Friday night’s 4-AA West Regional Final game was Will Jones’ third consecutive playoff game accounting for six touchdowns and Ronald Polite’s third game in a row with three touchdown receptions.
But it was Page’s ability to capitalize on Vance mistakes while making few of its own, along with outstanding play from its defense, which made the difference as they held the high-octane Vance offense to just 14 points in the 4-AA West Regional Final game on Friday at Marion Kirby Stadium in Greensboro. The Pirates rolled to a convincing 49-14 win.
It appeared from the beginning of that things might be chippy, as, during warm-ups, the Cougars of Charllote’s Vance High School came out and stomped on the Pirate logo at mid-field. Some Vance players were also seen taunting the Pirate team. The Pirates kept their cool, though, and it played to their advantage as the game got started.
Will Jones knew that the Cougars were going to try to get in the Pirates’ heads.
“We knew they were going to try to intimidate us by stomping on the Pirate in the middle of the field and talking a lot of junk,” he said. “We weren’t worried about that and didn’t get back in their faces, and I think that was a big reason we won the game because we kept our composure and knew what we were doing.”
The Vance Cougars took advantage of the opportunity to get the ball first as Page won the opening coin toss and deferred to the second half. The Cougars went on a 14-play, 66-yard drive that culminated in a Markilius Williams 10-yard touchdown run to give Vance an early 7-0 lead.
The lead was short lived, and the Cougars were in for a long night.
The Page offense was the more powerful of the two against a Vance team had only scored less than 40 points in only one other game before Frday. Page’s offense showed off it’s dominance when the Pirates’ Will Jones completed his first eight passes – his fourth, a 36-yard pass to Ronald Polite for the Pirates’ first score.
Jones’ pass to Polite would begin a 35-0 run by the Pirates. Their offense was completely unstoppable.
Javon Leake looked 100 percent recovered from an ankle injury, and, following a Vance punt, the senior RB and Maryland commit, ran 49 yards to the end zone to for the Pirates’ first lead, a lead they would hold the entire game.
Page took advantage of Vance’s mistakes and after Kingsley Ifedi’s first interception of the game, Will Jones scampered six yards to the Promised Land. The Leake and Jones touchdown runs were just two short minutes apart.
Page had made its point. The team was bound and determined to get to the state championship game and take the spoils.
“Last year, we were humiliated in (Carter-Finley Stadium) in the state championship,” Will Jones said. “We’re coming back this year to do that to the other team.”
Vance elected to go for it on fourth-and-two on the Page 20 yard line, and was soundly denied by the Pirate defense that played a huge part in the victory and has made a number of big stands this season. The stop gave the Pirates the ball on their own 20 yard line.
Following Vance’s turnover on downs, Jones scored his second consecutive rushing touchdown, this time from three yards out.
Ifedi’s second interception was picked off by Javon Leake, playing safety for the still-injured Alex Angus. The interception led to Jones finding Ronald Polite for another spectacular catch in the far corner of the North end zone with 25 seconds remaining in the first half. The touchdown made the score 35-7 Page going to halftime.
“It is a great feeling (to make big catches),” Polite said. “I’m really happy for the team, now I’m looking forward to winning the state championship.”
Jones has gotten very comfortable throwing to Polite, and who wouldn’t, when your receiver is on ESPN’s SportsCenter one week, and makes another fantastic catch the following game?
“(Polite) is my favorite receiver to go to,” Jones said. “I love throwing to him.”
Polite’s third touchdown reception came with 6:34 remaining in the third quarter. Another 10-yard pass from Jones finished off the Pirate 35-0 run and made the score 42-7 Page.
The Cougars’ Williams scored from 11 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter, and Page’s Jones trotted in from 13 yards out to end the scoring, making the final numbers 49-14.
Micah Gafford had his third interception in three games for the Pirates Friday night.
“We heard from the start that this was a really good offense that we were playing,” Gafford said. “We came out (this week) and practiced real hard. We were focused, everybody was on one accord, and we just played hard and played the defense we know how to play.”
Gafford attributed his big contributions in the playoffs to knowing a loss could mean his last game of competitive football, ever.
“I’m a senior, and I have to play like this is my last game,” he said. ”I probably won’t play in college, I don’t know yet, but when you play like it’s your last game, it just comes.”
Gafford wasn’t the only one who pulled in interceptions. Ronald Polite recorded his first career interception on the night as well (his intercepted pass last week was called back due to a Pirate penalty).
The numbers tell the story: the Pirates punted just two times, turned over on downs once, and had only one turnover in the game.
Defensive leader Tyler DeBerry’s efforts were huge.
“Our coaches gave us a plan, to contain Ifedi, and we practiced hard all week. We came out tonight and executed (the game plan),” DeBerry said.
Page placekicker/punter Thomas Murray stepped up big again, pinning the Cougars inside the 10 yard line twice, and right on the 10 once. This week, because of lack of punts, Murray showed off even more talent as he used his ability on the kickoff to pin teams deep in their own territory.
Page head coach Kevin Gillespie is proud that his team has made it to the state championship once again, but remembers last year’s loss and is determined to do everything in his power to make sure that this year his team leaves Raleigh victorious.
“We’re playing pretty good right now,” Gillespie said of his team’s performance. “We’re not done, though. Last year we made it (to the state championship game), and I think we were satisfied just to get there. I’m going to do everything I can, and I hope I don’t have to do too much, to make sure we’re not just satisfied just to get there this year.
“We had some great players make great plays tonight. That’s exciting!
“We did a good job of forcing some turnovers, and we capitalized on them,” he added. “That was the difference in the game. The team that makes the least amount of mistakes is the team that usually comes away victorious.
“We’ve come a long way, and we’ve got one more shot at it. The season is over next week, win or lose. I’m just so proud of our kids. We have overcome all kinds of injuries and things like that. We can’t relax, let up, or think it’s going to be easy, because it’s not.”
There’s always work to be done.
“I’m going to go home and go to work, watching film and looking at where we need to make adjustments. I will rest week after next. I’m not going to rest now.”
With the win, the Pirates will play Wake Forest High School next Saturday afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, the same site where they were defeated by Mallard Creek in the Stat Championship game last season. But this is a new year, and Page is out for redemption.
Gillespie and his Pirates will charge into Raleigh at Carter-Finley Stadium next Saturday and hope to leave state champions. The Championship would be Page’s second under Gillespie, the first since 2011.
Photos by Cameron Robles
(VAN) MJ Williams 10 rush (James Palacios kick)
(PAG) Ronald Polite 36 pass from Will Jones (Thomas Murray kick)
(PAG) Javon Leake 49 run (Murray kick)
(PAG) Jones 6 run (Murray kick)
(PAG) Jones 3 run (Murray kick)
(PAG) Polite 10 pass from Jones (Murray kick)
(PAG) Polite 10 pass from Jones (Murray kick)
(VAN) Williams 11 run (Palacios kick)
(PAG) Jones 13 run (Murray kick)
Will Jones: (23-31) 278yds, 3TD ; 5car 32yds, 3TD
Ronald Polite: 8 rec 135yds, 3TD
Javon Leake: 11 car 91yds, TD
Thomas Murray: (7-7) PAT’s, 3 kickoffs pinning Vance on or inside the 10.
Kingsley Ifedi: (9-17) 80yds, 4INT, FUM ; 19car 38yds
MJ Williams: 10 car 106yds, 2TD