By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Aug. 25 — The Bulldogs of Luray lost a lot of talent on both sides of the ball from a team that went 9-3 last season and fell just one win short of the Region B title game. However, for what some dub a rebuilding project under first-year head coach Lynn Hamilton, the Bulldogs showed moments of truly being a competitive football team during Friday night’s, 28-14, non-district loss to East Rockingham at Bulldog Field.
Whether it was first-game jitters or inexperience at key positions, Luray proved to be its own worst enemy at key moments on Friday. The Bulldogs had multiple opportunities to tie the game late, but ultimately two fumbles on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter dashed Luray’s hopes. The Eagles then sealed the deal with their only score of the second half coming with just under a minute left in the game.
The Luray defense played a fairly solid game — minus the impact of East Rock’s star wide receiver, Xavia Brown. The six-foot junior only caught two passes the entire game; however, both went for touchdowns and totaled 106 yards. As a team, the Eagles went 5-of-10 through the air for a total of 118 yards. Squeezed between his two touchdowns, Brown also posted a 42-yard punt return that set up the Eagles’ second of three scores in the first half.
Things went Luray’s way early as East Rockingham fumbled on the first play from scrimmage. The Bulldogs took over in such good field position that a three-and-out prolonged by two penalties still resulted in a field goal attempt. The Eagle defense broke through the line and blocked the kick.
It then took only three plays for East Rockingham to get on the board first, via a 63-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Parker Seiver to Brown. Sophomore Chance Beahm tossed the two-point conversion pass to sophomore Robert Rhodes to make the score 8-0 with 7:36 left in the first quarter.
After a second three-and-out by Luray, East Rock put together a 12-play drive and picked up three first downs before fumbling in Luray territory. The Bulldogs ground game picked up a first down, before a fumble (recovered) and a sack lead to another punt. Brown’s 42-yard return gave the Eagle’s the ball on the Luray 16 yard line. Three plays later Seiver ran it in from three yards out. A failed PAT left the score at 14-0 with about 8:30 left in the first half.
A successful onside kick by the Eagles would prove to be the double-whammy that changed the game. East Rock scored in just four plays, hitting a 43-yard touchdown pass to Brown on fourth down. Another failed PAT brought the score to 20-0 with six minutes still remaining in the first half.
At this point, it looked like a runaway. Granted, the difference was four big plays — two long touchdowns passes, a punt runback and an onside kick — but the “rebuilding” Bulldogs seemed to be outmatched by a deeper and more talented roster. And yet…East Rock would not score again until the final minute of the game, and the Luray offense would pick up some key personnel in the second half that sat the bench for disciplinary reasons in the opening 24 minutes.
When Luray got the ball back midway through the second quarter, the Bulldogs put together a solid drive on the ground and through the air. Senior Ryder Liscomb caught a 30-yard pass from freshman quarterback Ayden Haddock that picked up Luray’s second first down of the first half. A solid, eight-yard run by senior Braden Ancell was followed by a 12-yard touchdown run by senior Ayden Starkey. The PAT failed and left the score at 20-6.
Luray opened the second half with a 36-yard scamper by sophomore Cason Bryant. The drive ended four plays later on an unsuccessful 35-yard field goal attempt. A three-and-out, plus a penalty, left the Eagles punting deep in their own territory on the next possession. On the punt, the snap went out of the back of the end zone and resulted in a safety, bringing the score to 20-8 midway in the third.
The Bulldogs converted a fourth-and-one to extend their next drive, but then punted to East Rock — who then returned the favor four plays later. Luray’s ground game then began to gain traction as Starkey, Bryant and Ancell pounded their way down to the one-yard line, where Liscomb punched it in for a touchdown. Now Luray only trailed by six, 20-14, with eight minutes remaining in the game.
East Rock’s next possession ended with an interception by sophomore Chance Beahm, who caught the bobbled ball off the hands of Brown. Luray got the ball back on their own 37 yard line with 5:19 on the clock, trailing by six. A fumble on the third play gave the ball back to the Eagles. After picking up one first down, East Rock turned the ball over on downs.
Luray was now starting from its own 16 with only 2:16 on the clock, trailing by six. On the second play from scrimmage the Bulldogs fumbled again. East Rock got the ball on Luray’s 26 and only took two plays to find the end zone and seal the victory. Junior Ryan Dean ran the touchdown in from 23 yards out. Seiver ran in the two-point conversion and capped the scoring at 28-14.
Unofficially, Luray about 178 yards of total offense — 179 rushing, 32 passing, and seven penalties accounting for the difference, almost all pre-snap penalties. The Bulldogs’ three-headed rushing attack was incredibly equitable:
- Bryant — 10 carries, 69 yards;
- Ancell — 9 carries, 64 yards;
- Starkey — 11 carries, 60 yards.
Luray’s passing game was limited, as expected for a ground-based team, but they did complete 2-of-4 with Liscomb being the tall target for both. The Bulldogs real success of the night was on defense, where they almost completely shut down East Rock in the second half.
Although East Rock has elevated to Class 3 play this year, Friday night’s loss adds to the Bulldogs’ pain of the local rivalry, which has seen the Eagles win 11 of their 13 meetings on the football field, including the last five straight.
Next up, Luray (0-1) will travel to Buffalo Gap next Friday night, Sept. 1, while East Rockingham (1-0) will travel to Woodstock to take on the Class 2 runner-up Falcons of Central.
For full schedules, rosters and standings — check out the Bull Run District website.