BRISTOL, Va. – It’s not often that a fellow who loses his pants in front of a thousand pairs of eyeballs ends his night with a big ol’ grin.
River Carter, however, made sure that he had the last laugh Friday night.
A few minutes of game action after having his pants torn to shreds by a Virginia High tackler, the standout Abingdon junior made the victory-clinching interception with a leaping catch to secure a 14-6 victory for the Falcons over the Bearcats in a non-district rivalry clash.
“All props to my linemen because they rushed [VHS quarterback Jamie Lathrop] and he had to get out of the pocket,” Carter said. “The ball was in the air and I had to make a play, came down with it. I feel like I have the capability to do stuff like that and help our team out so I’m thankful for that.”
As for the pants-less moment on the field?
“That’s my first time,” Carter said with a smile.
While his clutch interception was impossible to miss, perhaps not all observers spotted the wardrobe malfunction, which forced Carter off the field momentarily to change into a pair of backup britches.
“I didn’t even know he lost his pants until I seen him on the sideline strippin’,” said Abingdon linebacker Jake Crosswhite.
Clothing shenanigans aside, it was a workmanlike, gritty effort by Carter and the Falcons that carried them to victory Friday.
“I was proud of our resiliency tonight,” said first-year Abingdon coach Garrett Amburgey, who spent last season as Virginia High’s offensive coordinator. “It was just a great team effort.”
Abingdon (5-2) built a 14-0 halftime lead and hung on in the final two quarters despite gaining just 56 yards after the break.
For the game, the AHS defense forced the Bearcats (3-3) off the field five times via a fourth-down stop, including making two stands after Virginia High got within 5 yards of the end zone.
“That’s when we play our hardest,” Crosswhite said.
Carter and Crosswhite were joined by the likes of William Seymore, Ethan Roark, Dylan Hale and Brian Burke in spearheading the strong defensive effort by the Falcons.
“We just couldn’t punch it in,” said Virginia High coach Michael Crist. “That’s kind of been our MO. We’ll just keep going to work with it.”
Abingdon opened the scoring on the final play from scrimmage of the first quarter when quarterback Gabe Boothe found Tyler Thayer for a 14-yard touchdown pass. The drive was set up by Kenny Fields recovering a fumbled punt by the Bearcats, leaving the Falcons just 45 yards away from the end zone.
After forcing VHS into a three-and-out following its first score, Abingdon pushed its lead out to a two-score advantage with a seven-play, 56-yard drive boosted by a pass interference call on a third-and-14 play. Seymore capped the march with a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 7:20 left before the half.
Virginia High nearly sliced its deficit in half just before the end of the second quarter, but a 4-yard touchdown run by Aaron Rose on first-and-goal was called back due to a motion penalty. The Bearcats got back no closer than the 6-yard line and Lathrop’s fourth-down pass was caught by Colton Ratcliffe out of bounds.
Virginia High then opened the second half with a drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock, but again the Bearcats came up empty when running back Stevie Thomas was stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-1 play from the 3-yard line.
The lone score for Virginia High came with 3:25 remaining when Lathrop connected with Taurean Bizzell for an 18-yard touchdown pass.
The VHS defense got the offense the ball back with 2:17 still to play, but Carter’s interception on a deep pass thrown from Virginia’s High own 39-yard line snuffed out the last hope for the Bearcats.
“It is frustrating because our kids played as hard as they could possible play, which is what we ask them to do,” Crist said. “I thought we played tremendous defense.”
Virginia High outgained Abingdon 255-168 yards in total offense. Thomas carried 14 times for 102 yards, while Rose gained 60 yards on 14 totes of his own for the Bearcats.
Will Brown also came up with two first-half interceptions for VHS and the Bearcats got a third pick in the second half on a tipped pass that initially appeared would be ruled incomplete.
But all that wasn’t able to add up to a second straight win in the series for Virginia High, which last year edged the Falcons 20-19 in a dramatic conclusion.
“They’re one of our biggest rivals and to come down here in their territory and beat them? I like that a lot,” Crosswhite said.
Relentless running back Martin Lucas notched 75 rushing yards for the Falcons on 22 carries.
Amburgey said he was pleased with the way the Falcons managed their emotions Friday on what was also an unusual night for him personally coaching against his previous team.
“Once the football game starts football’s football,” he said. “… I’m proud of [Virginia High as well]. I’ll be rooting for them the rest of the way – great kids.”
Despite back-to-back defeats, Crist said he still feels good about his team’s chances the rest of the season considering the fight the Bearcats demonstrated.
“The lesson in that is when you lay it all out there and you come up short it’s to then put yourself back out there – and that’s what we have to do,” he said.
Abingdon 7 7 0 0—14
Virginia High 0 0 0 6—6
A—Thayer 14 pass from G. Boothe (Griffith kick)
A—Seymore 1 run (Griffith kick)
V—Bizzell 18 pass from Lathrop (kick failed)
First Downs: A 11, V 13; Rushes-Yards: A 42-122, V 40-157; Passing Yards: A 46, V 98; Comp.-Att.-Int.: A 5-11-3, V 9-19-1; Fumbles-Lost: A 1-0, V 2-1; Penalties-Yards: A 3-35, V 5-45; Punts-Average: A 4-34, V 3-31