HONAKER — As relentless as the incoming tide, Honaker’s ground game swept over J.I. Burton 17-0 on Saturday in the VHSL Group A, Division 1 playoffs at EMATS Stadium.
The Tigers ran the ball 64 times for 279 yards and their defense held the Raiders to just 34 yards rushing on 18 attempts.
“The kids played so hard today,” said Honaker coach Doug Hubbard. “We came in very concerned about Burton’s running game, but our defense was able to shut down their sweeps and counters.
“That was the key.”
Honaker (12-1) will host Sussex Central (12-1) next weekend in the Division 1 semifinals.
Despite an overwhelming advantage in the running game, it took a trick pass play by the Tigers to finally put away the game.
On the Burton 21-yard line and holding a tenuous 10-0 lead with less than six minutes left in the game, Honaker backup quarterback Casey Dye tossed the ball to running back Payton Ball on what looked like a sweep. Ball stopped dead in his tracks, turned and flung a pass across the field to Dye, who was streaking down the left sideline. Dye gathered in the ball at the 6 and, dragging a trio of Burton defenders, bullied his way into the end zone.
Makenzie Phillips’ point-after kick sealed the deal.
Fielding a team with 10 starters out because of injury, the Raiders put up a determined fight from the start.
Having stopped Honaker’s opening drive, Burton blocked the ensuing punt and set up its first offensive possession on the Tigers’ 30. But on the first play from scrimmage, Raiders quarterback Tanner Crowder had his pass intercepted by Honaker outside linebacker Blake Ray.
The Tigers embarked on a 12-play, 41-yard drive before the Burton defenders rose up and stopped them on fourth-and-4.
Two plays after that defensive stop, Burton fumbled the ball back to Honaker — its second turnover in just three plays.
“We made mistakes,” said Raiders coach Jimbo Adams, “but they were forced mistakes. Honaker’s defense really brought its A-game today.”
Taking over on the Burton 30 with 3:03 left in the first quarter, Honaker moved the ball to the 10. The Tigers suffered a blow when, on third down, starting quarterback Ty Hall went down with an injury.
“We think he may have a hip-pointer,” Hubbard said. “He’s a tough kid, so we expect him back by next week.”
Phillips’ 27-yard field goal gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead heading into the second quarter.
Burton recovered a Honaker fumble with 9:01 to go in the half, but once again Crowder had a pass picked off and the Tigers were back on the prowl.
Dye took over for Hall and led Honaker on an eight-play, 76-yard scoring drive. Cody Lester’s 34-yard scamper put the ball on the Raiders’ 3, and he scored on the next play to send the Tigers into the locker room up 10-0.
Honaker controlled the ball and the clock for much of the second half, forcing Burton to go to the air. Crowder attempted to bring the Raiders back on the strength of his arm, but the Tigers’ defenders always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
Honaker’s punishing ground game eventually took its toll on the depleted Raiders.
“Our defense battled and gave us some opportunities,” Adams said. “But at the end of the day, Honaker just made more plays than we did.”
The Tigers used nine running backs in the game. Ball gained 111 yards on 26 attempts and Lester added 63 yards on eight rushes.