RIDGEWAY — A first-half shootout turned into a second-half blowout as Staunton River overpowered Magna Vista in the opening round of the Region 3D playoffs, 35-21.
The Golden Eagles, the No. 7 seed, erased a seven-point halftime deficit with three unanswered touchdowns after the break to upset the No. 2-seeded Warriors and advance to this Friday’s second round at No. 3 seed Christiansburg.
Macon Ayers scored three touchdowns for the Golden Eagles (6-5), two on passes from QB Brady Barns, who also rushed for a TD and iced the win with an interception near the goal line in the game’s final minutes.
Barns set up the back-breaking score late in the fourth quarter on a long 27-yard scamper inside MV terriorty. Ayers capped the drive a couple of plays later when he took a shovel pass from Barns 36 yards to put the Eagles ahead by two TDs.
It was a remarkable comeback after the Warriors (7-4) scored on a 26-yard pass to Jolen Schoefield with 11 seconds left in the second quarter to go ahead in a see-saw first half, 21-14. But the score seemed to give the momentum to the Eagles instead of the Warriors.
“We went in a halftime a little sketchy, giving up that big play at the end,” said Barns. “But we made some adjustments and came out ready to play in the second half. Our line did amazing. They did their job and it showed on the scoreboard.”
Ayers agreed that the TD stung the Eagles and motivated them to buckle down after the break.
“It sparked us, for sure,” said Ayers, who finished with 127 all-purpose yards. “We went in at halftime a little beat, they had that big touchdown at the end of the half and they busted two other plays wide open. We did a good job coming out in the second half firing and just playing really good defense.
“We were definitely the more physical team (after halftime). We preached that all week, if we win the line of scrimmage, we win the game. You could kinda feel (Magna Vista) break. It was nice to watch a team break and just push them down the field. Our line was just awesome in the second half.”
Magna Vista had two big TD runs of 49 and 66 yards in the first half, but was limited to just 54 total yards the rest of game. Each of those TDs answered scores by SRHS.
Barns put the Eagles ahead first with a 4-yard touchdown push at 8:47 in the first quarter, capping a long opening drive. But the PAT kick by Nate Martin hit the upright and SRHS led 6-0.
Magna Vista’s Joseph Spriggs broke a 49-yard TD sprint on the Warriors’ next possession and their PAT kick was good to give them a 7-6 edge. The Eagles stormed back again, putting together another long drive that was climaxed by Ayers’ 14-yard burst. This time, SRHS lined up for a PAT boot but kicker Nate Martin took a direct snap and lofted a throw over the MV defense to Josh Kelly, who pulled down the pass like a basketball rebound to give the Eagles a 14-7 advantage.
The Warriors knotted the game at 2:48 in the second on a pinballing 66-yard run by slippery running back J’mere Hairston. After SRHS’ next possession was stopped, MV took the halftime lead on the pass to Schoefield.
The rest of the way, it was all Staunton River who rolled up 344 yards in total offense.
“We weathered the first-half storm and came out and shut them out in the second half,” said SRHS coach Shuan Leonard. “We pride ourselves on being physical and we’re finally big enough to play that way.”
Kelly tied it at 7:28 in the third on a 9-yard punch and Barns and Ayers finished off the Warriors on the two passes. The first, a 58-yard strike, completely surprised the MV defense.
“We don’t like to pass the ball much, but we can when the run ain’t working,” said Barns. “We’re a hard-nosed team. Our moto is, ‘Four yards a carry.’ ”
Ayers said it’s an attitude that began last year after the Golden Eagles lost in the first round of the playoffs to Christiansburg.
“It just a mentality, that’s all it is,” said the sophomore. “It’s just being more physical, being meaner.”
That mentality should serve them well when they get another shot at the Blue Demons on Friday with a berth in the Region championship on the line.
Leonard expects a much closer game than last year’s 48-0 beatdown.
“They’re a well-coached, physical team. And we know it will be a physical game,” he said. “(Unlike last year) it won’t be our fifth game in 22 days. We’re actually the fresher team because they’re two days behind us.
“They’re a good team, we’re a good team. When you get to the playoffs, it’s survive and advance. We’ll see what happens.”