DAMASCUS, Va. – No matter the sport, Marcus Finley knows how to run a team.
Eight months after leading the Bobcats to a basketball state championship as an unflappable point guard, Radford’s sophomore quarterback turned in another virtuoso postseason performance Friday to help his No. 10-seeded squad to a 29-21 victory over No. 7 Holston in the first round of the VHSL 1A West playoffs.
“It helps me a lot because the point guard controls the floor so I read the field real well,” Finley said. “It works out pretty well.”
After throwing and running for a touchdown in the second quarter, Finley’s 1-yard plunge into the end zone broke a tie at 21 with 7:33 remaining in the final period.
“That’s all on my line,” Finley said.
Most of the rest of Radford’s success started with Finley as he completed 7-of-11 passes for 219 yards and also added 64 yards on the ground.
To round out his impressive showing, Finley also came up with a sack on a key fourth-and-2 play on Holston’s next possession following Radford’s go-ahead score with the Cavaliers just 24 yards away from the end zone.
“He’s pretty tough,” said Holston coach Jason Matlock. “He’s very poised and he’s very elusive and throws the ball well. With him being able to throw and run, he makes it difficult to defend.”
Finley’s most glaring miscue of the day – a poorly thrown pass intercepted by Kyle Johnson – gave Holston the ball on its own 40 with 2:47 to play, but the Cavaliers had four straight incompletions to give the ball right back to the Bobcats.
The Cavaliers got one final chance to send the game into overtime when they took over on their own 34 with 51.9 seconds remaining.
Holston got as far as Radford’s 36-yard line with 4.3 seconds left, but Radford senior Adam Turk ensured there would be no last-second drama as he sacked Cavaliers quarterback Seth Thomas to end the game.
“I would have liked to have seen something at least kind of up in the air, but it is what it is,” Matlock said about the final play. “Our guys kept fighting until the end, true to form as we’ve been doing all season, and I’m proud of them.”
After Radford turned in a balanced offensive attack in the first half, rushing for 106 yards and passing for 108 to record a 15-8 lead through two quarters, the Cavaliers (7-4) were able to bottle up the Bobcats (6-5) on the ground after intermission, allowing just 39 rushing yards over the final 24 minutes.
Big plays through the air, however, proved to be Holston’s undoing as Finley completed passes of 63, 21 and 27 yards in the second half to keep Radford’s offense clicking.
The 63-yard heave to Heath Grant set up Isaiah Carter’s 2-yard touchdown run a play later to give Radford a 21-14 edge late in the third quarter after Holston had pulled back within one point when Shane Milhorne, who led the Cavaliers with 144 rushing yards, capped off an impressive 13-play, 84-yard drive on their opening possession of the third quarter.
“At halftime their coaches made some great adjustments,” Finley said. “Heath Grant, he had some amazing catches. I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Matlock credited Radford for finding a way to keep moving the football even when Holston’s defense appeared to have the Bobcats stymied.
“They did a good job hitting us in a few weak spots and making some plays,” he said. “A couple of the balls they completed were contested and they just made good catches. That’s just a credit to them. I thought we played well defensively, but they did have a few bigger plays on us there that kind of cost us.”
Big plays also provided most of the fireworks in the first half as Holston scored on their first possession on a fourth-and-18 play as Seth Thomas found Ricky Cannon wide open in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown strike.
Radford, however, responded with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Finley to R.J. Jordan on its own fourth-down play to knot the score midway through the second quarter and took the lead before halftime after another fourth-down conversion set up Finley for an 8-yard touchdown run.
Holston had a chance to tie the score on the final play of the first half, but a dropped ball in the end zone kept Radford ahead at the break.
The Cavaliers were also hurt by a number of dropped passes down the stretch in their failed comeback bid on a rainy night.
“Our receivers have been good to us all year and that’s not the reason we lost the ballgame,” Matlock said. “… We missed some blocks, too, and didn’t cover some guys. In the end we just didn’t play well enough to win.”
After notching its first playoff win since 2011, Radford will move on to face No. 2 Fort Chiswell next Friday.
Holston remains winless in the postseason since making a run to the state semifinals in 2009, but the Cavaliers still finished with their best record in four years.
“I think in a few days I’ll be able to reflect on it a little bit more, but I’m proud of our seniors, the foundation that they’ve laid,” Matlock said. “I’m proud of our underclassmen and how hard they’ve worked and I’m really proud of this team because they were really a team in the truest sense of the word.”
Radford 0 15 6 8—29
Holston 8 0 6 7—21
H—Cannon 28 pass from S. Thomas (Milhorne run)
R—Jordan 12 pass from Finley (Jordan pass from Finley)
R—Finley 8 run (Levison kick)
H—Milhorne 5 run (pass failed)
R—Carter 2 run (kick failed)
H—Milhorne 17 run (Milhorne kick)
R—Finley 1 run (Jordan run)
First Downs: R 12, H 20; Rushes-Yards: R 40-145, H 46-234; Passing Yards: R 219, H 113; Comp.-Att.-Int.: R 7-11-1, H 10-25-0; Fumbles-Lost: R 3-1, H 0-0; Penalties-Yards: R 5-40, H 5-63; Punts-Average: R 1-40, H 2-30