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Special teams step up as freshmen hold off Heritage / October 01, 2012
The HCHS ninth grade football team benefited from several teachable moments on the value of well-executed special teams play Wednesday. HCHS held off Heritage 21-16, and the Comet win was preserved by heady late game execution on special teams.

Here’s the way the late game scenario played out.

Halifax had a 21-0 lead at the half, and the Pioneers later drew closer, 21-6.

Finally, the Pioneers scored late, with 1:41 remaining.

The Pioneers seemed to have a burst of late game momentum, and the HCHS coaching staff faced a decision when the Comet offense stalled in a potentially dangerous fourth down situation.

Varsity coach Mike Roark had an idea, and freshman coach Billy Lucas used good coaching judgement to follow the veteran’s suggestion. With 35.2 seconds left, the Comet ninth grade coaches had a plan.

Take an intentional safety, and kick off to the Pioneers with 21.6 seconds left.

Here’s how the final drama played out:

Jacob Garrett took the snap on the punt attempt and ran somewhat deliberately at first back towards the Comet end zone. The coaches had to prod Garrett to get there faster, and he took the safety.

Halifax led by five.

HCHS kicked off to the Pioneers, with Isak Schafer handling those duties.

Heritage then fumbled the kickoff, and the Comets recovered. Possession, HCHS, after the recovery by Antwan Ragsdale.

HCHS quarterback Garrett took the snap to secure the win.

Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, the acknowledged guru of special teams in the state, would have been proud of these Comets. There’s a Hokie connection with Lucas, in a roundabout way,

Lucas explained the strategy to take the intentional safety and elect for the free kick, rather than punt on the Comets’ side of the field.

“If the block the kick, we’re in trouble. We decided .... let’s take a safety from there, and we’ll play defense from there. We kicked off and got a great play out of it,” said Lucas.

The football lesson should be apparent to these young Comets.

“It should tell them special teams are just as important as offense and defense, if not even more special,” said Lucas.

HCHS also got a special teams touchdown early.

The first score came on a kickoff return for a touchdown by Jarvis Owen. The Comets’ second score came on a five-yard screen pass from Garrett to Kelonte Gutrich. The third HCHS score came on a Garrett to Gutrich scoring pass of about 15 yards.

HCHS started and ended with stellar special teams play, and the Comets are 2-3.

Roark, looking over the options available at the end of the game, made a suggestion to the Comet freshman staff. It worked to perfection.

“You look at the score. ... They’ve (Heritage) got a little momentum. They drove the kids back, it was fourth and 12 right there. You know they’re going to come block the punt, or something big stupid could happen. “They’re going to get the ball somewhere inside the (Halifax 30) if they return it,” said Roark, noting Heritage had an opportunity.

“So you take the safety, it’s a five-point game, and there’s no rush. You kick it off, you don’t punt it, you get more distance ... and they fumbled the kickoff.”

The fumble recovery set off an frenzied Comet celebration.

“You saw the kids jumping up and down, because they won a ballgame,” laughed Roark.

Lucas, meanwhile, had been in Beamer’s neighborhood earlier in his career. He had coached JV football at Blacksburg and Radford High School. Lucas also tried to emulate Beamer’s special teams success, as much as possible.

Lucas graduated from University of Virginia-Wise in 2001. He was in Blacksburg in 2002 and Radford in 2003. Lucas talked to Beamer briefly at clincs hosted by Virginia Tech.

“They had clinics up there. We’d go to them all the time (at Tech),” said Lucas.

“The stuff they covered ... I always listen to ... and tried to apply as fas as having pride in special teams,” said Lucas. “Any clinic I ever went to, I always went and listened to special teams’ guys.”

Lucas also coached Grant Foster, the son of veteran Hokie defensive coordinator Bud Foster, and Ricky Bustle’s son.

Bustle was a Hokie assistant at the time.

Lucas has come to appreciate smart special teams play. The emphasis paid off last week for the Comet freshmen.

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