By Randy Arrington
SHENANDOAH, April 1 — It felt and sounded like a cross-county rivalry that dates back decades. It had the pomp and circumstance of presenting the King and Queen at halftime, as Page County High School celebrated its Homecoming in spring. It marked the final regular football season game for both teams — a key Bull Run District matchup with Region 2B playoff implications. And by the time the final whistle would blow, it would become an instant classic in local sports lore.
In the midst of swirling snow flurries on April Fool’s Day and the normal tension that accompanies a Luray-Page meeting, a large crowd gathered for the first time in more than a year to watch a live sporting event first hand — and what a game they witnessed.
The Page County Panthers (4-1) captured a 37-28 win over rival Luray (3-3) in dramatic fashion on Thursday night to earn a trip to the Region 2B playoffs for the second consecutive year. In the fall of 2019, the Panthers went 7-3 to advance to the region quarterfinals, where they fell to the 9-1 Knights of Buckingham County. That 7-3 regular season marked the best record a Page football team had posted since 1993 — the last time the Panthers advanced to the playoffs. Now, under the leadership of Coach Joey Soltis, the Panthers are heading to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
Only four slots are available in each of four regions in 2A football this year due to the shortened spring season, as opposed to the eight teams that usually advance. Although the official seedings have not yet been announced, the Panthers will likely take the fourth seed and have to face off with the No.1 team in Virginia’s 2A rankings, Stuarts Draft (5-1). Shenandoah District-rival Riverheads (6-0) handed Draft their first loss of the season on Thursday night with a 10-7 overtime win. However, through six games, Draft has outscored their opponents 190-17. Strasburg (5-1) is likely to take the No.2 seed and face-off with Buffalo Gap (3-3) in the other region semifinal next week.
With Thursday night’s loss the Bulldogs will miss the playoffs for the first time in nine years, as Luray dropped their first football game to the Panthers in more than 15 years.
It had been a year-and-half since these two football teams had squared off before Thursday. That last meeting on Sept. 20, 2019 saw the Bulldogs walk away with a 48-27 victory. Luray also went on to advance to the region quarterfinal last season, where they fell in a rematch with Strasburg who they had bested in the regular season.
Thursday night’s matchup proved to be a true cat and dog fight, in which either team could have emerged with the win — and a region berth. Both teams executed well on offense, but they both also committed key turnovers.
The Panthers took the opening kickoff down the field on a 12-play drive that ended with sophomore quarterback Hayden Plum plunging in the endzone from 3 yards out to grab the early lead 7-0. Luray answered back with a grinding 16-play drive on their first possession that took 14:31 off the clock and ended with a 3-yard touchdown run by sophomore Brady Jenkins.
Both teams would score on their first two possessions of the game. Page put together six plays in just over two minutes before Plum threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to junior Dylan Hensley to go up 14-7 early in the second quarter. But once again, Luray answered right back with an eight-minute, 13-play drive that ended when senior quarterback Dalton Griffith dove in from 1-yard out to even the battle again at 14-14.
The last points of the first half came on Page’s third possession as they capped off an 11-play drive with a 28-yard field goal from senior Jared Malini to take the lead again at 17-14 with 2:05 left in the second quarter. Despite the long, grinding drives that lead up to that point, each team would get two more possessions in the final two minutes of the first half.
Following a Luray fumble on the kickoff, Griffith got the ball back for the Bulldogs with an interception on the Panthers’ third play of the drive. After a three-and-out forced a Bulldog punt, the Panthers then drove down the field again, but missed a 32-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
LHS senior Austin Holloway took the opening kickoff of the second half 80 yards for a touchdown to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the game at 21-17. The momentum stayed with the ‘Dawgs as their defense stalled a 10-play drive by the Panthers, and their offense marched downfield 78 yards on seven plays. A powerful 44-yard run by sophomore Kenny Frye gave Luray a solid 28-17 lead with 4:30 left in the third quarter.
One minute and two plays later, Page made it a game again as senior Andrew Lilly broke away for a 54-yard touchdown run that brought the Panthers within four at 28-24. The Page defense then rose to the occasion and stopped a six-play drive by Luray that ended when Griffith came up a half-yard shy on a fourth down attempt. Taking over on downs, the Panthers then scored again four plays later. Lilly broke away again on a 45-yard run that set up a first and goal. The senior standout ran in the touchdown from five yards out on the next play to put Page back on top 30-28.
Luray then held the ball for over six minutes and put together a 12-play drive that moved the ball downfield, but Griffith would be stopped just short on a fourth down attempt for a second-straight time. Page scored four plays later for the final points of the game when Plum broke multiple tackles on an amazing fourth-and-four scramble that went 53 yards and put Page up for good 37-28.
Luray, needing two scores, went to the air in their final possession. After the Panthers nearly picked off a pass on second down, sophomore Gunnar Strickler grabbed an interception on the next play. That, and a big run by junior Blake Turpen on Page’s final possession, sealed the Page win and a playoff berth.
The PVN Sports “Player of the Game” was PCHS sophomore quarterback Hayden Plum, who accounted for three touchdowns in Thursday night’s win — one through the air and two on the ground, including an amazing 53-yard scramble in the fourth quarter that helped seal the win.
For full schedules, rosters and standings — check out the Bull Run District website.
For state rankings go to maxpreps.com
Luray handles Clarke 36-14, showdown with Page set for 6 p.m. on April Fool’s Day
Panthers notch second win over Bath, 45-6
Bulldogs get first win over Stonewall, 57-24
Griffith signs with Frostburg State
Be the first to comment