By Brady Extin | The Times-Post
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In Friday’s Class 2A IHSAA Sectional 38 semifinal game, it was Lapel taking a page out of the Eastern Hancock playbook to earn the win.
Two week’s prior, at the end of the regular season, the Royals used a three-score first half to jump out to an early lead and the eventual win.
This time, the Bulldogs scored four times in the opening half en route to the 41-13 playoff victory.
“Our first matchup was a good wake-up call for us. We had a couple good weeks of practice since then, and I think it was just our kids’ mindset and approach coming in that was the difference,” Lapel head coach Tim Miller said. “Basically, we were the team that had everything to prove. Defensively we wanted to stop the run, and offensively we just wanted to execute.”
Both offenses came out firing, and it took just over one minute for both teams to find the end zone. On the Royals’ second play of the game, Dylan Bowman brought down a jump ball from quarterback Elijah Edon and took it 67 yards for the opening score.
It took Lapel just one play to answer when running back Tyler Dollar’s first carry went 71 yards for the touchdown.
From there, the two teams took turns in opposite directions.
On their next possession, Eastern Hancock was stuffed on four straight plays from inside the 5-yard line to turn the ball over on downs.
“When we scored early, I think we were excited, and then we drove the ball all the way down and got stuffed at the one,” Eastern Hancock head coach Pat Echeverria said. “ It was an early backbreaker for us.”
And while the Royals’ offense stalled, the Bulldogs continued their attack behind the legs of Dollar.
He added two more first-half scores — a 4-yard run and 10-yard reception — to help give the Bulldogs a 28-6 halftime lead.
Due to an injury, Dollar was limited in the first matchup to just 35 yards and one touchdown. This time he finished the game with 256 yards and four touchdowns.
“Tyler is one of the best, if not the best back in the state, so a healthy Tyler Dollar is always a positive,” Miller said. “It makes us just that much better, and for our offense, it all starts with him being able to run the ball.”
He paced a Bulldogs’ offense that ran for 405 yards and tallied a total of 658 yards of offense.
“That kid was running hard tonight, and all their kids ran hard. It’s just a really good football team, and they were the more physical team tonight,” Echeverria said. “They were full strength tonight and it showed.”
While the Bulldogs star running back thrived, that was not the case for the Royals.
The third leading rusher in class 2A coming into the game, Kain Sotelo, was limited to just 19 yards.
For Lapel and Miller, that was a night-and-day difference from the first matchup, in which they allowed 215 yards and four touchdowns.
“To be honest, scheme wise, we didn’t do much different,” Miller said. “I think it was just the kids’ mindset and focus, and having the underdog chip on their shoulders instead of thinking they were the favorites. And we were just the more physical team.”
Adding to the offensive onslaught for the Bulldogs was quarterback Devin Craig. While Dollar led the team on the ground, it was Craig making some big plays through the air.
He threw for a total of 250 yards and two touchdowns, and added one score with his legs.
His favorite target on the night, Nick Witte, added another big game to his season résumé, catching 11 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown.
With the win, the Bulldogs advanced to tomorrow’s sectional final, and will once again be facing a team that beat them in the regular season — Heritage Christian. In the first matchup, the Bulldogs lost 42-38.
“They have a very explosive offense, and we’ve got to be able to get some stops against them. Offensively, we just have to make the most of every possession. We can’t have three-and-outs, and we’ve got to be able to run the football again,” Miller said. “We need to follow the same blueprint we had against Eastern Hancock, and just be the more physical football team.”