By LLOYD COMBS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BIRCHLEAF, Va. —
Juan Thornhill proved to be as good as advertised.
His running mates are no bargain for opposing defenses, either.
Thornhill led Altavista to a 34-22 win over Haysi in the Group 1A semifinals Saturday afternoon at Sandlick Elementary School.
Thornhill threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, while Destin Brown and Clydale Moon each ran for scores for an Altavista offense that took what a muddy turf and the Haysi defense gave it.
Despite the best efforts of Haysi coaches and volunteers to dry out, cover and protect the Sandlick field, three more days of rain and damp weather Saturday caused the turf to get muddier as the game wore on and the Colonels changed their game plan.
Unable to break free for many long runs against a well-prepared Haysi defense Thornhill led Alatavista (13-1) on a series of sustained drives.
The Colonels kept the ball for seven plays or more on their first six possessions, including an 8-play, 88-yard drive capped by Thornhill's 47-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Johnson.
A talented junior who has already made a verbal commitment to Virginia, Thornhill capped an 11-play, 64-yard drive with a 3-yard TD run on Altavista's first series.
He added a key 10-yard TD toss to Kenavus Jones with 14.7 seconds remaining in the second quarter to give the Colonels a 27-16 halftime lead. Thornhill finished with more passing (92) than rushing (91) yards in the first half.
"That's probably the first time that's happened all year," Altavista coach Mike Scharnus said. "It was a track not conducive to him running around on, and Haysi had a lot to do with it. Obviously, they're a very good football team. They're undefeated, they're very physical and they did a good job defensively.
"We had more sustained drives, whether they led to touchdowns or not, than we've had all year. We had to try to work the clock. That's what you get when you have good defensive teams."
Thornhill became a workhorse, more than a big-play runner. He got most of his yards in short, drive-sustaining bursts and finished with 35 carries for 155 yards.
Brown and Moon gave Thornhill plenty of help.
After Haysi got within 27-22 on a 2-yard touchdown run from Tristan Yates early in the second half, Altavista answered with a 12-play, 71-yard drive with Moon scoring on a 2-yard run.
Moon contributed a 22-yard run on one scoring drive and Brown added 101 yards rushing on 12 attempts. His touchdown came on a 25-yard run one play after Haysi fumbled away a kickoff return in the first quarter.
"Moon and Brown, they both ran the ball extremely hard," Scharnus added. "We do have other people other than Juan, and that's what showed here today."
Jalen Sykes threw a strike to Tanner O'Quinn for a 23-yard touchdown pass as Haysi (13-1) scored on its first possession of the game. Sykes added a one-yard keeper for a TD with 1:33 left in the first half, but otherwise Haysi had trouble running the ball.
The Tigers were stopped up the middle by Altavista's strength and held in check outside by its speed. Tailback Jeffrey Bowen, who finished his senior with 2,275 yards, was held to 15 yards rushing on eight carries Saturday.
The Tigers generated just 44 rushing yards overall on 24 attempts.
"(Altavista has) the best linebackers we've seen all year," Haysi coach James Colley said. "I mean up front they're coming at you. Sometimes they stunt, and it seems like they always stunt in the right spot.
"If they're not stunting they sit there and see where the ball's going
and they fly to the ball. (Brown) is one of the toughest linebackers
that I've ever coached against. I told him after the game 'hats off,
Haysi did throw for 173 yards. O'Quinn finished with five catches for 81 yards and Bowen added 64 yards on three receptions.
Bowen's incredible balancing act and acrobatic catch after contact with a defender resulted in a 52-yard play that set up Haysi's only second-half score.
"We took their running game away, but they made some big plays in the passing game," said Scharnus. "Give them credit there.
"They made some big plays. Their receivers made two or three great catches. That was the difference in us (not) totally dominating, they\ just made some big plays."
Altavista did dominate the ball and the clock most of the second half, giving Haysi very few chances to mount a comeback. After the Tigers' third-quarter TD the Colonels held the ball for nearly 15 minutes of the next 15:49.
Haysi turned the ball over three times. Altavista recovered two of its three fumbles and actually gained several yards on each play.
"Our guys never said die, they stayed with it the whole game," Colley said. "We told the kids there's probably four or five plays that decided every ballgame.
"You know, if we get one of those fumbles we get momentun on our side. But hats off to (Altavista). That's a super football team, by far the best team we've played this year. They deserve to be in the state championship game."
Tristan Yates led Haysi with 12 solo stops and 16 total tackles. Tanner Artrip, Blake Branham and Robbie Yates were each in on 11 stops. Thornhill and Brown each had interceptions for the Colonels.
Scharnus gave his team credit for the way it handled the long road trip and the field conditions.
"I can't be any more proud of our kids, you know a five-hour trip, we stayed overnight, we handled everything," he said. handled it superbly."
at Sandlick Elementary School
Altavista...............................14 13 7 0 — 34
Haysi......................................8 8 6 0 — 22
H-O'Quinn 23 pass from Sykes (T. Yates pass from Sykes)
A-Thornhill 3 run (run failed)
A-Brown 25 run (Thornhill run)
A-De. Johnson 47 pass from Thornhill (pass failed)
H-Sykes 1 run (Bowen pass from Sykes)
A-Jones 10 pass from Thornhill (Allen kick)
H-T. Yates 2 run (run failed)
A-Moon 6 run (Allen kick
First Downs: A 24, H 10; Rushes-Yards: A 60-298; H 24-44; Passing Yards: A 96, H 173; Comp-Att-Int: A 5-9-0, H 12-29-2; Fumbles-Lost: A 3-1, H 2-1; Penalties-Yards: A 10-79, H 7-41. Punts-Average: A 1-35, H 3-40.3.