Defenses on the spot
Rarely has the 2002 Manassas Park football team met a team that could match its athleticism.
Tonight in the Division 1, Region B final, the Cougars will get a closeup look at one of those teams.
The Bull Run district tri-champions head south down Rte. 29 to take on a highly explosive William Campbell squad, a team that Manassas Park coach Jeff Lloyd doesn’t want to try to equal in a shootout. The Generals (11-0), No. 2 in Group A, outscored foes 540-103 in 10 regular-season games.
“This is the one time I wouldn’t mind if it rained a little bit and slowed down the track,” Lloyd said. “They are always in trips [formation], right or left with a single receiver on either side. They’re always in the gun and they never huddle up.”
Running back Cedric Peerman leads the vaunted Generals’ offense with 1,492 yards and 32 touchdowns while quarterback Shea Boyd is a dual-threat. Boyd has run for 926 yards and 11 touchdowns and passed for 2,188 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Vernon Vassal is the team’s top receiver with 48 catches for 887 yards and 10 scores while teammate Chauncey Davis has 23 catches for 761 yards, eight touchdowns and a sickening 33.1 yards per catch average.
“We don’t want to make one person bigger than the offense and the team,” William Campbell coach Brad Bradley said of his prolific offense.
The Cougars will counter with running back Price Ward, wide receiver A.C. Fitchett and quarterback Zach Terrell. The fabulous trio has led Manassas Park to a 10-1 record this season with quality wins over defending Group A, Division 2 state champion Washington & Lee-Montross and an 8-2 playoff-bound Brentsville team.
Fitchett caught a 64-yard TD pass from Terrell in a 14-13 playoff win over Riverheads last week. Ward returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown in the Cougars’ 14-13 overtime win over the district rival Tigers. Fitchett caught two TD passes in a 14-13 victory over Washington & Lee.
“Hands down, they are frightening but I like our team too,” Lloyd said. “I wouldn’t trade Price Ward for Peerman, and I am sure they wouldn’t trade Peerman for Price Ward.”
One thing the Cougars need tonight is a solid effort from their special teams, especially their punting unit. Manassas Park has yet to have a punt blocked this season but it had to survive two shaky efforts against both Washington & Lee and Brentsville
Punts of eight and 12 yards gave the other teams great field position. Manassas Park held Washington & Lee to no points in that situation but gave up a touchdown to the Tigers. The Cougars went on to win both games by the same score but Lloyd knows he can’t give the Generals’ offense a short field.
“Our biggest concern is our special teams,” Lloyd said. “If they get you pinned down inside your own 20, they line up 10 and come and get it. That could be a changing point in the ballgame. You can’t have mistakes in special teams. We’ll have to work very hard not to let something like that happen.”
“It’s just a gameplan thing,” said Bradley, whose team also has returned six punts for touchdowns. “We feel like if we can block a punt, we will go after it.”
Lloyd calls William Campbell the best team the Cougars will face all season. Until their 33-30 overtime win over Group AA Gretna in their final regular-season game, the Dogwood District champions hadn’t won by fewer than 35 points. Last week, William Campbell beat Strasburg 28-18 in the first round of the playoffs. The Rams handed Manassas Park its only defeat this season, 14-0, on Oct. 4.
Lloyd said his team won’t be intimidated, though. All season, the Cougars have been perceived as underdogs, says Lloyd, and he wants his team to keep that chip-on-their-shoulder attitude tonight.
“The pressure is not on us, the pressure is on them,” Lloyd said. “We are gonna play with reckless abandon. We had a great year and we are going to go down there to win. We are not gonna go down there and say we are happy to be here.”