SALEM — Six times Glenvar has tried. Six times Appomattox has dashed the Highlanders’ postseason hopes.
Jonathan Pennix and Gray Peterson combined for a deadly 1-2 punch for Appomattox offensively, the special teams unit and kicker Mario Rubio provided eight crucial points, and the ACHS defense made two late stops to seal a 38-34 victory in the Region 2C championship in Salem.
The fourth-seeded Raiders (10-3) beat the host Highlanders (9-4) in the region title tilt for the second straight year, also marking a second consecutive win in Salem and fourth overall at Highlander Stadium in the young but fierce playoff rivalry. It was the third time a Glenvar-Appomattox game was decided by fewer than seven points.
Appomattox, making its eighth straight appearance in a region championship (with Friday its third against Glenvar), won its fourth straight and seventh overall crown.
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"It was back and forth," Glenvar coach Kevin Clifford said. "It was kind of like who had the ball last [would win the game]."
In the fifth lead change of the second half, Appomattox went up 38-34 with less than five minutes to go. GHS twice had possession and chances to wrestle back the advantage. But the Raiders' defense came up with two big stops.
The first of Glenvar's final possessions was a 10-play drive starting from its 20-yard line. On the 10th play, quarterback Brody Dawyot completed a screen pass to wide receiver Gabe Ford, and with Ford near the first-down marker, Appomattox defenders piled up around him and knocked the ball loose.
“It was definitely on me, 100% on me, nobody else," Ford said. "I got to do better. It definitely wasn't tucked, I thought I was down, but a call is a call.”
Still, Glenvar had a chance to win after its defense forced an Appomattox punt — the first time the Highlanders kept an ACHS possession from ending in points in the second half.
Jackson Swanson was nearly the hero. He sprinted 75 yards to the end zone on the return, adding what looked like another highlight after previously returning a kickoff 85 yards in the second quarter. But near the 33-yard line, a penalty flag flew. Appomattox quarterback Grayson Peterson, who also takes on punting duties, was lying on the ground.
“That was a little risky, and he’s a fast little short kid,” said Peterson, who finished with 82 yards rushing and 72 yards on 5-of-6 passing. “That got really scary for us. Well, the kid blocked me in the back, so it made my heart skip a beat.”
Instead, Glenvar was set up at the Appomattox 43-yard line, down four points. Dawyot started with a completion to Nick Woodson for a first down. And, after stopping the clock with a spike, Dawyot completed another pass to Swanson for 14 yards.
Then came one more pass on third down, but this one, with around 20 seconds left, resulted in an interception by Jonathan Pennix. The senior corner and running back, who came up 1 yard shy of another 100-yard rushing game and accounted for four TDs, has climbed back to top form after re-aggravating an existing injury in the region quarterfinals.
“We called a play and it was covered. I didn’t know what to do and I didn't want to run out of bounds because that would have been wasted time,” Dawyot said. “So I tried to hit the open receiver, but it was a bad pass.”
Dawyot, who tallied 53 yards on the ground, finished with 188 yards and a touchdown on 16-of-28 passing with two interceptions.
Glenvar fell to Appomattox one year ago in the region final, too. That game also ultimately was decided by an interception.
“We lost 27-21 and we gave up a pick-six,” Clifford said. “But this game was much closer."
Glenvar and Appomattox each led twice in the first half, which featured three ties. Throughout the game, neither team led by more than seven points.
GHS had that one-score advantage in the third quarter, at 23-17, following Tyler Pierce's third of four field goals on the night. His first tied the game at 3 in the first quarter; he put Glenvar up 20-17 at the half with a 36-yarder as time expired; and then tallied two more field goals in the third frame.
Pierce, a senior, also hit both of his extra-point attempts to account for 14 of Glenvar's 34 points.
He didn't get a chance to add to the score for the Highlanders in the fourth quarter. Instead, Glenvar got into the end zone to go up by one point, at 32-31, with about seven minutes left and then went for two and converted for a 34-31 advantage that ensured it would not be beat by a field goal from Appomattox (Rubio recorded the game's opening score on his own field goal in the first quarter and went 5 for 5 on PATs).
But Appomattox, after a long run by Pennix, went back on top with a touchdown with 1:55 left.
The fumble recovery and punt followed, before Pennix came up big again with the game-sealing interception.
Appomattox next will face the winner of the Region 2D championship featuring Graham and Ridgeview.
The Raiders now have advanced to the state semifinals in seven of the last eight years, and are looking for their sixth state title in that span. Since 2015, ACHS has fallen in the state semis only once, in last year’s 48-24 road defeat against Graham.