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Eagles feast on hapless Comets

South Boston News
GW wideout Myles Bennett is stripped of the ball by Comet defender Devan Richardson during Friday’s contest in Piedmont district action. (David Conner II photo) / September 30, 2013

At the end of the first quarter, Halifax County High School varsity football had battled archrival GW-Danville to a scoreless tie. By halftime, the contest was over.

The Eagles steamrolled the mistake-prone Comets in the second quarter and rolled to a 49-0 win Friday night in South Boston. GW-Danville improved to 4-0, while the Comets are winless at 0-4.

HCHS, struggling to establish a winning identity and overall consistency, travels to Martinsville Friday night for another Piedmont district clash.

Martinsville, now 1-4, picked up its first win with a 56-6 rout of winless Patrick County.

GW forced five turnovers, including four interceptions, while the Eagles avoided many of their early mistakes this season. HCHS, coming off a bye week, never got much traction in either the running game, or the passing attack.

GW quarterback Hunter Byrnes had a special night, running for one score and passing for two more. Byrnes finished 11-for-16 for 213 yards through the air.

“They (HCHS) were blitzing everybody. My receivers were getting open. My (offensive) line ran great protection today, best protection we’ve gotten all year,” he said.

But the GW defense, especially the secondary, delivered an excellent performance.

GW coach Nick Anderson said of the team, “the guys played hard, they paid attention to their coaches. They had two weeks to prepare. We started last week, getting ready for this team, and it showed. We thought we knew what they were going to do, and they ran a lot of the same plays ... we saw on film.”

GW clearly won the turnover battle. The Eagles missed some assignments early, but the defense played hard and helped the offense gain momentum. GW also generally controlled the line of scrimmage.

Halifax coach Mike Roark, whose team suffered another humbling loss, said, “0-0 ballgame going into the second quarter. What I’ve been saying all week, we can’t do the turnovers, and dang if turnover (problems) in the second quarter and 28 points.”

The Comets enjoyed an encouraging start.

HCHS welcomed back senior Tyler Stephens, who had been sidelined since the preseason with a broken foot. HCHS had made some other changes as well and went into the game fired up, determined to show they were better than the record indicated.

Stephens had his moments running the ball, but struggled with the passing game. He finished two-of-12 passing for minus 16 yards, although he frequently had to deal with intense GW pressure. Stevens threw three picks, and backup Richard Jacobs had another pass picked off.

HCHS finished with just 16 net yards in its passing attack, as Jacobs went two for three overall for 23 yards.

The Comets carried the ball 43 times for 175 yards, with Roland Brandon leading the way with 12 carries for 31 yards. Truman Brown led the Comet receivers with four catches for 45 yards.

Roark conceded the Comet offensive line did not have a good night, as Stephens faced heavy pressure down after down. “We couldn’t man up, we put extra guys in the box and they beat us on the front line tonight,” said Roark.

Halifax had a very good opening defensive stand, forcing a GW punt from the Eagle 28. Halifax got a first down, but stalled, as Stephens was sacked, an early indication of the pressure to come.

The Comet defense halted GW again on the visitors’ second possession. But the Comets again had to punt with 5:10 left in the first period.

The Eagles threatened more effectively on their third drive, but penalty problems eventually helped stall the drive.

Halifax made a first down on their next drive on a GW deadball penalty, as the Comets reached their 40. But HCHS again failed to move the ball effectively from there, with the end of the first period coming. HCHS and GW were tied, 0-0, in a field position tussle.

The second quarter turned into a nightmare for HCHS. HCHS continued strong coverage on its punts, with specialist Kyle Lacks performing well in this area.

GW, however, was about ready to break loose for good.

GW finally got going on this possession, steadily slicing through the Comet defense. Facing a fourth and two at the HC 44 with 9:45 left before the half, GW converted to the Comet 40.

GW eventually burned the Comets on a crisp 22-yard pass, getting the ball inside the one. From there, A. Smith blasted over from inside the one-yard line to score and set up a 7-0 Eagle lead with 8:18 left before halftime. Facing difficult field position again, HCHS then had a third-and-nine at its own 16. Stephens lost ground on the next possession, and then fumbled to GW, under heavy pressure.

GW got a momentum-changing gift, with possession at the Comet 5 with 6:09 left in the half. GW quarterback Hunter Byrnes hauled a keeper five yards for the second Eagle score, and suddenly GW led, 14-0, with 6:04 remaining in the half.

Roland Brandon followed with an excellent return to the Comet 44, but it all soon continued to unravel for the Comets.

HCHS had an encouraging thrust into Eagle territory, but the offense faltered, stalling out at the GW 20. Lacks was called on for a 37-yard field goal attempt, but the kick was partially blocked. It didn’t help that HCHS had some confusion on the play, trying to find another holder. “The holder is Jacob Garrett, and his hand got hurt. So, and I didn’t know he was out. Then, they (GW) got a hand on the kick,” said Roark. The Eagles had held serve.

GW then quickly moved through the Comet defense, mixing the running and passing game, with a first and goal at the five with 1:12 left in the half.

James Halasz then broke through for the Comet defense, forcing a five-yard GW loss.

But the Eagles then delivered a ten-yard scoring run from O. Grimes, giving the visitors a 21-0 lead with 56.4 seconds left in the half.

Stephens then threw a pick-six to the Eagles’ Carlos Ballard, who went 26 yards for a defensive touchdown. GW led, 28-0, with 27.7 seconds left. It was the end of a blazing run in the second quarter, and HCHS never recovered.

The Comets had some moments in the second half, including a faked punt from Lacks, but never really established any consistency on offense or defense. Byrnes blistered the Comets with touchdown passes of 38 and 55 yards to M. Clements and Myles Bennett, and C.J. Grimes had a record-setting 101-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second half, part of more stellar work by GW after intermission.

Roark conceded the Comets need to improve.

“Some things worked well, pass wise. Other things, we’re still rusty. Tyler’s a heck of an athlete, trying to make a few things happen. For his first game (back), he comes out gunning and slinging.

“The ... turnovers in the second quarter cut the throat,” said Roark.

Roark conceded as well that the Comet o-line had a tough night, but there were problems with the Comets lacking execution.

“We’ve got to watch tape and figure out what’s going on,” he said. HCHS had some plays that went well, including some traps and jet plays, but then GW stuffed the same plays.

“I wish I had an answer I could give you,” said Roark.

It was also a tough night for the Comet quarterbacks, health wise. Tyler Stephens got a cramp in his leg and was slowed eventually. Jacob Garrett suffered a hand injury in the first period. Richard Jacobs took snaps in the fourth quarter, but he also faced some growth issues.

GW also hit some explosive plays in the passing game, but Roark tried to find some positives. “We tackled better,” said Roark.

The Comets will try to regroup for Martinsville.

Despite the lopsided loss, Roark said the Comets did some good things. “Tyler ran the ball hard. Tre (Morgan) ran the ball hard. Roland (Brandon) ran the ball hard the first half. We did get a few completions off. We’ve got to be more ball savvy after we catch it,” said Roark.

He conceded the Comets were frustrated, but said the HCHS team will seek to regroup against the Bulldogs.

It’s critical to realize the Comets are not at the halfway point of the season, and a turnaroud is still possible. HCHS has room for improvement, and getting Stephens back should be very helpful.

HCHS also has just one team with a winning record (at the moment) left on the schedule. HCHS soon has to face Magna Vista, now 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Piedmont.

The rest of the schedule includes the Bulldogs; 1-3 Bassett; 1-4 Tunstall, 0-4 Patrick County and 1-4 Franklin County.

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