The Essex Trojans got out in front of the James Monroe Yellow Jackets in the last seconds of the first quarter and refused to relinquish the lead until late in the night.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, the lead change proved the difference in the game.
An overtime kick by the Jackets’ David Dit gave his team the 40-37 victory Friday night at Maury Stadium in Fredericksburg.
It was a heart-breaking loss for the previously undefeated Trojans, now 4-1, but a nothing if not a character-building experience as the Trojans found themselves tested for the first time this year in every facet of the game.
The top-rated Division 1 Trojans was that they fared well against the Division 3 Yellow Jackets, who could only battle back against the relentless Trojans for most of the night. The game saw four lead changes in the first quarter, the Jackets came back to tie twice – forcing the overtime on the latter.
The game also featured its share of highlight-reel spectacularity, including a busted play turned 70-yard touchdown for the Trojans which demonstrated the athleticism, pluck and never-say-die attitude that characterizes the Essex team.
With the game tied, 30-30, Essex lined up to punt from their own 30-yard line. The hike went well over the out-stretched, leaping Essex punter Dartanious Jones rolling to the end zone and luring a swarm of Jacket defenders. With one foot in the end zone, the harried Jones heaved the ball toward the far corner at the opposite end. The ball descended from the night sky somewhere near the Jackets’ 30-yard line and into the waiting hands of Jamar Kelly, who rumbled into the end zone surrounded by a bevy of teammates. Technically, a 70-yard touchdown, the busted play covered the 100-yard length of the field and gave Essex its final lead of the night, 37-30.
In the action that followed, James Monroe took advantage of a personal foul call that placed the Jackets on the Essex 10-yard line. From there, they tied the game with just under nine minutes left in regulation on a Raheem White reception from quarterback Jay Scroggins.
Essex drove down on the following possession but stalled at the Jackets’ six-yard line and Essex sent out kicker Robert Umphlete for what was potentially a game-winning kick from about 16 yards with 2:32 left in regulation. Umphlete had been perfect in all five of his extra-points on the night but the Jackets blocked the field goal attempt, and moments later the squads were in an overtime tie-breaker.
The teams’ offenses lined up at the 10-yard line and were allowed four shots at scoring. The Jacket defense rose to the occasion again, this time stalling a Trojan run attempt and then intercepting a pass from Dominek Broaddus to take possession.
On the Jackets’ first play, Dit kicked the game winner.
Essex made numerous big plays through out the night. Sterling Hammond took an interception 30 yards for a touchdown to give Essex its first lead. Late in the first quarter, Broaddus connected with Anthony Jones on a 71-yard pass play for the first of Broaddus’s two passing touchdowns. Leo Gaskins scored on a short-yardage run and Broaddus hit Lathan Johnson on a 36-yard pass play to give Essex a 28-19 lead at the half.
Essex nearly scored on an early third quarter drive but fumbled at the goal line. The Trojans cashed in moments later catching the Jackets in their own end zone for a safety that made it, 30-19.
Essex scored next on the busted punt play turned touchdown from Jones to Kelly.
As predicted, the game was a physical fight throughout with both squads fatigued in the end. But this was especially true for the Trojans, who had several players playing both offense and defense. This was the first meeting between the two schools since 2004.
Before the season began Coach John Fulks said he did not want to play his toughest opponent in December. Friday night, James Monroe may well have granted his wish.
Next week, the Trojans begin District play, hosting the Northumberland Indians for the Essex Homecoming on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.