FORT LEE, Va. (Dec. 8, 2011)-Following an undefeated regular season, Fort Lee's Wolfpack confidently took the field to play the Hopewell Gold Devils in the Virginia Youth Football League Championship Saturday at the Petersburg High School stadium.
The junior-level team, consisting of 32 players aged 11-12 years old, had beaten their championship opponents twice before meeting them at the last challenge of the season.
Parents and community members packed the stands, including advanced individual training students from Papa Company, 266th Quartermaster Battalion, 23rd QM Brigade, and Alpha Company, 832nd Ordnance Bn., 16th Ord Bde.
Head coach, Master Sgt. Tiwan Jarrett said the team was prepared for the hard match to win the championship.
"Going into this football game we knew it was going to be difficult playing the Hopewell Gold Devils for the third time," he said. "We had beaten them two times previously, but this time was going to be a little bit different because the Devils had become real familiar with some of our tendencies."
Jarrett said the team started off slow as their opponents were well prepared for some of the Wolfpack's plays. After watching what Hopewell was trying defensively, offensive coordinators 1st Sgt. Garrick Griffin and 1st Sgt. Dewayne Johnson, made a few adjustments to get workable plays into the game while the defense kept the Gold Devils stalled.
"Defensively, the team did a great job holding the Gold Devils to three or four plays during the first quarter," Jarrett said.
The first score of the game came late in the first quarter when Wolfpack running back Marlon Cooper Jr. was able to score a touchdown after a 30-yard push with one of the team's tried and true plays.
The second quarter became a defensive struggle for Fort Lee.
"We knew the best strategy for Hopewell was to keep our offensive team off the field," Jarrett said. "They did a good job managing the clock and keeping us from getting into our rhythm during the first half. They also did an excellence job of keeping their offense on the field and ours off. But we knew we had left scoring opportunities on the field and level-headed coach Johnson continued to remind me that we were OK. Things would fall into place and the Wolfpack defense would not budge."
Fort Lee continued to make plays in the backfield and gang-tackled every would-be ball carrier for the Gold Devils.
During halftime the coaches talked about what the team needed to do to come out strong in the third quarter.
"We knew we were getting the ball to start the second half, and we knew if we scored a second touchdown it would be tough for Hopewell to come back," Jarrett said.
The team ran a few running plays and some play-action fakes back up the Gold Devils defensive team. Then quarterback Preston Springer threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Cooper.
"Once we had that two touchdown lead, we were comfortable," Jarrett said. "We knew they didn't have the fire-power to score two or three touchdowns. Our team hasn't given up two or three touchdowns all season. So we knew defensively we could slow them down and get off the field."
The Wolfpack defensive team, led by Lawson Quinn, Tarik Samuel, Bryce Springer and Emmanuel Grandison, continued to dominate the game, Jarrett said.
Late in the third quarter, defensive captain Demario Bowers caused a fumble, which was recovered by the Wolfpack in Hopewell's territory. The offense took advantage of the great field position and Cooper punched in his third touchdown of the game and gave Fort Lee a commanding 19-0 lead.
In the final quarter with a win looking imminent and in an effort to maintain good sportsmanship, the offensive coaches took out most of the first team skill players with the exception of the quarterback. Not wanting to risk a fumble with plays the second skill players hadn't practiced the coaches decided to play one of the team's smallest running backs Xavian Hallingquest and avoid hits to the quarterback.
"Looking back, it may have been a questionable decision," Jarrett said. "Halllingquest took advantage of his opportunity and broke the left side of the line for a 50-yard touchdown run."
In the final play of the game, Stringer scored with a 35-yard interception bringing the score to 32-0.
From the start of the season, the team worked for the championship wins with tough training.
"Back in August, the coaches established an environment of professionalism that was destined to lead the team to success," 1st Sgt. Lawrence Scott said. "They put the kids through rigorous training that was quite a tasking but was tempered with firm but caring attitudes. This was my son's first year playing tackle football and he absolutely enjoyed it. But, more importantly, he developed a great work ethic."
Jarrett said the athletes' parents and community backed the team and gave them the feeling that the community was with them working for the win.
"We had a great group of athletes, parents and community supporters," he said. "We always had community members packing our stands, including AIT Soldiers who used their personal time to come support our youth. They cheered our kids on and that's what it is about at the end of the day, our community."
The Wolfpack will celebrate its undefeated season with a banquet at Larkin Hall in the coming days.