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Heartache: Last-Second 44-Yard Louisa County Field Goal Ends Park View's State Title Dreams, 24-21
By Dan Sousa Loudoun Prep Sports
Leesburg (Nov. 19, 2006) - The visor that Park View High School running back Deric Dudinski wears on his helmet usually makes it difficult to read his emotions on the football field, but not Saturday night. Not after he had seen his team's inspired fourth quarter comeback -- and his brilliant prep career -- end in heartache as Louisa County's Eric Church kicked a game-winning 44-yard field goal as time expired to give the Lions a 24-21 AA Region II Division 4 playoff win over the Patriots. Dudinski's face was shielded, but the pain in his voice was unmistakable as he approached Patriot coach Andy Hill. "I'm sorry coach," said Dudinski as he voice cracked. He may have rushed for an all-time school record 5,708 yards in his career, one of the top marks in Virginia history, but what he and his teammates wanted more than anything else, was to take their school to the state title game. "Why are you sorry," said Hill, fighting his emotions as well. Mud from Dudinski's uniform smudged Hill's face and clothes as the coach hugged his running back and tried to console him. Dudinski had done everything in his power to help his team win Saturday including a second quarter 81-yard interception return for a touchdown, a 13-yard touchdown pass to Amechi Anyaugo on the first play of the fourth quarter, and a 13-yard touchdown run that tied the game 21-21 with 4:51 to play. For Hill, Dudinski, and all Patriot fans, it will take time to digest what happened Saturday at Heritage High School where the game was moved because of poor field conditions in Sterling. As fans walked away, heads still shaking in disbelief, they could be heard to say: "that hurts" or "that is something you won't forget overnight" or "that's a stinger". One moment their team was driving into Lion territory for what appeared to be a chance to win the game or at worst take things into overtime. A fumble scooped up by Louisa and returned 30 yards with 1:04 left, however, set the stage for the dramatics. "It's heartbreaking," said Park View senior captain James Nolan, a three-year starting lineman. "This is the best team I have every played with. This is the best year of my life." The same could be said on the other sideline as the Lions had captured the school's first ever 10-0 regular season, and while the Patriots (9-2) all year had "12-9-06", the state title game date, etched on their hats, playbooks and in their collective minds, t he Lions had worn dog tags with "One Team. One Family. One Mission." on them. Louisa was able to accomplish its mission Saturday while Park View watched things end on 11-18-06. Saturday's hero, Church, is certainly more than a mission specialist, as he is a two-way starter at tight end and linebacker and he is the school's Homecoming King who will surely be treated like royalty in Louisa County for many years to come. Church is also a player not easily rattled, even when attempting the career-long 44-yard kick. As Church's old-school, straight-ahead-style kick -- which almost didn't even occur as Louisa quarterback Jeff Mehlhaff had to save a bad snap and get the ball quickly placed on the muddy turf -- sputtered just over the crossbar, prayers were answered on the visiting side as the Lion fans roared loud enough to be heard down south in Mineral. It was Louisa's first football playoff victory in the school's 60-year history. On the home side there was stunned silence and Patriot players fell to the field which had been turned into a muddy quagmire between the hash marks. Park View junior Eric Johnston even chased the ball down and punted it back onto the field ... as if, maybe if he sent the ball back through the uprights, time could be reversed, and Park View could continue to chase its dream season. It was only 1:04 earlier when Park View seemed destined to host a home game against Harrisonburg in next week's regional final as the Patriots had scored twice in the fourth quarter to erase a 21-7 deficit and they had the ball inside Lion territory and were driving on a tired Louisa squad. The Patriots had finally solved the mystery of the Louisa defense, which had just three down lineman at times and 10 players often crowding the line of scrimmage. When Louisa couldn't muster any yardage and had to punt with 3:25 remaining, it appeared that Park View was about to escape with an improbable victory. Then disaster struck after the Patriots had driven to the Lion 45 and a the ball popped loose. All night the ball was sticking in the mud on punts and incomplete passes like a piece of chewing gum to a shoe, but this time the ball took a bounced towards the Lion sidelines and Louisa senior linebacker Brian Grubbs opted to scoop up the ball instead of falling on it and he was able to ramble 30 yards before being knocked out of bounds on the Park View 34.
LPS- Heartache: Last-Second Louisa Field Goal Ends Park View's State Title Dreams
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Even then, the Park View defense, which hadn't allowed a score since the first quarter, as Louisa's only second half touchdown came courtesy of Kenny Fleming's 35-yard interception return, didn't relent as they appeared to send the game into overtime with a sack on Mehlhaff. A five-yard face mask penalty, however, got the ball back to the 33 with 41.7 seconds left. "My hats off to their boys for not giving up," said Louisa coach Mark Fischer, who in four short years has turned around a losing program into the closest thing Central Virginia has to a Texas-style football atmosphere. After an incompletion, Fischer opted to hand the ball to Todd Shelton on 3rd-and-10, and even though he didn't pick up the first down, his six yards were probably the most important of the 2,000 he has gained this year as Church's kick, which came after Louisa had run the clock down to 2.7 seconds, needed every one of those six yards to squeeze over the crossbar. "We wanted to get to the next level," said Hill who has taken his team to the playoff in each of his first two seasons at Park View. "We have a core group of kids who don't deserve to end like this." Hill and his coaching staff pulled out all the stops Saturday night to get their offense going against the Lion defense. Dudinski, averaging 200 yards per game, needed 25 carries to reach the 100-yard mark and Louisa held Park View to 49 total yards in the first half. It would be an understatement to say the Patriots went deep into their playbook ... they appeared to be drawing plays up in the mud as they executed passes turned into double reverses, fake onside kickoffs and even a "fake timeout-run play" that was scripted right out of Adam Sandler's version of "The Longest Yard". It was actually that play, on 4th-and-1 from the Patriot 42, that actually jump-started the comeback. As Park View quarterback C.J. Leizear walked away from center and over towards the sidelines, waving his arms in disgust as if he would have to burn a timeout, the ball was snapped directly to Dudinski and the subterfuge was enough for him to break the line of scrimmage and go 29 yards for his longest gain of the night. The Lions sacked Leizear on the next play, but a face mask penalty moved the ball to the Lion 23. Dudinski ran for seven yards and then Anyaugo picked up three on a reverse from Dudinski. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Dudinski took a handoff and pulled up to throw the first touchdown of his carrier, a 13-yard pass to a wide open Anyaugo in the back of the end zone to cut the lead to 21-14. Other than Dudinski's 81-yard interception return for a touchdown with 6:22 left in the first half, the Lions had been playing turnover free, but on the very first snap after Park View's score, Shelton lost the ball and it bounced into the waiting arms of Justin Denekas. It was really a defensive struggle Saturday -- the defenses had a lot to do with it but also the muddy field conditions slowed down both offenses -- and that was evident by the fact that both teams then went "four-and-out" with Park View unable to convert on 4th-and-1 from their own 45 and the Lions unable to make a 4th-and-2 from the Patriot 37 moments later. The Park View passing attack, under wraps most of the night, finally got clicking as Leizear hit big fullback Corbin Barnes for an 11-yard gain, and a play later, it was a 21-yard pass to Ryan Pick that moved the ball to the Lion 44. On 3rd-and-10, Mehlhaff in coverage, was a tad early in his hit and the resulting 15-yard pass interference penalty set up Dudinski's burst from the 13 on the next play. Clayton Parker's extra point tied the game 21-21 with 4:51 to play. The Lions picked up six on a Mehlhaff scramble on their next possession, but Barnes and company shut down the middle. Two attempts by Shelton from the single wing offense resulted in 4th-and-3. Fischer didn't want to try to go for it from his own 40 and opted to punt. Church, who had to hurriedly switch to a specially square-toed kicking shoe on the field prior to each kick, got off a punt that took a nice roll to the Patriot 27. Denekas picked up nine yards to earn a first down and then Leizear found Anyaugo open for a 20-yard gain to the Lion 45. After an incompletion the clock stopped with 1:15 to play and the Patriots went ahead and called time out to strategize on the 2nd-and-10 call. Park View came back with a play that used Dudinski as a decoy, and instead of throwing, Leizear gave the ball to 28o-pound lineman Thomas Mulabah. Usually used as a battering ram blocking back when put in the fullback position, Mulabah had just three rushes on the season for 11 yards, but he had been returning kickoffs, along with Barnes, from the upback position and teams have found it darn near impossible to bring him down once he gets up a head of steam. The Patriots were surely hoping Saturday that Mulabah's size would be too much for a visibly tired and reeling Lion defense. When the ball squirted loose -- it was just the Patriots third lost fumble on the entire season -- it was the 174-pound Grubbs quickest to the ball, and knowing that his team needed the field position, he ignored years of football coaching, and scooped up the ball on the run. The Lions struck first in the game with a nice 1o-play, 59-yard drive in the first quarter, capped by Shelton's second effort from the 3 to score. Shelton finished with a game-high 133 yards on 22 carries. Louisa had 213 yards on the ground but just 25 passing yards on 4 of 12 attempts. Louisa then got the ball right back when Church, kicked off at an angle, short and high. Much like a punt, the ball arrived to Denekas just as the first wave of Lion defenders and the resulting scramble gave Louisa the ball. The rest of the night, Park View opted to fair catch the kickoff with Leizear grabbing the ball cleanly. The Lions needed just four plays after the muff to score as Shelton zipped through a gaping hole on the left side and went untouched for a 29-yard touchdown. It was one of the rare times on the night that the single wing formation itself, made famous by Stone Bridge locally, fooled the Patriots enough to spring Shelton free. Most of Shelton's yardage Saturday came on his ability to shed the first tackler. Louisa was ahead 14-0 and looking to go up by three scores when a deflected pass landed in Dudinski's hands and, as he has done all season for Park View, he made the big play even bigger, weaving down the field for 81 yards, behind some nice blocking, to score. The Lions were right back in the red zone in the third quarter with a first down at the Patriot 11 but the Park View defense held and a fake field goal on 4th-and-13 from the 14 didn't net enough yardage for the first down. "Our defense came to play tonight," said Hill.
LPS- Heartache: Last-Second Louisa Field Goal Ends Park View's State Title Dreams
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As Dudinski made his way over to make his unnecessary apology to his coach, Hill said what all Patriot fans know: "Deric has been the face of our program for four years and there couldn't be a better face." It was a face temporarily streaked with mud and tears, but Nolen put things in perspective as he slowly made his way to the locker room. "We gave it all we had tonight. We left everything on the field and that is what, as seniors, we will always remember," said Nolen.