APPOMATTOX — The lantern, painted half red and half blue, will remain here for at least another year.
Appomattox kicked off its football season with a 37-20 victory over Rustburg in the Battle of the Lantern on Friday, posting 287 yards on the ground and bringing Doug Smith the victory in his first game back on the sidelines since his October 2020 cancer diagnosis.
But the victory came with a cost. Senior quarterback Tre Lawing, named this newspaper's offensive player of the year for the abbreviated spring season, was injured on the opening kickoff. Lawing, who led the Raiders to a state title in the spring with 1,154 all-purpose yards in 10 games, went down to the turf as Appomattox players collided with Rustburg after the Raiders won the toss and deferred to the second half.
Lawing suffered either a dislocated or separated shoulder; it wasn't clear by press time the severity of the injury or how long the dynamic senior will be sidelined.
"He means everything," Appomattox receiver and running back Ervis Davin said. "He and Coach Smith are the ones that bring this team together."
Six-foot-3 sophomore Grayson Peterson, a receiver and backup QB, stepped into Lawing's role. In his varsity debut as a starter, he completed 6 of 10 passes for 109 yards and tossed one interception. Peterson also had the most totes of any Raider, finishing with 19 carries for 41 yards.
Peterson also scored three touchdowns. His 1-yard punch less than four minutes into the game occurred on Appomattox's sixth play from scrimmage after the Raiders defense had forced Rustburg (1-1) into a three-and-out.
"It was unexpected," Peterson said of his night. "I knew my teammates had my back and I've gotten a lot of practice reps. I pay attention in film and sat in with Tre at second string. It wasn't easy but we moved the ball pretty well and read the defense.
"It hurts," Peterson added about Lawing's injury. "It's gonna affect us. But just praying he gets better."
This one remained close the entire first half. Raiders kicker Tye Robertson drilled a 32-yard field goal to give his team a 10-0 lead at the beginning of the second quarter, but Rustburg answered back at the 1:46 mark when Appomattox fumbled in the red zone. Rustburg defensive back Ceyron Jones swooped it up and breezed down field for a 94-yard fumble return that cut Appomattox's lead to 10-7.
Rustburg had little in the way of offensive execution in the first half. Peterson supplied the only scoring of the third with a 1-yard run and the Raiders outscored Rustburg 20-13 in the fourth quarter.
Davin started his senior season off on the right foot by leading Appomattox with 87 rushing yards off 13 carries and three receptions for 82 yards. He also scored a touchdown off a 14-yard reverse to open the fourth quarter.
"It was just kind of great. My last first game as an Appomattox Raider, because I'm a senior," Davin said. "And then having our head coach come back and watch us play live, that felt great."
Davin, normally a receiver, stepped in at running back to replace Division I recruit Jonathan Pennix, who was sent home Friday after potentially being exposed to the coronavirus. Appomattox also sent home receiver and corner Vori Coleman and defensive lineman Peyton Booker because of the same reason.
Rustburg's Jaidain Johnson finished with 74 rushing yards, quarterback Mike Knight threw for 108 yards off 5 of 13 passing, and Avery Dixon had two catches for 80 yards. Johnson scored on a 2-yard punch in the fourth quarter and Dixon turned a pass dumped over the middle by Knight into gold, eluding defenders at midfield, then cutting back right for a 65-yard touchdown with a gang of Raiders giving chase.
"I know I don't play QB, but one of my favorite players is Mike Vick and he just makes a way every time he touches the ball and that's all I think," Dixon said. "If I see a bunch of people on one side, I don't even care, … I'm gonna make it happen to the best of my ability."
Johnson limped to the sidelines with a hurt ankle in the first half, but the senior wouldn't quit. Friday's loss, he said, showed RHS things it needs to work on this coming week. Practices, Johnson said, are good.
"We've just got to come out and execution is the main thing," he added. "We've got to execute when we come out here on Friday night. Cause if we played how we practiced, there would be no problem."
Appomattox looks for a path forward now, too, without Lawing.
"He's the heart and soul of what we do offensively," Smith said. "Defensively he's been becoming that guy too. He's our team leader. … Nobody dropped their head. Nobody. Everybody was ready to step up."