HHS advances to state championship after thrilling semifinal win


The team huddles on the sideline during a recent homegame. Photo by Anastasiya Kalyuk.

The team huddles on the sideline during a recent homegame. Photo by Anastasiya Kalyuk.

“We Believe, We Believe!” The chant bellowed throughout the visiting Harrisonburg High School fan section as the Blue Demons raced to the line of scrimmage on potentially the last play of the game. Harrisonbug had taken a 28-21 lead over Christiansburg on a touchdown run by star running back Michael Holmes on a fourth down and goal from the one yard line. Kicker Connor Floros converted the extra point to give the Blue Streaks a seven point lead. Christiansburg had one last chance to get the ball in the endzone after being stopped at the three yard line on three consecutive plays.

The Harrisonburg band played the school’s fight song and the cheerleaders formed a tunnel with the two cheerleader captains holding a banner with the words “Will the Real ‘Burg Please Stand Up”. Michael Holmes led the team onto the field by tearing through the banner and sprinting onto the field.

“Me and Dante always lead the team out onto the field. It’s nothing new,” said Holmes.

The team raced 100 yards, the length of the wet field, to the other endzone where coach Tim Sarver gave the team some last minute motivation before the team headed to the sidelines. The captains met at midfield for the coin toss in the midst of snow flurries.

“The ref just said he wanted a clean game and then asked is if we wanted heads or tails. “Zach (Dean) said heads and we won the coin toss. We differed to the second half and they chose to defend the west endoze first,” recounted Holmes.

Harrisonburg kicked off and Christiansburg returned the kickoff to their own 36 yard line. After getting two consecutive first downs due to penalties, Harrisonburg’s defense buckled down and stopped the Blue Demons on three consecutive plays forcing them to punt. Senior linebacker and fullback Ryan Fletcher, 5’9” and 225 pounds made the tackle on third down resulting in a loss of four yards.

“When I saw their wide receiver go in motion I knew he was going to get the ball. I shredded my blocker and hit him low because he is a strong runner,” said Fletcher.

Christiansburg downed the ensuing punt at Harrisonburg’s five yard line. Harrisonburg then went on a 17 play drive that took 7:35 off the game clock. The drive ended with Michael Holmes punching it into the endozne from five yards out behind a great lead block by Fletcher.

“Ryan made a good block on the linebacker and created a hole for me to slide through. If he doesn’t make that block, I probably don’t get in,” said the levelheaded Holmes.

Christiansburg immediately countered the Blue Streak’s drive by constructing a touchdown drive of their own. The drive was capped off by a 27 yard touchdown run by running back Kam Johnson.

The two teams went to halftime knotted at 7. The snow began to fall heavier

as the Christiansburg band provided the halftime entertainment. By the time the teams returned to the field for the second half the once green grass was now completely white, making it nearly impossible to see the yard lines.

Harrisonburg took full advantage of the coin toss by scoring a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half. The drive was highlighted by two plays. One was a deflected pass by the defense that Fletcher caught for a first down. The other was a 43 yard pass play that was tipped by two players before wide receiver Connor Wolfe made a diving catch. That set up another Michael Holmes touchdown run.

Christiansburg answered Harrisonburg’s touchdown drive with a two play 68 yard touchdown drive of their own. After the Blue Demon’s kicker connected on the extra point, the game was once again tied, this time at 14.

The ensuing kickoff went over kick return specialist Corbin Whitelow’s head. He was tackled at the 12 yard line, but after the officials assessed a block in the back penalty, the ball was spotted at the six yard line. The drive stalled and Harrisonburg was forced to punt deep in its own territory. A missed block resulted in a blocked punt which was covered in the endzone for a touchdown for the Blue Demons. Christiansburg held a 21-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Harrisonburg regrouped on the sidelines.

“Everybody was a little shocked after the blocked punt but we knew there were going to be big momentum shifts in this game so we didn’t panic,” said Fletcher.

The Blue Streaks responded to the Blue Demon’s touchdown when Michael Holmes busted through the line of scrimmage and hurdled a defender before racing to the endzone for a Harrisonburg touchdown.

“You saw that nice hurdle right. I saw him duck his head so I decided to go over him,” said Holmes.

After Christiansburg quarterback Brandon Motley was intercepted by Holmes with five minutes left, the momentum shifted to back towards Harrisonburg.

“I thought we were going to run it down their throat with Michael, burn the clock down, and score right at the end of the game,” said Fletcher.

He was wrong. The Harrisonburg drive stalled at the Christiansburg 19 yard line and the Blue Streaks were forced to attempt a field goal to win the game. Conor Floros missed short and wide left on the potential game winner.

“We didn’t become dejected as you might expect because it was going to overtime and overtime is a whole new ballgame,” said Fletcher.

The Streaks won the coin toss before overtime and elected to defend first so they would see know how many points they would need to tie or win the game. On Christiansburg’s first play from the ten yard line Motley fumbled the snap and Harrisonburg’s defense pounced on the ball. Holmes ran the ball three consecutive plays to the one yard line. However, after reaching the one yard line, the Streaks were hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and pushed back to the 16 yard line. Floros missed another potential game winning field goal from 34 yards away wide left.

The Streaks began with the ball to start the second overtime. The Streaks were faced with fourth and goal after punching the ball down to the one yard line. Harrisonburg went to the Power I, which has two full backs and a running back in the backfield. Holmes trucked a kid a kid into the endzone, giving him his fourth touchdown of the day. Floros added the extra point to give Harrisonburg a 28-21 lead.

“There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I wasn’t going to get in. I would have dove over the top if I had to,” said Holmes.

The Blue Demons ran an end around to the left for a seven yard gain on first down to the Harrisonburg three yard line. Christiansburg was stoned at the three yard line on the next two plays which made it fourth and goal from the three. Harrisonburg only needed one more defensive stand  to punch its ticket to Liberty for the state championship the following Saturday.

The play was an end around to running back Kam Johnson to the right. Zack Dean raced into the backfield and dove at Johnson’s feet, forcing him to stumble. Johnson tripped forwards for a few yards and Salim Charles and Michael Holmes finished him off.

It all depended on the spot because the goal line was covered in snow.

The official finally marked the ball mere inches from the goal line, but it was short nonetheless.

Harrisonburg had won 28-21 in double overtime. The players celebrated by doing snow angels at midfield before going through the handshake line.

“The final tackle? It was all Zach. He tripped him up in the backfield,” said a tired Holmes.

You can not blame him for being tired after taking a career high 49 carries which he turned into 257 yards and four touchdowns. Holmes, the reigning Group AA Player of the Year,  also played safety on defense for a majority of the game.

“The snow was the reason he had all those carries. I wasn’t lobbying for him to get that many carries nor was the game plan for him to have 50 carries but when the weather does not cooperate it makes it hard to throw the ball,” said Moses Tinsley, the running back’s coach.”

“Was I sore? Yeah, especially my neck, but was it worth it? Absolutely. I would give anything to play in the state championship game,” said Holmes.

“This is only second to the Amherst game earlier this year in terms of where it ranks on my all-time list of games I’ve played in,” said Fletcher.

“It was the coldest game I’ve ever coached in. I would say it ranks in the top five in terms of greatest wins that I’ve been apart of,” said Tinsley.

The Blue Streaks outlasted Christiansburg and the cold weather en route to their first appearance in the state championship game since 2005. Harrisonburg lost the championship game in 2005 but won in 2001. The Streaks will be looking for their second state championship in school history on Saturday when they take the field next weekend.

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