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Front Royal 11-U Wildcats rally from first deficit to win league crown

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Front Royal’s undefeated 11-U Wildcats celebrate a league title following their toughest game of the season. Courtesy Photos/FR 11-U Wildcats

Undefeated and unscored-upon heading into a league title game with momentum on the line after qualifying for the Pro Football Hall of Fame World Youth Championships – but nobody ever said it was going to be easy.

On Sunday, November 4 in Fauquier County, Front Royal’s 11-Under Youth Football Wildcats rallied from their first deficit of the season – well, it’s hard to be behind when your defense has never been scored on – to win the Apple Valley Youth Football League Championship 15-6 over the Fauquier Cougars.  The game was delayed a day due to poor field conditions from the most recent heavy rains.

It didn’t take long for the Wildcats to have their will tested by a team they defeated 21-0 on September 15.  Fauquier took the opening kickoff and drove 81 yards to take a 6-0 lead.  The conversion play failed.  The Cougar drive was highlighted by a 50-yard run on a pitch right and a 25-yard touchdown run, again to the right on a 4th and 15 play.

“I told the coaches one of two things would happen if we got scored on, they will either hang their heads or get mad – they got mad,” Wildcat Coach Chris Ballard told us.  In addition to the defense getting riled up, a change from a 5-3 defensive scheme to a 4-4 up front by defensive coordinator Bobby Vorous helped the Wildcats shut down the Cougar offense the remainder of the game.

But the Cougars held their lead till late in the first half.  A Wildcat punt pinned the host Cougars deep leading to a change of possession at the Fauquier 40-yard line.  The Wildcats moved the ball to the Cougar 20 with 24 seconds left in the half.

Quarterback Nathan Ballard first gave the ball to Kobe Mason for a sweep right that netted 11 yards.  The first down at the nine-yard line was crucial as it stopped the clock to move the chains with Front Royal out of timeouts and just 2.8 seconds remaining in the half.

Ballard got his team to the line and a snap from center with one second left on the clock.  Cole Britton and the offensive line did the rest for a 9-yard score to tie the game with no time showing on the clock.  A conversion run gave Front Royal a 7-6 halftime lead (league rules give 1 point for run or pass play PAT’s, 2 points for kicks).

“That was HUGE,” Coach Ballard told Royal Examiner of his team’s late offensive surge to take a lead into the locker room.

Front Royal was on the receiving end of the second-half kickoff but Fauquier pulled on onside kick out of their bag of tricks recovering the ball near midfield.  However, they could do nothing with the possession, or any other for the remainder of the game.

“After that opening score, the rest of the game our defense was on fire,” Coach Ballard observed.

Wildcats lineup in a classic T-formation for Kobe Mason’s third-quarter, 25-yard touchdown run

Front Royal added their second score late in the third quarter on a 60-yard drive.  The workhorse for much of that drive was fullback Landon Bryant.  His coach pointed out of the Cougar defense, “They did a good job shutting down what usually works for us – slants off tackle and outside sweeps.  So we put a lot on Landon – he probably carried the ball about 65% of the game – and he came through for us.”

With fullback Bryant drawing more of the defense’s attention to the middle of the field, Kobe Mason got the Wildcats second touchdown on a 25-yard run.  A 2-point conversion kick by Marcus Smith made it a 15-6 game with the Cougars needing two scores to take a lead.

Marcus Smith prepares to make it a 2-possession lead with a 2-point conversion kick and a 15-6 lead that would hold.

It was a task an aroused Wildcat defense would not allow.

Coach Ballard says his team will get a week off before returning for 2-1/2 weeks of practice in preparation for the trip to Richmond for the Pro Football Hall of Fame World Youth Championships Regional showdown with three other Virginia teams. See Related Story

Congratulations Front Royal 11-U Wildcats – and we’ll add a special nod to the starting defense that has helped its team compile an 11-0 record on their way to the Apple Valley Youth Football League title with a combined season and playoffs score of 345-6.

The Wildcat starting defense is: Cody Saloman-DE; Lance Dodson-NG; Michael Hooper-DT; Marcus Smith-DT; Josiah Sutphin-DE; TyRay Taylor-LB; Cole Britton-LB; Landon Bryant-LB; Kobe Mason-Corner; Andre Ford-Corner; and Trey Washington-Safety.

Now it’s on to Richmond November 29 to December 2, with a ticket to Canton, Ohio on the line – GO WILDCATS!!!  And always remember – scores win games; DEFENSE wins championships…

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