APPOMATTOX — They lost the axe, but the lantern is safe.
One week after falling to Buckingham and losing that piece of hardware, the Appomattox Raiders defeated Rustburg 17-0 at Bragg Stadium on Friday night in the Battle of the Lantern.
The light stays in Appomattox for the fifth straight year.
Appomattox’s first victory of 2019 came courtesy of a strong defensive effort and three offensive scoring drives.
Tre Lawing threw for 96 yards, Cristian Ferguson finished with 77 rushing yards, and Keyshawn Baker added 67 more on the ground for the Raiders (1-1), who churned up 302 yards of total offense to Rustburg’s 148.
Rustburg was without quarterback and defensive back Jaidian Johnson, who left the game with an injury suffered while playing defense on the game’s first series.
Johnson, who led the way in last week’s win by rushing for 111 yards, never returned. He stood on the sideline with ice packs taped around his left shoulder.
“It’s a shoulder [injury] or a collarbone, or something along those lines,” Rustburg coach Jack Baker said after the game. “I don’t know for sure. … That didn’t help our cause.”
The Red Devils (1-1) turned to senior Jaylin Jones to replace Johnson. The speedy 5-foot-7 Jones rushed for 69 yards on 15 carries.
“It was a little shaky at first. I had repped it a little bit in practice,” Jones said. “They told me I had to be ready at all times, and I was thrown in. In my mind, I was like, ‘I gotta go. I gotta do this for my team.’”
But Appomattox’s defense stalled Rustburg’s drives all night. Raiders defenders like Baker and Tevin Hurt at linebacker and A.J. Moore on the line made sure the lantern remained in Raiders Country.
“Even if we’d lost tonight, I think we still would’ve been happy,” Appomattox coach Doug Smith said, “because we saw our kids do things they didn’t do last week. … We gave up some long plays, but never the big ones. Overall, much improvement. But we’ve got a long way to go.”
Midway through the first quarter, Lawing eyed receiver Tez Booker streaking toward the end zone and unleashed a 41-yard bomb that hugged the left sideline. Booker made the over-the-shoulder grab and fell into the end zone under coverage.
Booker credited his offensive line and Lawing for the play.
“I just had to finish it,” he said.
Booker and Lawing worked on the play all week.
“Some of the best hands on the team,” Lawing said of Booker. “I threw it up, and I knew he was gonna go get it.”
Lawing also scored on a 1-yard punch with 3:21 left in the third quarter.
New Raiders kicker Samuele Bianco added a 23-yard field goal midway through the second quarter after Rustburg made a goal-line stand by pushing Appomattox off the 4-yard line.
RJ Anthony added 53 rushing yards on 10 carries for Rustburg.
“This is a good learning experience for us,” Jones said.
Rustburg’s new option offense depends on a strong running quarterback, so losing Johnson was a major blow. But Jones showed he’s capable of filling in at that spot.
Rustburg fumbled five times, committed one turnover and ran 10 plays that went for negative yardage. The Red Devils chewed up the clock with a few long offensive drives, most notably in the third quarter, but came up empty each time.
“We can’t get behind the chains, we can’t have the negatives,” Baker said. “We’re a 3-, 4-yard play deal right now, so when we have the negatives it’s kind of hard to overcome. But if we could score on one of those drives, maybe it’s a different game.”
Rustburg hosts Altavista next week, while Appomattox heads to City Stadium to play Heritage.
“[This game] prepares us a lot [for Heritage],” said Lawing, who completed 7 of his 12 passes.
“We’re gonna start [today] reppin’ on that.”
Ben Cates covers high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5527.