By Randy Arrington
STAUNTON, Sept. 9 — Much like the season opener in Woodstock, Page County’s 35-2 loss at Gypsy Hill Park in Staunton on Friday night was not quite as bad as the score might indicate. While the Panthers now stand at 1-2 early in the season, there were positives that the Panthers showed against the Storm that could give the teams remaining on their schedule something to think about.
Coming off a fourth-quarter comeback win over Nelson, 30-26, the previous week, Page County and first-year head coach James May built some momentum into their third-consecutive road game to open the 2022 season. However, the Panthers would prove to be their own worst enemies, as they committed five turnovers — three interceptions and two fumbles — that kept the game from being close.
The Storm opened up the game with a six-play drive covering 63 yards in just 1:49. Sophomore Marc Geffrard broke loose for a 20-yard run to put the first points on the board, as Staunton lead 7-0.
While Page County amassed about 300 yards in offense on the night and sustained several drives behind their massive offensive line, the Panthers had trouble finding pay dirt. After covering 41 yards in eight plays on their first possession, Geffrard grabbed the first of three interceptions the sophomore had on the night and the Storm took over the ball on their own 5-yard line.
The next play — as early as it was in the game — seemed to be an omen of how things would go. While the Panthers appeared to recover a fumble in the end zone (for a touchdown), the play was ruled a safety — a decision the entire officiating crew did not agree on initially. However, Page was on the board midway through the first quarter, 7-2.
After a three-and-out on Page’s ensuing possession, Staunton rolled 50 yards in eight plays and took the remaining four minutes in the first quarter to extend their lead to 14-2. Sophomore Thomas Chisely hit the end zone after a 17-yard touchdown reception.
The Panthers sustained their longest drive of the night to open the second quarter, moving the ball 40 yards on 13 plays behind a grinding ground game lead by senior Gunnar Strickler. However, the drive stalled across midfield and the Storm took only one play to break the game open with five minutes left in the first half. Sophomore Braylen Fields scored the first of his two touchdowns on the night, going 65 yards on a middle screen to put Staunton up 21-2.
After a second interception, the Storm’s second play from scrimmage put the ball at the 2-yard line after an 88-yard reception by senior Andre Johnson. Four plays later — on fourth and goal — senior quarterback Walker Darby plunged in from one yard out to drive the score to 28-2 before the half. Despite the back-breaking touchdown, the Panther defense did a solid job of defending the goal line.
In the second half, Page County had four possessions — they turned the ball over on three. However, the Panther defense forced Staunton to punt twice, and the score did not change in the third quarter. Page did sustain one drive of nine plays, covering 60 yards, during the third quarter, but an incomplete pass on fourth down turned the ball over on the Staunton 20-yard line.
Staunton posted its last score midway through the fourth quarter, as Fields finished off a seven-play drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to cap the scoring at 35-2.
Despite the lopsided result, the Page County ground game looked proficient at times. The Panthers picked up 16 first downs during the game and gained about 300 yards in total offense. The passing game — while improving since Week 1 — continues to struggle, completing just two of nine attempts (including a halfback option). However, Page has found a favorite target in Strickler, who in addition to picking up about 80 yards on the ground, the senior also caught both receptions on the night for another 50 receiving yards.
The ground game has been effective for a reason:
- Senior Logn Lucas — 6’2″, 342 lbs
- Sophomore Josh Tally — 6’2″, 285 lbs
- Senior Evan Cubbage — 6’2″, 282 lbs
- Junior Noah Lucas — 6’2″, 254 lbs
The size of the offense and defensive lines are a strength for the Panthers, and something every opponent has to consider. Page County has effectively moved the ball on the ground every game this season — but they are getting ready to go head-to-head in their home opener with a district and county rival that does the same thing.
The Luray Bulldogs are 2-0 on the season after an open week to prepare for the “Battle of 340” — Page versus Luray — this coming Friday night, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. at Buddy Comer Stadium. Luray has amassed 838 yards of rushing in just two games, with big wins over Rock Ridge (48-14) and Buffalo Gap (43-7).
The PVN Sports crew will accompany the NFHS livestream of the Page/Luray game on Friday.
First-year head coach Michael Bell and the Storm will remain at Winston Wine Memorial Stadium on Friday night to host Rockbridge County.
For full schedules, rosters and standings — check out the Bull Run District website.