There was plenty of drama in Vinton last week as the William Byrd football team prepared to play their biggest game of the year. The final act of the week was a surprisingly close 18-13 loss to Staunton River in a battle of two previously unbeaten teams.
The week started with a Monday confrontation during a team meeting involving Byrd standout tailback Larry Basham. After missing a Tuesday practice Basham was back on the field Wednesday, but was informed he would not play Friday night.
That was a huge deal. Basham not only leads the Terriers in scoring, but he’s the school record holder by over 200 points. He’s also closing in on O.J. Thomason’s school rushing record, which was also the state record until it was broken by Staunton River’s Grayson Overstreet last Friday, against Byrd.
Byrd coach Jeff Highfill was at a loss to explain due to school policy, but he made it clear Larry broke no laws and violated no school rules.
“It was strictly a football thing,” said Highfill. “He was back at practice Wednesday running with the scout team and smiling and working hard. He’s on pace to play against Lord Botetourt this week.”
But Basham was on the sidelines in street clothes last Friday night as the Terriers took on a big rival in Moneta. Most observers weren’t giving the Terriers much of a chance without their first string tailback, but the Byrdmen almost pulled off a win.
“We played hard,” said Highfill. “It was a great effort on the kids’ part.”
Byrd lost the turnover battle, 3-1, and that may have been the difference.
“We made some mistakes,” said Highfill. “When you lose the turnover battle that’s often the deciding factor, and we turned it over once inside the 10 and another time inside the 35. And we gave up a touchdown on a blown coverage. We made some mistakes, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.”
Byrd scored first on a 16 yard run by Sam Dantzler, but the Eagles answered with two scores by the half and led 12-7 at intermission. Byrd went back up, 13-2, on Dantzler’s second score, a 27 yard run. That’s how it stood after three quarters.
Staunton River regained the lead with just over five minutes to go as Overstreet scored on a 12 yard run, but Byrd put together a final drive down the stretch. The Terriers benefited from a pass interference call and pulled out their “mad dog” play, which some call a muddle huddle, and drove to the 18 yard line. However, River came up with a game-saving interception and the Eagles managed to stay unbeaten at 8-0.
Dantzler, a junior quarterback, came up big with 158 yards rushing and 118 yards passing, his most productive passing game of the season. Terrell Smith caught four balls for 115 yards and TJ Johnson had one reception.
Logan Taylor, Nick Hale and Johnson split time running the ball when it wasn’t in Dantzler’s hands and combined for 67 yards. That’s usually about a quarter’s worth of yards for Basham, but Byrd managed to hang tough with a very strong opponent none the less.
Defensively, Taylor had 18 tackles to lead the team, followed by Trevor Hill with 10. Dantzler and Aaron Stanley had six each and Matt Hale and Johnson both had five.
Now 7-1, the Terriers will be back at Patterson Stadium this Friday to play their last home game of the regular season. The opponent will be 7-1 Lord Botetourt and this has blossomed into a tremendous rivaly in the past six years since Jamie Harless took over as coach at LB.
Lord Botetourt is 2-4 in six games with Byrd under Harless, including a playoff loss in 2012. LB won the 2014 and 2015 games, 21-14 and 17-14, but last year the Cavaliers lost to Byrd in Daleville, 54-35, in a late season collapse the Cavaliers hope they have put behind them.
This year both teams come in at 7-1 and both teams have lost only to Staunton River, the Cavaliers by a score of 21-14. Byrd is a little beat up after a very physical game with the Eagles last week, but as of Wednesday Basham was expected to be back on the field.
“It will be a physical game,” said Highfill. “They won’t spread you out and play two-hand touch. The line of scrimmage will be critical.”
Botetourt is second ranked in Region 3D, behind only Staunton River, while Byrd is seventh in Region 4D. The Terriers can pick up some big points in the next two weeks with games against Botetourt and Northside.
“If we win either game we’ll clinch a playoff spot,” said Highfill.