It was fitting in the 59th Annual Tomato Bowl, that Patrick Henry was forced to play ketchup.
Trailing 14-0 one minute into the second quarter, the Patriots mounted a furious rally that began with a stout defense.
Then, scored on two opportunistic touchdowns, one in the second quarter and the other in the third, and the defense did the rest at visiting Patrick Henry squeaked by Lee-Davis, 15-14, on Friday in the annual classic in Mechanicsville.
The Confederates took control from the outset, using a heavy dose of running back Josh Rice. The 5-11, 200-pounder rushed for 87 yards on eight carries and a touchdown on the ground in the first half and added a 26-yard reception from quarterback Zach Lass, to stake his team to a 14-0 lead at the 11:02 mark in the second quarter.
Joseph Hudnall added both extra points for Lee-Davis but the team attempted no field goals in the red zone, rather going for on fourth down on every occasion.
After senior Michael Harris anchored a defensive line that dug in for the Patriots, junior Jamel Jackson made big plays on the exterior. It was at that point, the team from Ashland finally got on the board, with 52 seconds left in the first half.
Sophomore Samandre Williams capped a six-play, 52-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run while junior Rian Pecci-Young added the point-after attempt to cut the deficit in half (14-7).
“Coach [Keith] Braxton did a great job of changing schemes in the second half,” Harris said. “He changed the formation, which freed up my hands and allowed me to get to the inside and we started making stops.”
No one held the Tomato Bowl trophy tighter following the win then the 6-2, 310-pounder. In fact, he took it to the bus with him for the bus ride back home.
“I remember coming here as a freshman, when I was on JV, sitting in the stands and watching us win here 17-14,” Harris added. “And to be standing here right now, with the trophy means a great deal to me to win this game and to win it here.”
Lee-Davis looked to gain control on the ground in the second half but two things happened – an expired Patrick Henry defense and a light drizzle that turned into a pouring rain. But played havoc on the normally potent offense that has averaged 30 points per game thus far this season.
Also, on the Patriots first possession of the second half, senior Terrance Oxendine gave the offense a boost with a dynamic 61-yard run.
“We were trying to get it to the outside,” Oxendine said. “Then I cut back. At that point, I thought I was off to the races but then the ball started to come out and I had to gather it back in. It was then I got tackled.”
From that point on, Patrick Henry was effective running the ball with the threat of Oxendine taking it wide.
“This is really a big win for us,” Oxendine added. “We wanted this bad and we made it happen.”
After four straight stops by the Patriots defense, it was Jackson who made the biggest play of the game, as he picked up a loose ball from the Lee-Davis offense and carried it in from 19 yards out to make the score 14-13.
Pecci-Young lined up for the PAT but missed. However, she was hit following the kick attempt, and laid on the ground injured, as the back judge threw a flag for the personal foul – roughing the kicker.
With the ball moved half the distance to the goal and Pecci-Young injured, the Patriots opted for the two-point conversion.
Hart, a two-sport athlete who developed his football reputation with a win over Lee-Davis during his freshman season, plunged in for the conversion, giving Patrick Henry the 15-14 lead it would never relinquish.
Hart, who finished with 105 total yards on the night (37 rushing, 68 passing), was inspirational on both sides of the ball but got injured in the final minutes and forced to the sidelines. But that wasn’t going to keep him off the field as both the rain came down and the time ran out.
“The one thing I do know,” the William & Mary baseball commit said. “Is when the schedule comes out I circle the calendar for the Tomato Bowl. There is no bigger game during the season.
“And it was your typical ground and pound game and could have gone either way. But we pulled it out in the end because out guys played hard. I told my teammates afterwards I was proud of them because we came together and every single player contributed to this win.”
Rice, a junior, led all ball-carriers with 160 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown and added the receiving touchdown (26 yards) to complete the scoring for the Confederates. However, the shifty back did have two fumbles and that were recovered by Jackson.
With the win, Patrick Henry finished the regular season with a 6-4 record while Lee-Davis fell to 6-4. It was the third straight loss for the Confederates.