The story of the Leesville Road High School 2019 football team was one of success, hard work, and overcoming the odds. Every tough piece of competition the Pride faced during their 13-0 run, they rose to the occasion and put down effectively.
Cardinal Gibbons was a tough test, but their defense made a huge stand in the final seconds to prevent a chance at a game winning touchdown. Broughton gave Leesville a huge run for their money in the final quarter of their game, but once again the defense held off the fired up opponents enough for time to hit triple zeros. In the east regional final against Wake Forest, Leesville Road’s defense was also critical in securing the win, as they forced turnovers and punts than what the defending champions were used to.
Many fans knew going into the game that the key element of Leesville Road’s state championship run team was their defense. It won games for the team over the course of the season, and most importantly, the majority of the defenders were healthy going into the game. The Pride needed their offense to keep up with the defense and put points on the board.
The only problem was that Zebulon B. Vance stood in the Pride’s way in Kenan Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
The first quarter set the tone for what the game would become by the second half. The run game which had allowed Leesville to put up 40+ points in back to back playoff games was nowhere to be found, as Vance linebacker Power Echols made his presence known early in the game, stopping the run, no matter who carried the ball.
Andrew Doss, the most explosive running back on the team, mustered 32 yards on only 8 carries and also coughed up the ball in the third quarter. TJ Moore, the most downs-power back for Leesville could not do much better, as he gained 40 yards on 12 carries, and the two backs combined for 72 yards on the ground.
In their second round playoff game against Hoke County, the backs combined for 154 yards and a touchdown. Clearly, the Vance defense was much more dangerous than Hoke County.
Vance had a chip on their shoulder since last year’s 4AA championship title game, where Vance was narrowly defeated by Wake Forest in a cutthroat defensive battle, 9-7. Since then, the team stayed hungry and fought and clawed their way back to the State Championship final.
Austin Grier, Vance quarterback, not only went to work on the Pride’s defense through the air, but his use of his legs was the main reason for Vance’s offensive success. Grier went 9-11 for 127 yards and a touchdown with his passing, and gained 46 yards on 14 rushing attempts. Griers yards on the ground counted more than his passing, as on several third down plays where the Pride defense needed to get off the field, the QB found open holes in the zone coverage to run to get the first down.
The biggest storyline of the game came midway through the second quarter, where Trey Baker, Leesville’s starting quarterback, got injured after hard hits by two Vance defensive linemen, forcing Baker to fumble the ball. He was down a few minutes and was eventually helped up by trainers and nursed his left arm, his non-throwing arm. Baker was put in a sling immediately and his game was over.
On the sideline, Ethan Burchfield, backup for Baker, warmed up quickly. He didn’t really know what to think at that moment. Burchfield had never seen the playing field unless it was end-of-game time in the regular season when Leesville convincingly dominated their opponents.
Instead, the pressure built quickly on Burchfield to lead Leesville’s offense down the field to score points.
Unfortunately for the Pride, nothing changed their momentum swing on offense from the first quarter, and things only got worse as the game progressed. Whether it was the linemen having a hard time containing the pass rush and forcing Burchfield to throw away, or the Pride fumbling the ball three times in the second half, Leesville’s offense was stuck in a stand still. Burchfield went just 1-5 for 1 yard passing.
Plain and simple, Leesville was outmatched in every category. They looked average for the first time all season. Vance took advantage of the short fields the Leesville offense gave them, and scored a few touchdowns, and ran the clock down as the score went final, 24-3. Though history was made with the Pride’s first appearance in the state championship, history was not enough for the Pride to overcome Vance.
The loss stings, but if Leesville is anything they showed to their fans this year, then next year they will be more resilient, more dedicated and the most successful team in the state.
Bright Spots for Leesville:
Burnette was on the receiving end of all three pass completions for the Pride for 35 yards and was the reason for all three of Leesville’s points, when he drilled a 34 yard field goal early in the second quarter. Burnette also won Leesville’s offensive MVP award.
Coleman made the biggest impact on the field for Leesville Road’s defense, with 7.5 total tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss, as well as 1 sack on the afternoon. Coleman deservedly won the defensive MVP award for the Pride.
Sohn had 9 total tackles in the game. He made his impact in the playoffs with a few rushing touchdowns and forced incomplete passes on defense. Combined with 4 yards on 4 rushing attempts during Saturday’s games, Sohn earned the sportsmanship award for Leesville for his combined efforts.