James Wood hangs tough after rough first half

NOKESVILLE — Members of the James Wood High School football team and coaching staff left Friday’s matchup against Brentsville believing they had played two different games.
In the first two quarters, the Colonels couldn’t do much to stop the Tigers, who ran up a 34-0 halftime lead. In the final 24 minutes, James Wood held its own against the defending Region 3B champs, who triumphed 41-7.
Caleb Alexander tossed a pair of scoring passes and ran for a TD to lead the Tigers, who also got three rushing touchdowns from Nico Orlando.
“I feel like the first half wasn’t us,” said Colonels linebacker Zach Smith. “The second half was more us. Our energy was higher.”
“We talked to the guys at halftime about competing,” James Wood coach Todd Wilson said. “In the first half, we were in positions to make plays and we just weren’t tackling. …. We hit them a lot in the backfield and they were just breaking tackles and getting big plays on us.”
The first half couldn’t have gone much worse for the Colonels (1-1), who both struggled to move the ball and stop Brentsville. The Tigers scored on five of their six drives.
“They’re a great team,” said Smith of Brentsville, which knocked off Sherando 28-21 in Week 1. “Hands down, they’re one of the best teams in Virginia.”
The Tigers needed just six plays and less than three minutes to go 56 yards to take the lead from the start. Alexander was 2-for-2 for 21 yards and Orlando ran three times for 36 yards, including a 20-yarder in which he spun out of a tackle to make it 7-0 with just 2:43 gone.
After stopping the Colonels, the Tigers went 52 yards, overcoming a holding penalty on first down. Alexander hit Tyler Owens for a 36-yard gain in the march, which ended with Orlando’s four-yard run. A bad snap on the PAT made it 13-0.
Following an interception by Blake Fletcher, Alexander hit Trent Hayes for a 38-yard pass before rifling a ball over the middle to Wyatt Vonderhaar for an 18-yard TD. Alexander's two-point conversion pass to Hayes made it 21-0 with 3:11 left in the opening quarter. Then on the final play of the period, Alexander lofted a TD pass to Charles McCullough, whose fine leaping grab helped the Tigers take a 28-0 lead.
“The first half we just came out and executed,” said Alexander, who was 9 for 12 for 190 yards at halftime. “It starts with our five boys up front. We follow behind them. They play physical and we’re going to get those yards running which opens up the passing game.”
Opening the second quarter, James Wood had its best drive of the half behind the running of Elijah Richards. The Colonels drove 48 yards and had a first down at the Brentsville 28, but could get no closer.
An interception late in the quarter led to a 38-yard drive by Tigers. Orlando, scoring his sixth touchdown of the season, bulled over from the 1. The Colonels blocked the extra point to make the score 34-0 with 1:45 left.
The half got even worse for James Wood on the ensuing kickoff. Senior Will Andrews was injured during the return and had his neck immobilized by the medical personnel. Andrews was moving his arms and was able to move his toes before being transported from the field by ambulance.
After the lengthy delay, the final 1:37 of the period was not played.
James Wood was a different team over the next two quarters.
“At the end of the first half we had one of our guys go down,” Smith said. “I think that motivated a lot of us to step it up in that second half. … That second half was dedicated to Will. We wanted to fight for him.”
“Everybody loves Will Andrews,” Wilson said. “The kid plays hard and with a lot of heart. It’s a really tight group. We’ve been through a lot. Our program has struggled and we keep fighting. Our guys are willing to fight and do what’s necessary.”
The Colonels’ defense, which got a fumble recovery from Hunter Rose in the first half, forced two turnovers in the second half — a fumble recovery by Justin Gwinner and an interception by Vincent Salvati.
Alexander’s 16-yard TD run with 4:31 to go in the third quarter started the running clock. The Tigers didn’t empty the bench with the big lead as James Wood faced many of the starters for the rest of the game.
Freshman quarterback Owen Neal began to find his rhythm in the second half. Trailing 41-0, the Colonels marched 70 yards to the Brentsville 5. Neal had a 34-yard strike to Gwinner and an 11-yard scramble in the drive, which also was fueled by 17 rushing yards from Kobe Mason. The drive stalled after Neal was sacked for a nine-yard loss on 3rd-and-goal from the 5 and an incompletion on fourth down.
Salvati picked off Alexander to set up the Colonels’ TD drive as time wound down. Neal completed a 22-yarder to Sam Jackson on fourth down and an unnecessary roughness penalty on the next snap gave James Wood one last play from the Brentsville 9.
Neal lofted a jump ball to 6-foot-2 Casey Floyd, who outwrestled Fletcher for the ball in the left corner of the end zone. Christofer Viera’s extra point was the last snap. Neal was 7 of 13 for 93 yards after the break.
“We made some small adjustments,” Wilson said of his offense in the second half. “We saw a few things we could do, but really it was just about execution. We were executing a lot better in the second half than we did in the first half.”
Alexander finished 12 of 16 for 274 yards and also led the Tigers with 75 rushing yards on seven carries. Orlando added 66 yards on 13 carries. Neal was 11 of 25 for 121 yards and Richards had 20 carries for 43 yards.
Brentsville, a Class 3 semifinalist last year, will tackle its third consecutive Class 4 opponent at Millbrook (2-0) next Friday.
“Once we make it past this [Class 4] schedule, we’ve got to execute perfectly all of the way through,” Alexander said. “These teams play us tough. If they play us tough, it’s always good preparation. We’re going to work and they are going to get us better and we’re going to get them better. It’s respect on both sides.”
James Wood will look to bounce back at home against Skyline next Friday. Smith said the Colonels will enter that contest encouraged with how they finished against Brentsville.
“We’re going to come out against Skyline like we did in that second half,” Smith said. “We’re going to come out and put points on the board and get defensive stops.”
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