WOODBERRY FOREST — For the first month of the season, Donovan Baker admitted he struggled carving out a niche as a receiver in Woodberry Forest’s offense.
Coach Scott Braswell and his staff sat down with the sophomore and talked to him about switching to running back. A month later, Baker has found his calling as the featured back in the Tigers offense.
Baker turned in a career day Saturday as he rushed for a career-high 165 yards and four touchdowns to lead Woodberry Forest to a 48-22 victory over Fork Union Military Academy.
“We tried him at wide receiver at the start of the season and he just wasn’t comfortable with it,” Braswell said. “So, we moved him to running back and he excelled right away. We’ve tried to make it a point of emphasis to try and develop a running game and being more physical and he gives us a little bit of both, which has been huge for us. I’m so proud of him. He’s such a humble kid, just a hard-working kid, if he had two carries today, he’d be the same kid whether he had 24 carries. He’s just a great kid. A hard-worker, puts the team first and is really wanting to run a lot.”
The sophomore running back scored two touchdowns in the first half and added two more in the third quarter as the Tigers extended their winning streak against the Blue Devils to seven in a row.
“We blocked the inside run pretty well,” Baker said. “I love the inside run and just the mentality of the offensive line made it was easy to run behind.”
Woodberry Forest (2-7) scored on its first three possessions and never looked back. Baker had 25 rushing yards on the opening series, including an eight-yard touchdown run to put his team up 7-0 with 10:27 left in the first quarter.
The early success on the ground opened up things in the passing game. Quarterback Ben Locklear found Luke Blundin on slant pattern for a 57-yard catch and run for a score and a 14-0 lead with 3:30 left in the opening stanza.
The Tigers’ offense was just getting started.
Braswell reached into his back of tricks for the next score. Senior backup quarterback Ethan Weber entered the game and found Staley Wideman on a corner route for a 25-yard score to extend the lead to 21-0 with 10:21 left in the half.
Fork Union (5-4) tried to switch the momentum in its favor with a fake punt, but Montigo Moss was tackled at his own 17-yard line. Baker scored two plays later on a two-yard run to extend the lead to 27-0 with just under eight minutes left in the half.
The Blue Devils moved the ball pretty well in the first half, but a couple of bad snaps forced them into third-and-long situations that they were unable to convert. Coach Mark Shuman’s team finally got on the board late in the half as V’Jon Hampton scored on a 17-yard run up the middle to trim the lead to 27-7 with 3:17 left until the break.
Following a Tigers’ punt, Fork Union had another opportunity to put points on the board before halftime with the ball on Woodberry’s 44 with less than 45 seconds left. Quarterback Alex Williams tried to hit Moss on a fly route, but Tigers cornerback Caleb Hodges made a leaping grab for an interception to end the threat.
“All week I was getting ready and making sure I was getting myself prepared for what he was going to do,” Hodges said. “One-on-one coverage, I just made sure I played inside leverage because I knew he wanted to run post and go [routes]. I just did my job on the scouting report and tried to do what I had to do.”
Fork Union turned to the running game in the second half to try and wear down the Woodberry Forest defense. The Blue Devils drove the ball into the red zone, but another bad snap on a fourth-down play forced a turnover on downs.
The Tigers once again capitalized on the turnover as Baker scored his third touchdown of the game, a two-yard run out of the wildcat formation, to stretch the lead to 34-7 with 7:00 left in the quarter.
Later in the third, Baker found the end zone again, this time on a seven-yard run around right tackle for a commanding 41-7 advantage.
In the fourth quarter, Weber threw his second touchdown of the game, this time a 13-yard strike to Peter Hutchinson for a 48-7 lead.
Fork Union didn’t quit and scored a couple of touchdowns in the final seven minutes to close out the game. Steve Zegbe returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Williams connected with Moss on a 32-yard touchdown with 2:07 left to close out the scoring.
Williams, the area’s leading passer, completed 15 of 29 passes for 160 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Moss, the area’s top receiver, caught 10 balls for 101 yards and a touchdown. Hampton finished with 115 on the ground.
Locklear completed 7 of 11 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown for Woodberry Forest. Blundin finished with four catches for 91 yards.
Defensively, J Banzet and Hodges each had key interceptions for the Tigers.
“We came in with high energy and made sure we had fun in the process of doing it,” Hodges said. “We came out with our foot on the pedal and we didn’t take it off. We just made sure we took care of business like we did last week.”
The win marked the second straight week that Woodberry Forest has knocked off a potential state playoff team.
After so many heart-wrenching losses early in the season, Braswell said the past two weeks have been bittersweet as they prepare to close out the season next week in “The Game” against Episcopal in Alexandria.
“I’m so happy for them,” Braswell said. “It’s been a rough road. I’ve never had anything like it. These guys deserve a lot of credit because usually your seniors are going to set the tone and their going to lead for you. They just kept coming down that hill [to practice] with enthusiasm and I’m so happy for them to have the two big wins at home, which has been fun, and hopefully next week we can get on the bus [to Alexandria] and get one more.”