GOOCHLAND—The James Monroe football team’s 2007 season ended with head coach Rich Serbay lamenting not inserting drop-back quarterback John Jackson into his starting lineup in favor of dynamic dual-threat Devontae Atkins during an unsettling playoff loss to Poquoson.
Serbay made the switch the following season, placed Atkins at receiver and it led to the Yellow Jackets capturing their fourth state championship.
The Yellow Jackets will be faced with a similar decision this offseason.
James Monroe used dual-threat Aidan Ryan at quarterback throughout the year, but in a 20–7 defeat at Goochland in the Region 3B title game Saturday afternoon, freshman pro-style signal-caller Tahj Smith demonstrated why he may be the future.
James Monroe committed seven turnovers (four by Ryan) and was being shut out until Smith’s 1-yard quarterback sneak with 2:24 to go in the game.
Smith finished 11 of 18 for 146 yards with one interception and one lost fumble while playing most of the second half.
“Aidan Ryan is one of the finest quarterbacks I’ve ever coached,” Serbay said. “And I would’ve bet my house payment that he would not have had a game like that. I don’t know if he pushed himself too hard. I don’t know if they made good defensive calls. But the bottom line is, that wasn’t Aidan Ryan out there in the first half … I had to go with [Smith] and he’s going to be a good one.”
After the game, Serbay was approached by family that ventured to the game from out of town. He asked them if they wanted to be refunded the $8 they spent to get in.
Serbay and his players were caught off-guard by their performance, considering they entered on a seven-game winning streak.
The Yellow Jackets (9–4) outscored their first two playoff opponents 94–35.
However, they couldn’t get going against the Bulldogs (12–1), who will visit unbeaten Hopewell—a 19–6 winner over Phoebus—in the Class 3 semifinals on Saturday.
“I wish them the best of luck against Hopewell because they’re going to need it,’ Serbay said. “Hopewell is a power. If we were playing Hopewell, we would need the luck, too. But the bottom line is I would’ve loved to have that chance. But we beat ourselves. The kids are going to go home on the bus ride knowing Goochland was really good, but we really helped them.”
The Yellow Jackets committed a turnover on their first four possessions.
After the Bulldogs scored on C.J. Towles’ 6-yard fourth-down pass to NyJavion Timberlake on their opening drive, Ryan lost a fumble on JM’s third play from scrimmage.
Goochland responded with a 56-yard scoring drive that was capped by Towles’ 13-yard pass to Devin McCray.
On JM’s next three possessions, running back Jawuan Fauntleroy lost a fumble and Ryan was intercepted by Kameron Holman and Timberlake, respectively. The Bulldogs added a 31-yard touchdown burst up the middle from Conner Popielarz for a 20-0 lead with 5:51 to go before halftime.
Goochland head coach Alex Fruth, whose team had six sacks, said he liked the matchup for the Bulldogs’ defense as soon as he saw JM’s game film.
“We don’t see a ton of spread [offense] teams, but when we do we get excited about the idea of playing against a spread team,” Fruth said. “It’s just one of those things where this year’s group of kids I have match up really well against this kind of offense.”
The Yellow Jackets’ offensive struggles continued in the second half.
A promising opening drive of the third quarter fizzled after a Ryan incompletion and a holding penalty. Ryan was then intercepted for the third time as McCray hauled in the miscue.
Smith was inserted into the game and lost a fumble on a 9-yard run. McCray’s second interception and JM’s final turnover came on Smith’s fourth-and-9 pass in the fourth quarter.
“That was all us,” JM senior wide receiver and defensive back Dimario Brooks said of the miserable outing. “We just kept turning the ball over. We would drive down the field and we kept messing ourselves up every single time. … It really hurts just because I know we’re better than that. We shouldn’t have gone out like that.”
The returning Yellow Jackets will look to use it as a learning experience. When Smith had time to throw, JM’s offense moved the ball.
On the lone scoring drive, Smith found receiver Tyler Whitman twice for 28 yards. He hooked up with Trevor Gleason for a 21-yard touchdown pass that was called back because of an ineligible man downfield.
He responded with a 24-yard completion to Gleason on fourth and 20 from the Goochland 25 and then scored on the next play.
Serbay said Smith showed he’s “a fighter” and “a winner.”
“We finished the game pretty well,” Smith said. “So we’re just going to bring that same energy next year.”
Go—NyJavion Timberlake 6 pass from C.J. Towles (kick failed)
Go—Devin McCray 13 pass from Towles (Tyler Black kick)
Go—Conner Popielarz 31 run (Black kick)
JM—Tahj Smith 1 run (Tomas Moreno kick)
RUSHING: James Monroe—Aidan Ryan 4-53; Jawuan Fauntleroy 7-42; Deonte Curry 5-28; Tahj Smith 10-13, TD. Goochland—Conner Popielarz 9-81, TD; Quincy Snead 10-24; C.J. Towles 10-23; Dakhari Burgess 4-12; Devin McCray 6-11.
PASSING: James Monroe—Smith 11-18-1, 146 yards; Ryan 4-10-3, 9 yards. Goochland—Towles 9-15-0, 151 yards, 2TD.
RECEIVING: James Monroe—Dimario Brooks 6-49; Trevor Gleason 2-35; Tyler Whitman 2-28; Ryan 3-22; Dean Holland Jr. 2-21. Goochland—Kameron Holman 2-56; Snead 2-38; McCray 2-26, TD; Haiden McCourt 1-18; NyJavion Timberlake 1-6, TD; Burgess 1-6.