James Monroe football coach Rich Serbay is used to having athletes at the quarterback position.
Aidan Ryan assumed the role and ran with it Thursday night, leading the Yellow Jackets to a 43-7 road victory over Charlottesville.
The 6-foot-1, 178-pound junior completed 9-of-17 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown in the first half to help James Monroe (2-0) notch its eighth win in the past nine matchups with the Black Knights (0-2). Ryan caught two passes for 41 yards in the second half while playing receiver and also saw time at free safety.
“He’s an athlete and we put him back there because we didn’t have an athlete last year,” Serbay said. “He’s being recruited by a bunch of schools at defensive back and he’s one of the few kids that I’ve had go both ways, in two critical positions, quarterback and free safety, and he did pretty well.”
Charlottesville opened the game with a solid drive, moving the ball near midfield before James Monroe’s defense stopped the Black Knights on fourth and 2. The Yellow Jackets took advantage of the short field as Jawuan Fauntleroy scored on a four-yard run to give JM a 7-0 lead with 3:17 left.
On the ensuing kickoff, James Monroe forced a fumble and recovered at the Charlottesville 35. Once again, the Yellow Jackets capitalized on the miscue, as Fauntleroy scored his second touchdown of the game.
Despite the poor start, Charlottesville didn’t back down and went to work offensively in the second quarter. Isaiah Washington rumbled 38 yards for a touchdown, but it was called back because of a holding penalty.
The Black Knights didn’t sulk, and Washington had a big 17-yard pickup on 4th and 7 to extend the drive.
That set up Jaleom Adams-Mallory’s 2-yard touchdown run to trim the lead to 14-7 with 6:07 left in the first half.
The momentum would be short-lived for CHS.
Ryan hooked up with Tyler Whitman on an 80-yard touchdown pitch and catch on the next play from scrimmage to extend the JM lead to 21-7 with 5:53 remaining in the half.
The Yellow Jackets had a chance to add to their lead just before the half, but Charlottesville defensive back Quincy Edwards intercepted Ryan in the end zone with less than a minute to play to end the drive.
“We’ve always had great games against here against Charlottesville and it’s always been a dogfight,” Serbay said. “Charlottesville played their tails off and they didn’t quit. From the first minute to the 48th minute, I give them a lot of credit. I think Eric [Sherry] is a heck of a coach and I think they have a bright future.”
James Monroe’s special teams struck again in the third quarter as Ryan returned the second-half kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. Sherry said there was a misunderstanding with the kickoff team.
“I thought maybe we’d got a little bit of onside kick there, but I didn’t communicate it well with our special teams,” Sherry said. “We made a mistake and they caught it on us and that really turned momentum.”
The struggles continued after that for the Black Knights, who snapped the ball out of the end zone for a safety and a 29-7 JM lead.
After the free kick, backup quarterback Tahj Smith found Dimario Brooks on a swing pass for a 25-yard touchdown and a 36-7 lead with 6:31 left.
Greg Williams added a 19-yard touchdown run in the final minutes to close out the scoring for James Monroe.
Isaiah Washington had 64 yards on 16 carries to lead Charlottesville. He also filled in at quarterback in the second half after starter Tamarius Washington missed the final two quarters with an injury.
Adams-Mallory had 62 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in the loss.
For Sherry, he saw progress from his team
“We played with great effort,” Sherry said. “We wore down there a little bit and got a little sloppy with our execution, but I’m very happy with the effort.
“These kids have to show up and keep grinding away. It can sometimes get tough. You get down on yourself, but you just have to stay the process and every day find something bright to look at and get better, and they will.”