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For a photo gallery from this game, click here.
For video of Western's final play and the Louisa celebration, click here.
It’s safe to say that if an election were held Saturday for mayor of Louisa or Mineral, the incumbents wouldn’t want to run against Louisa County senior quarterback Zack Jackson.
Not after what the senior did in his career finale Friday night.
Jackson put the Lions on his back as he has all season, with a hand in all five Louisa touchdowns — three on the ground and two through the air — as the Lions shocked Central Virginia with a 32-29 victory over previously unbeaten Western Albemarle.
“To have these young guys that have that heart like that,” Jackson said. “The next four years with these guys are going to be amazing. I’m just glad I got to play with these guys.”
Louisa had a mathematical shot at the playoffs still, but didn’t get the help they needed to make the postseason, finishing 4-6. But that sub .500 record is a little easier to swallow after the incredible performance in Crozet. Trailing 29-26 with two minutes to play, Louisa got a spark from Trey Cherry’s 46-yard kick return that set the Lions up on the Warriors’ 37-yardline.
“The kick return is huge,” said Louisa coach Jon Meeks. “I’ve been here for 11 years and I don’t think anyone would describe Louisa as a two-minute, hurry-up offense. I feel good if I’ve got 12 minutes. The kick return is what gave us a chance.”
Zack Jackson then ripped off a solid run that put the Lions in the red zone. But the Warriors’ defense stepped up, and forced Louisa into a fourth and nine situation with 37 seconds to play. The Lions called a timeout and that’s when Deion Johnson spoke up.
Johnson, Louisa’s junior offensive playmaker who’s been hampered by injuries this year, let Meeks know he wanted the ball.
“Deion was like, ‘coach, I don’t care what I run, I’ll catch it’,” Meeks said. “When Deion Johnson tells you that, you throw him the ball.”
Johnson hauled in a catch just short of the goal line, but long enough to give Louisa a first down inside the five. He fell inbounds though, and the clock was ticking. Jackson hurried the Lions and took the play from the sidelines, a pass call. But Meeks urged him to “be smart” as he made the call. Jackson saw Western’s defense flowing toward the pass and called his own number on the fly.
“I looked at the line and said (to myself) we need a touchdown,” Jackson said. “The DBs and linebackers backed up and I said I’ve got to get in. I just kept my feet going. I was running over anyone to get to the endzone.”
Jackson powered in with 10 seconds left on the clock when he crossed the goal line. It was apparent that Louisa, with no timeouts left, likely would’ve run out of time if Jackson doesn’t get in.
“I’m not sure we get one more off,” Meeks said.
Instead, Louisa only had to withstand a pair of desperation plays from Western. The first, a hook and ladder, the second a series of laterals as Louisa tried to come up with the stop. Neither worked, and Louisa celebrated.
“That’s one thing this group has never done — they’ve never quit,” Meeks said. “They haven’t always executed perfectly, but they’ve never quit.’
The Warriors went up just before the final Louisa drive started, with their own dual threat quarterback Kent Henry sliding in for a rushing touchdown. The Warriors then handed the ball to Nic Drapanas for a 2-point conversion to take a 29-26 lead and, with Louisa’s lack of a quick strike two-minute offense, what appeared to be an unbeaten regular season.
Cherry’s return helped change all that though, as a Western defense that had struggled to get off the field all night — Louisa held a more than 2 to 1 advantage in time of possession — ran into another dose of Jackson. Jackson threw for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 9 for 17 passing, much of it on the same play, a swing pass to Markel Groomes, who had four catches for 62 yards and two touchdowns. Groomes also rushed for 94 yards on 20 carries, in what Jackson called his “breakout performance.”
“I felt like when we got here it was my time — my time to do my thing,” Groomes said. “I wanted to help us get this W because I know how much this meant to the coaches and the seniors.”
Henry threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns for the Warriors while also rushing for 59 yards on 16 touches with Louisa doing a solid job of bottling him up on the ground. He threw an interception on Western’s first play from scrimmage that led to a long Louisa drive and the Lions’ first touchdown, but that was one of the junior quarterback’s lone mistakes on the night. He hit Drapanas — who had two catches for 75 yards — on a 63-yard catch and run for a touchdown off a fake punt that gave Western life and put the Warriors up 21-20.
Daniel Kuzjak went for 115 yards on five catches for the Warriors. Trevor Harlow had three catches for 52 yards and an early touchdown
Jeffrey Morse had three solo stops and a sack for Louisa on defense.
While Louisa’s season ends with the loss and Powhatan’s win over Charlottesville, Western will be the No. 2 seed in the Region II playoffs and face the Black Knights in a rematch of the 50-49 de facto Jefferson District title game earlier this year.