JEB Stuart scored 21 fourth quarter points, including Chris Kirby’s go ahead touchdown run with five minutes remaining, and made a couple of late defensive stops to hold on for a wild 49-43 win over Edison.
The Raiders trailed 43-36 midway through the fourth quarter when quarterback Javonte Robinson found room to run up the middle and won a footrace after cutting to the sideline for a 50-yard TD to tie the game. The Eagles gave the ball back to Stuart almost immediately when Ethan Leventhal’s big hit on Nate Rogers forced a fumble that Sam Drigo was there to fall on. It only took Kirby one try to score from three yards out.
The defense, which has been much maligned for its susceptibility to big plays, forced the Eagles into their first fourth down of the second half. Quarterback Chuck Clark couldn’t find a receiver, and threw the ball to no one down the middle of the field. Four Kirby rushes and a kneedown later, the Raiders had their first National District win.
“I looked to my left and didn’t see anybody, I saw a big hole in the middle and scrambled,” Robinson said of his tying score before going on to talk about the dynamic of playing both sides of the ball, as most of his teammates do. “I had to hold my team together, tell the defense ‘let’s go,’ get them riled up, get them ready for the play and execute.”
Robinson completed four of eight passes for 99 yards and a touchdown, and finished with 136 yards and three scores on the ground. Kirby added 198 yards and three TD’s on 25 carries, and the Raiders finished with 365 total rushing yards. While the offensive numbers have been there before, it was the defense that rose to the occasion when it mattered most.
“There’s three or four plays each game that don’t turn into first downs, they turn into touchdowns,” head coach Roy Ferri said. “We knew we were going to give up some points, that’s what Edison does. We know we’re going to make some mistakes. Everyone needed to keep their cool because it’s only going to take two or three stops to seal the deal.”
The win may represent a turning point in what has so far been a disappointing season for Stuart. The Raiders were coming off their best finish in a decade after a regional tournament appearance last year, but struggled to a 2-4 start. While Ferri isn’t taking anything for granted, Stuart has favorable matchups with Wakefield, Washington-Lee and Falls Church to close out the season.
“It’s not the way I wanted it, because I wanted our young kids to grow into the season,” Ferri said of the schedule. “Instead we got thrown in the fire early on against some good teams. Hopefully it’s starting to pay off a little bit now.”
“We’re still alive. If we lose tonight, we’re dead. We’ve got three to go. Our goal right now is to win out and then we need a little help, and we’ll see if we’re in the top eight.”
The Raiders were one of the first teams to figure out how to stop Edison receiver Tyrone Mackall, who is at or near the top of every statistical category in the D.C. area. He finished with six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown, but the majority of that came on one drive, and he had managed just two catches at halftime.
“I think the quarterback got tired of looking at him,” Ferri said. “In the first half he’s looking for him because that’s his guy, and then when he was doubled he looked somewhere else. In the second half I don’t really think he looked for him that much other than that one drive.”
Stuart played catch up for the first three quarters. Edison scored first and the teams traded touchdowns and were tied at 28-28 at the halfway mark. Sam Drigo made an impressive juggling catch while falling down that went for 36 yards. That set up Kirby’s first touchdown from 10 yards out. Kirby again evened the score when he shed multiple tacklers at the line of scrimmage and found the end zone 60 yards later.
Robinson got in on the action after that, twisting his way to a 12-yard score and adding an 18-yard keeper with 18 seconds before halftime.
Both offenses started to stall after that. Stuart saw three of their first four drives ended by fumbles, including one that started inside the Edison 5-yard line after an athletic one-handed interception by defensive lineman Tony Konjevoda. The Eagles, meanwhile, were done in by penalties. Mackall took a screen pass 67 yards only to see it washed out by a holding call. Edison had three other plays of more than 20 yards that were negated by penalties in the backfield.
Robinson got half of his completions on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter, the latter of which was an 18-yard strike to Matt Harrell for a touchdown. The Raiders took their first lead when they opted for two points after an Edison personal foul following the touchdown moved the ball a yard closer to the end zone. The Eagles responded by converting their own two-point try after Mackall’s TD, giving them their last lead of the game before Robinson’s long scramble.