Last Friday night was supposed to be a celebration for the William Monroe football program.
After an 0-3 start to the season, the Dragons won six of their final seven regular season games to earn a home playoff game. Monroe hosted Skyline on Nov. 15 in hopes of earning its first playoff victory in nearly 30 years.
Hawks quarterback Blake Appleton and receiver Marion Haley had other plans.
The duo connected on four touchdown passes to lead No. 5 Skyline to a 42-20 victory over the fourth-seeded Dragons in the first round of the Region 3B playoffs.
Appleton completed 18 of 20 passes for 216 yards and four touchdowns, including two in each half. Haley had 12 receptions for 132 yards and hauled in all four scoring strikes as Skyline (6-5) took advantage of William Monroe’s depleted secondary.
One defensive back was suspended for the game and another, Logan Barbour, suffered a hand injury early in the first quarter and missed the rest of the game.
William Monroe head coach Jon Rocha said those injuries were tough to overcome.
“If it could go wrong, it did go wrong tonight for us,” Rocha said. “It happens, but we can’t overcome [missing] two corners, a kicker and our second offensive weapon [Barbour]. We just can’t.”
Skyline went to work late in the first quarter as Appleton and Haley connected on the first of their four scoring plays. Haley caught a five-yard hitch, slipped the defender and raced the final 10 yards for a touchdown to give the Hawks a 7-0 lead with 1:23 left in the first quarter.
William Monroe (6-5) answered early in the second quarter thanks to some big plays in the running game from Dupree Rucker. The senior tailback capped a long drive with a three-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7 with 9:32 left.
The play had historical significance for Rucker, who eclipsed Cordell Burley’s school single-season rushing record of 1,931 yards set back in 1991 during the Dragons’ state championship season.
The Hawks answered later in the half following a shanked punt that gave them first and 10 from inside the Greene Dragons’ 25. Appleton found Haley on a 22-yard touchdown strike on a hitch-and-go route to retake the lead 14-7 with 6:50 left in the half.
The lead would be short-lived, as Rucker found the end zone again for William Monroe. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, the senior rumbled 61 yards for a touchdown with 5:29 left in the half to tie the game at 14-14.
The score remained that way through halftime before the Greene Dragons went back to work on their first drive of the second half.
Rucker capped a 15-play, 75-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown run on fourth and 2 from the 5. The run may have been his most impressive of the game for Rucker, who carried several tacklers across the goal line for the go-ahead score.
With their kicker sidelined with a hernia, the Greene Dragons were forced to go for two and the try failed, leaving the score 20-14 with 3:54 left in the third quarter.
Skyline took the lead on its next drive when Appleton found Haley open in the right corner of the end zone with 1:50 left in the quarter to tie the game.
Douglas Cummings added the extra point to give the Hawks a 21-20 lead.
Special teams were responsible for the next Skyline score as Matthew Leach blocked a William Monroe punt at the Greene Dragons’ 15. Darion Santucci scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 10 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 28-0 with 11:56 left in the game.
The Hawks tacked on two more touchdowns over the final five minutes to put the game out of reach. Appleton found Haley on an 11-yard scoring strike, then David Carter sealed the win with a 67-yard touchdown run with 3:06 remaining to cap the scoring.
Rucker finished with 231 yards on 30 carries to mark the seventh time this season he surpassed 200 yards on the ground. The outing was a memorable one for Rucker, who became the first running back in Central Virginia to eclipse the 2,000-yard rushing mark in a season since former Monticello standout Takeem Hedgeman achieved the feat in 2007.
Rocha said it was well-deserved accomplishment.
“For him, he’s been a workhorse,” Rocha said. “For his size and for him to get the ball over 30 times a game and watch him grind it out the way he does, it’s just amazing to watch. It was ‘Let’s get Dupree tonight’ and he still wound up with touchdowns. He’s just a very dynamic player.”
For William Monroe, it marked the third winning season during Rocha’s six-year tenure in charge of the program. He couldn’t be prouder of what this team accomplished.
“They looked adversity in the face all year long and just kicked it in its teeth,” Rocha said. “Starting off the season 0-3 against some pretty tough opponents and coming back and having a winning season and getting a home playoff game. There’s so much that this team accomplished that a lot of teams at Monroe never got. Things are going right. This team is just special I’m so proud of them.”