By Sports editor Brian Hoffman
It’s Homecoming week at William Byrd High School and the Franklin County football team will provide the opposition for Friday’s game. The Terriers and Eagles will kick off at 7 pm in the first game at what is now Jeff Highfill Field at Robert A. Patterson Stadium.
The field was named for former coach Highfill at a Roanoke County School Board meeting on Thursday. Jeff concluded his 38 years as head football coach at Byrd in 2018 with a record of 211-184-1. He also won 446 games as a soccer head coach at Byrd over 35 years, giving him 657 wins coaching Terrier athletes with many coming on that field.
It’s fitting that the first game on “Highfill Field” will be against Franklin County, because Eagles head coach JR Edwards was one of Byrd’s all-time great players and a former varsity assistant for the Terriers. He was a quarterback for Jeff during his playing days and has remained close to Highfill all through the years.
Highfill only coached against Franklin County twice in his 38 years as head coach, splitting the games. The Class 6 Eagles joined the Blue Ridge District in 2019 so now they’re on the schedule every year, and Byrd has yet to beat them in three tries as district opponents. Last year Franklin won 41-23 in Rocky Mount.
This year the Eagles are off to a 4-2 start after six games. They’ve beaten Bassett, Magna Vista, Hidden Valley and Staunton River and lost to two area powers, Salem and Liberty Christian Academy. They gave Salem a score with a 33-32 loss in the second game of the season.
“Franklin County is a good 6A team that has size, speed, and a lot of seniors on the field,” said Byrd coach Brad Lutz. “Their running back was last year’s Blue Ridge District Offensive Player of the Year and the quarterback is a scholarship player in college. They have some size at receiver, which causes match up problems for some opponents. Their defense is big and they have nine senior starters returning.”
The Terriers are coming off one of their best games of the year, even though they lost. Byrd traveled to Daleville last Friday and gave Lord Botetourt, the top ranked team in Region 3D, a real scare before falling 28-21.
“They have a vastly improved football team,” said LB coach Jamie Harless of the Terriers. “They’ll win several more games and make some noise in the playoffs. They have some tough kids, as usual.”
Byrd took the lead in the first quarter on a 13 yard run by freshman DeShannon Reed but the Cavs were back on top by halftime as Jakari Nicely finished off drives with a touchdown run of 17 yards and a 15 yard TD pass to Andrew Gilbert. Byrd tied the game in the third period on an 11 yard TD run by quarterback Israel Hairston and that’s how it stood after three quarters as the Terriers took advantage of some LB miscues.
Nicely’s two yard TD run regained the lead for LB at 21-14 early in the third quarter, and the Cavaliers put an insurance score on the board with Nicely’s third touchdown run of the game, this time from 12 yards out. However, Reed ran the kickoff back 98 yards for a touchdown and the Cavs had to kill out the clock to hang on for the win.
Reed led the Byrd rushing attack with 42 yards while Hairston had 48 yards passing and 17 rushing. Cooper Minnix had 25 yards in receptions and Alex Dunn had 17.
On defense Ian Vest had eight total tackles and two quarterback pressures. John Kiker, Dexter Gaines, Nate Williamson and Doniven Davis has seven tackles each and Gaines had a fumble recovery and Davis had a sack.
“We are getting closer,” said Lutz. “Our schedule is brutal, but the strength of the schedule is accelerating our progress, because our players are handling it well. Our team is continuing to make improvements each week and our coaches are very proud of their efforts and their commitment to get better at the details. Five of our six games have been against playoff ranked teams, and we have played the three top ranked teams in the region. We are getting closer but this week, we need to finish a game at the end.
The loss dropped Byrd to 2-4 on the season and the Terriers are ninth in the VHSL Region 3D rankings. A big game still looming will be October 21 when they play at Staunton River, as the Eagles are the seventh team in Region 3D, and they could also pick up some big points if they can beat Class 6 Franklin County or Class 5 William Fleming.
“We are playing in bigger games this season,” said Lutz. “Our players are learning how to play in a playoff caliber game, and they are showing huge improvements in the process.”
As for Homecoming, it’s a week most coaches hate due to the distractions. Highfill didn’t allow his players to participate in halftime ceremonies after an incident early in his career at Byrd where one of his players was rushing from a convertible to join the second half kickoff team already on the field.
“Our players know this is a big game,” said Lutz. “We will not have to compete for their focus. They are student-athletes, so they will enjoy the fun activities for the week, but when Friday night arrives they will be ready to play.”