Siz­ing up host­ing Hopewell

The Progress-Index - - SPORTS DESK - By Chai Gallahun and Nick Van­de­loecht Progress-In­dex staff

The Hopewell Blue Devils have con­tin­ued to roll in their fan­tas­tic fol­low-up sea­son to their state cham­pi­onship win­ning year in 2017. Out of nine games played, Hopewell’s deeply tal­ented and re­lent­less de­fense has de­liv­ered five shutouts. The Blue Devils edged Din­wid­die for the first time since 2012, and they took Thomas Dale to dou­ble over­time in their only loss (49-42) of the reg­u­lar sea­son. The last time Hopewell and Peters­burg met - this year’s reg­u­lar sea­son - Hopewell came away vic­to­ri­ous on a fi­nal score of 35-14.

Af­ter the weekly live broad­cast in­ter­view show hosted by Jeff But­ler aired on WHAP 1140 AM / 96.9 FM, Blue Devils head var­sity foot­ball coach Ricky Irby and se­nior de­fender Zyreon Jones-Walker shared their thoughts about the up­com­ing first-round play­of­fgame against Peters­burg.

“I feel very con­fi­dent,” Jones-Walker said. “The coach has put in a scheme for us to step up. The guys are re­ally do­ing a great job of mak­ing the scheme work and mak­ing it hap­pen. I feel very con­fi­dent about this game.”

As far as what Coach Irby has been do­ing dif­fer­ently in prepa­ra­tion for the next game, JonesWalker thought for a mo­ment, then smiled and laughed, say­ing, “You’ll see Fri­day night.”

Also laugh­ing, Irby added, “We haven’t changed much. We’ve got a cou­ple of wrin­kles in [there] like ev­ery­one has at this time of the year. When you play a team again for the sec­ond time, you’ve got to add some­thing in a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent in there, es­pe­cially a team that’s well-coached like Peters­burg.”

Coach Irby and JonesWalker shared some of their thoughts about the Blue Devils foot­ball team within the frame­work of a SWOTT (Strengths, Weak­nesses, Op­por­tu­ni­ties, Threats and Trends) anal­y­sis that is of­ten em­ployed in the busi­ness world.

Irby said that the Blue Devils’ de­fense was their big­gest strength.

“We gave up 99 points the en­tire year in nine games. In one of those games, we gave up 49" ver­sus the Knights, he said. “In the other eight games we only gave up 50 points. Our kids re­ally seem to play well, and they play off each other. I think that’s very im­por­tant.”

There’s not just one stand­out de­fen­sive player you can look out for. With eight play­ers (Jones-Walker, sopho­more Reg­gie Ruf­fin, ju­niors An­thony Hale and Keyon Wil­liams, se­niors Travonte Jones and Nyvonte Cole­man, sopho­more Trey Hen­der­son

and ju­nior Kaiveon Cox) hav­ing each made 35-plus solo tack­les and 16-plus as­sists this year, you’re forced to pick your poi­son if you’re on of­fense.

Jones-Walker leads the way in solo tack­les (51), as­sists (32) and tack­les per game (9.2) and also has seven tack­les for loss, four sacks, four quar­ter­back hur­ries, two in­ter­cep­tions, two fum­ble re­cov­er­ies and a forced fum­ble to boot.

“For the de­fen­sive side, I feel that one of my strengths is step­ping up and lead­ing,” JonesWalker said. “Like the coach said, all of the guys play off of each other, and I feel like when you have that lead­er­ship that the coach talks about, that it makes a big dif­fer­ence in the game what­ever you do in the of­fen­sive or de­fen­sive sides.”

Seven of the eight play­ers listed above each have seven or more tack­les for loss. Keyon Wil­liams leads the team with 20 TFLs, fol­lowed by Ruf­fin with 16, Jones with 13, Cox with 11, Hale with eight and Hen­der­son and JonesWalker with seven each. Ty-Ja Pol­lard also has seven TFLs on the sea­son.

When it comes to pass­de­fend­ing, at least seven play­ers - se­nior Daquon Blow, Hen­der­son, JonesWalker, Hale, Ja­cen Fowlkes, Jones and Sean Allen - have caught an in­ter­cep­tion, with Blow lead­ing the way on three and Hen­der­son and JonesWalker get­ting two apiece. The Blue Devils’ 11-plus picks have fac­tored into their dev­as­tat­ing abil­ity to cre­ate turnovers, as the play­ers have also forced at least 15 fum­bles and re­cov­ered at least eight. Cox leads the Blue Devils in forced fum­bles with four and Wil­liams and Jones-Walker have each re­cov­ered two. Fowlkes and Wil­liams have also each been cred­ited with at least one blocked punt.

Jones has also been the team’s leader in get­ting to the quar­ter­back be­hind the line of scrim­mage with

11 sacks and 11 hur­ries. Ruf­fin’s not too far be­hind him with seven sacks and nine hur­ries. William has six sacks and four hur­ries, and Cox has five sacks and two hur­ries. Pol­lard has three.

The Blue Devils’ of­fen­sive line has depth and ex­pe­ri­ence on its side. The start­ing cen­ter Pre­ston Haden is also the start­ing kicker, mak­ing 41 of 47 PAT at­tempts this sea­son.

Play­mak­ers have been ev­ery­where on of­fense. Se­nior Daniel Grier, step­ping up into the start­ing QB role this year, has com­pleted 53 of 117 passes for 913 yards and 12 touch­downs against six in­ter­cep­tions, and has also rushed for 106 yards.

Stand­out sopho­more Robert Briggs Jr.this sea­son has av­er­aged 103.1 yards rush­ing with 722 yards and 12 touch­downs on 97 car­ries. He also has a 31-yard touch­down catch he made against Mead­ow­brook last Thurs­day.

Be­hind Briggs, Cox has stepped up in the back­field with 324 yards and eight touch­downs on 44 touches, and ex­plo­sive player Sean Allen has shared in run­ning back du­ties with 19 car­ries for 214 yards, a whop­ping 11.3 yards per carry, and two touch­downs.

Allen has also been part of one of Hopewell’s most dy­namic re­ceiv­ing corps in re­cent me­mory. Four play­ers - Allen, Kadar­ius Sin­gle­ton, Da­monye Tay­lor and Trey Hen­der­son - have each made dou­ble-digit catches for triple-digit yardage and two-plus touch­downs each. Allen leads the team in re­cep­tions (19) and yards (335) and is tied with Da­monye Tay­lor for most re­ceiv­ing touch­downs (four). Sin­gle­ton, whose first-down re­cep­tion last De­cem­ber clinched the 2017 state cham­pi­onship game for Hopewell, has made 13 catches for 205 yards and three TDs this sea­son. Hen­der­son was the one who scored the game-win­ning touch­down in the Blue Devils’ 7-0 vic­tory over Din­wid­die.

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