Photos by Chris Whitacre
You gotta have heart.
All you really need is heart.
In the musical ‘Damn Yankees,’ Coach Van Buren appealed to his team’s need to believe in each other, and then they can accomplish anything.
Trailing 10-3 at halftime of their second round high school football playoff matchup against visiting Bishop Hartley, London head coach Kyle Cutler may have taken a little from the Van Buren playbook when he addressed his squad at the break.
Playing an emotional second half, the Red Raiders used three Antwaun Burns touchdown runs (the final one with 21.3 seconds remaining), to defeat the Hawks 24-17 in dramatic fashion in a Bowlus Field classic. London will take on top-seeded Granville (who defeated DeSales) next Friday.
‘The kids played with a lot of heart,’ Cutler said. ‘They showed what high character young men they are.’
That heart would shine through at the most crucial time. Despite London dominating the second half, Hartley was able to tie it at 17-17 with 8:17 remaining in the game as Nyal Johnson took it in from five yards out.
Then, the Red Raiders embarked on a game-winning drive that will go down in London High School lore.
Knowing they needed to keep the pigskin away from the high-powered Hawk offense, LHS methodically ‘matriculated the ball down the field,’ as encouraged by legendary NFL coach Hank Stram decades ago.
London churned up yards and ran down the clock with a picturesque 74-yard, 15-play drive that took just under eight minutes to complete. As was true much of the game, the Red Raiders chipped away with yards on the ground by Burns, Ayden Cooper, Dylan Combs and Noah Sollars. The one pass on the drive was a 10-yard, third down throw from Combs to Isaiah Jones.
The evening did not start too well for London, however, as Hartley’s Treyvhon Saunders took a screen pass and scampered 85 yards for a touchdown just 37 seconds in to the contest.
Once on offense, the Red Raiders were able to move the ball on their first couple of drives, but that did not equate to points.
For their part, the London defense was able to refocus after the quick early strike by Hartley. Led by Antonio Burns, Isaiah Jones, and Thadd Huff, the Red Raider were able to keep the Hawk offense out of the end zone the rest of the first half
Unfortunately, Hartley got close enough to convert a 38 yard field goal by Alex Gabriel a few minutes in to the second quarter, expanding their lead to 10-0.
The ground game of Burns-Cooper-Combs-Jones went on an 11-play drive, but it unfortunately ended in an LHS turnover.
The Red Raiders held their ground as Sean Johns and Jones sent the Hartley runners for losses.
A six yard Hartley punt gave London great field position with two minutes remaining in the half. A short march down the turf led to a 22 yard Ryan Fullmer field goal with 29 seconds left until the intermission.
The Red Raiders carried that momentum into the third quarter as they started the half with a controlled Burns-Cooper combo running drive that tied the game at 10-10 when Burns went in from a yard out on fourth down.
After another strong defensive stand, it was on the ground again for the home team. In this would be go-ahead touchdown drive for London, the Red Raiders would once again show what made them successful all game – the powerful shiftiness of Burns, the edge-running speed of Cooper, and the strong straight ahead push by Combs. The running of the LHS QB was key to London throughout the game. In the end of the drive, Burns pushed it in again from a yard out – on yet another fourth down.
Opening the final quarter, Hartley had a drive that featured a few Saunders catches, a long Dylan Newsome run, and ending with the aforementioned Johnson touchdown run.
It was then time for the previously-detailed, game-winning drive that sent the talented London senior class out with a much-deserved win on their final appearance on their home turf.
Now on to round three.
‘Character leads this team,” Cutler said. ‘London is for real.’