Blue Devils solve state’s top scoring defense to reach 6A quarterfinals
LEBANON – Amongst the throng of Lebanon High School’s post-game celebration, it wasn’t hard to pick out the Blue Devil quarterback.
Standing 6-foot-3, looming above the surrounding celebrants, a large smile on his face and his hair blowing freely in the mid-November breeze. But standing out in that moment wasn’t unusual for Jaylen Abston. He had been a standout all night.
“That quarterback, Abston, he’s good.” Riverdale head coach Will Kriesky said. “He’s talented and we knew that if he got going it was going to be a rough night for us. He’s a very special young man, and he’s only a junior. There’s more to see of him in the future.”
Abston’s 185-total-yard, four-touchdown performance and a 16-0 fourth-quarter run highlighted the Blue Devils’ 30-17 victory over visiting Riverdale, a game that saw the Lebanon program achieve its first-ever 11-win season, something not lost on Lebanon head coach Chuck Gentry.
“No team in the history of Lebanon football has ever won 11 games, so we’re the first,” Gentry said. “I want to say that ‘BDP’ is back. You saw tonight, the atmosphere, the crowd, we’re just happy that we can represent this town, and that they’re supporting us, and that the kids are having fun and knowing they’re loved.”
The Blue Devils’ opening drive started well, moving the ball into Warrior territory, but an Abston pass squirted through the hands of Anthony Crowell and into the arms of Warrior defensive back Najai Watson.
Khalil Arman’s 32-yard field goal put Riverdale up 3-0. The weather continued to haunt Lebanon as the punt on their ensuing drive slid off the side of Abston’s foot and again set up Riverdale again with a short field. Lloyd’s two-yard run with 7:25 remaining in the first half put Riverdale up 10-0, stunning the Lebanon crowd.
Down by two scores and with halftime looming, Abston gathered his team together.
“I told the guys, ‘It’s just like last week when (Stewarts Creek) blocked the field goal,” Abston said. “We’re going to have to overcome more adversity to get the ‘W.’ Coach always preaches to us, ‘next play,’ next play.’”
“Things weren’t going well, but we kept snapping and clearing,” Gentry said. “I’m very proud of our kids to have that mindset to just ‘keep chopping.’
“We’ve got that ax for a reason. If you just keep chopping and you don’t quit, and you believe, that tree will eventually fall.”
Lebanon answered when Abston took a shotgun snap and powered in off the left side from a yard out to cut Riverdale’s lead to 10-7.
A diving interception by De’Wayne Brown set up Lebanon’s offense at the Warrior 12-yard line. Four plays later, with the rain intensifying, Anthony Crowell took a shovel pass and scooted around the left of the Warrior defense to give Lebanon a 14-10 halftime lead.
As halftime ended and the rains began to lift, Abston said Coach Gentry warned his players that the storm wasn’t over.
“Coach said to ‘keep chopping,’ that they (Riverdale) wouldn’t let down. They were going to come out hot, or with something different. So, we stayed focused with the game plan.”
Gentry proved prophetic. On the fourth play of the second half, Jameson Holcomb found a streaking Seed Coleman behind the defense for 63 yards and a 17-14 Warrior lead.
Both defenses began to stiffen as the quarter moved on. Riverdale’s running game was hampered by the loss of Marcus Lloyd, who went down with an ankle injury late in the second quarter.
The fourth quarter was all Blue Devils.
Backed up deep in their end of the field, the Warriors committed back-to-back penalties forcing them to punt from the back line of the endzone. Crowell fielded the punt and returned it to the Warrior 30. On the very next play, Abston threw a hitch pass to Crowell on the right sideline and Crowell scamper for the score and a 21-17 lead.
“You can’t turn the ball over. You can’t do that against good teams and expect to win,” Kriesky said. “Yeah, one mistake just kept going in the fourth quarter. And the guys got frazzled and that’s on me. And we’ve been in it before, so I don’t know what caused them to go in ‘freak-out’ mode.”
On third-and-long, Holcomb rolled right but could not find an open receiver, hemmed in by Jack Clinard and in the grasp of Nolan Sandifer, Holcomb tossed the ball away resulting in an intentional grounding call and a Lebanon safety.
After the free kick gave Lebanon the ball in good field position, an Abston run, coupled with two personal foul calls against the Warriors, led to Abston’s one-yard run to give the Blue Devils breathing room.
“I told them it’s going to be a 15-round heavyweight fight,” recounted Gentry with just the hint of a smile. “And we’re going to trade punches. Anthony Crowell said it best yesterday. ‘No disrespect … but we’re not afraid of anybody.’”
Lebanon remains at home for the 6A quarterfinals, hosting Oakland next week.