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A good year for IOW Academy

On Saturday night in Richmond Powhatan, Seth Royster dug in at tackle for Isle of Wight Academy, determined to stop host Blessed Sacrament Hugenot (BS). The Chargers were a win away from their first Virginia Independent Schools Division I championship since 1998, but the finish line was still four quarters away. They’d have to stop a team that had won the past two division titles, and defeated them during the regular season n and they’d have to do it at BS’s field.

Royster, a junior and Suffolk resident, had watched his team go from losing to BS in the 2003 title game to finishing 3-6 the next year, only to charge back to the championship contest in 2005.

Next to him, Robert Hart got ready to stop as well. The former John F. Kennedy Middle School student, now an IOW sophomore, had helped the junior varsity Chargers go undefeated the year before, and now he was in the big time n and the Big Game.

Things hadn’t started well for IOW this season, as they’d opened the year with an overtime loss to Bishop Sullivan.

“We were definitely upset,” Royster said. “We knew we were good. It should never have been that close. We got ahead easy and got overconfident.”

The squad bounced back to defeated Broadwater, Kenston Forrest, Brunswick and Tidewater Academy. But Oct. 21, BS scored with five seconds left to defeat them, 28-27.

“That was real hard,” Royster said. “It hurt us. I think I played harder in that game than any other.”

Still, the Chargers lived up to their name by bolting into the playoffs n but then came the hard part.

They had to go to Roanoke Catholic (RC) to take on the top-seeded team, which was riding a nine-game winning streak.

Early in the first quarter, Jason Brake rushed for a touchdown to give IOW a 7-0 lead. RC came right back to tie the score. That’s when the fireworks began.

J.D. Honeycutt took the kickoff at the IOW 10. With Royster, Hart and others blocking a path, he bolted all the way to the endzone.

But before IOW had much time to celebrate, RC crossed them up with a 67-yard run for another score.

But before RC had much time to celebrate, Kirk Smith outran their defense for another 90-yard kick return, and the quarter mercifully ended, finally giving IOW a chance to celebrate, and breathe.

Brake gave them some extra breathing room when he scored in the second quarter. RC got into pay dirt, but their extra point try hit the upright, leaving the score at a familiar 28-27 at halftime.

“I was just like ‘Whoa,’” Royster said. “I knew we were in the game. This is the number-one seed, and we were ahead of them.”

Whereas the first half had been an offensive showcase, the defenses took over in the second, as no one could move the ball much. But as the clock wound down, Taylor Boyd ended one RC drive with an interception, and Brake put the game away with a pick of his own with less than two minutes to play.

Then it was over to Richmond and to the title game.

“I wanted it to be a blowout,” Hart said. “I thought we could beat them either way.”

It didn’t seem so at first; after IOW’s first drive stalled, BS’s first play from scrimmage was a 75-yard touchdown. The extra point missed, but BS had struck hard and fast.

IOW drove down the field to start the second quarter, and William Whitley launched a 30-yard score to Kevin King and then knocked a ball through the uprights to get ahead. But BS got a field goal to end the half up 9-7.

“We knew we could beat them,” Hart said. “We just had to score.”

Brake did so early in the second quarter n and that’s when the IOW show began.

“We kind of took over,” Royster said. “Our offensive line and defensive line and running backs too over the game.”

Brake pulled down an interception, and scored again. In the fourth quarter, he crossed the line one more time to push the lead to an insurmountable 28-9. BS got through late in the quarter to get to 28-17, but it was far too little and late.

“We felt like the best,” Hart said. The team took pictures and did some impromptu dances to celebrate.

“It’s something you always dream of,” Royster said. “When you get there, it’s overwhelming.”

They’re not quite done.

“We’ve got a lot of talent,” said Royster, whose team only graduates five players. “There’s a lot of young talent. We plan on winning a few more.”