this group had the talent but not the leadership but they proved me wrong very quickly,” Brown said.

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