|The Loudoun County Raiders had plenty of plenty of reasons to celebrate Friday night in their 33-0 win against the Fauquier Falcons.—Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Rick Wasser|
Antonio Jackson broke his collar bone during the Loudoun County Raiders’ 2013 season opener against the Fauquier Falcons. In the 2014 opener between the same teams, Jackson broke the Falcons' back.
Jackson scored four touchdowns in the first 35 minutes to lead County to a 33-0 win over Fauquier at home Aug. 29 in Leesburg. The senior wide receiver caught touchdown passes of 26, 43 and 27 yards during the first half. Then he returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
“He did a wonderful job,” Raiders coach Todd Hill said. “We thought we had a pretty good matchup against their secondary.”
Last season against the Falcons, Jackson broke his collar bone during the first quarter while trying to make a diving catch in the end zone. He had no need to dive for any passes Friday.
County quarterback Takwan Crews-Naylor threw three perfect touchdown passes to Jackson, who got open by abusing Fauquier’s secondary with pure speed and tricky route-running.
“When you come into the game, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Jackson, who missed seven games last season. “And when you play like that, it’s just an unbelievable feeling. It’s surreal. I was really just glad to make it through the whole game."
The lone Raider touchdown not scored by Jackson was the first of the game. Crews-Naylor ran the ball into the end zone from 1-yard out to cap a long drive that featured only one pass play.
In fact, the Raiders ran the ball on 10 of their first 11 plays, rebuffing the idea that they’re a pass-heavy team.
“I was ready to have a seizure,” Hill said with a laugh, referring to all the run plays. “I’m not used to that ... but we’ve got to run so we can get more balance this year. We’re not as predictable."
“When we started running the ball, they started coming up more in the box,” Hill continued. “That allowed us to go up over the top.”
Jackson, specifically, burned the Falcons by running beyond the coverage of their secondary and catching long passes from Crews-Naylor along the sideline. On his first touchdown, Jackson ran an inside wheel route to deceive a Fauquier defensive back, and the resulting touchdown gave County a 13-0 lead with 10.2 seconds remaining in the first quarter (failed two-point conversion).
“The deep ball, we worked on it so much in practice,” Falcons defensive back Marcus Campbell said. “I think we just forgot the little details. We could have prevented that easy. It was just one simple turn of the hips the [wrong] way, or not putting up your hands at the last second.”
On the Raiders’ next drive, Jackson ran a similar route for the 43-yard touchdown that gave County a 20-0 lead with 9:32 remaining in the second quarter. Then, on 4th-and-5 with 20.3 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Jackson ran a straight go-route to the corner of the end zone and Fauquier’s defensive back couldn’t react in time to keep the Raiders from taking a 27-0 lead into halftime.
“He’s tall and fast,” Falcons coach Jamie Carter said of Jackson. “When you combine an athletic kid with height and speed, and he runs a great route. … These kids can play.”
Crews-Naylor finished with 112 yards and three touchdowns on 5-for-7 passing during little more than three quarters, as both teams used substitutes during the fourth period.
“Tae was very poised in the pocket,” Hill said. “We’ve got nice receivers on the other side [of Jackson], so it’s almost pick your poison [for a defense]. If you’re going to overload on Antonio, we feel like we can throw it to some other receivers.”
The rest of County’s receiving corps combined for 16 yards on two receptions Friday as Crews-Naylor had no reason to look toward anyone other than Jackson.
“I beat the same guy a couple times,” Jackson said. “We work in practice on how to get off press [coverage] so it just came natural. I got off them any way I could.”
During the second quarter, Campbell, also a Fauquier receiver, ran a route similar to Jackson’s wheel route. He caught the pass for 45 yards from Falcons quarterback Louis Heisler.
That, however, was one of only two Fauquier plays that went for more than 10 yards the entire game.
“Our offense wasn’t clicking,” Campbell said.
Heisler finished with 84 yards and an interception on 9-for-11 passing, while Merritt Railey relieved him only to finish with 14 yards and two interceptions on 1-for-6 passing.
The Falcons also rushed for only 32 yards on 26 carries (1.2 yards per carry).
“We felt like we needed to put an extra body in the box and slow down their run game and make them throw,” Hill said. “They’ve got a lot of young receivers. … In the secondary, we feel that’s one of our strengths.”
Carter placed some blame on Fauquier’s offensive line for the poor rushing production, but he couldn’t fault that unit too much.
“They’re a big group, but they’re such an athletic group that we were out-running ourselves a lot at the point of attack,” he said. “We were opening our own holes for them to blitz though. But how can you be mad at an offensive line for moving fast?”
Fauquier also finished with five turnovers to the Raiders’ one. That ratio helped County dominate the field position battle all night.
Less than two minutes into the game, for example, Raiders defensive lineman Jordan Harris intercepted a Heisler pass on an attempted middle screen to running back Briar Thomas. Harris returned the ball 28 yards to Fauquier’s 6-yard line.
“That was huge,” Hill said. “Fauquier runs so many types of screens, we worked extremely hard on that this week [in practice]. We were concerned.
“Jordan Harris just played it beautifully,” Hill said. “He read it and stepped back into the [passing] zone. …That did carry a lot of momentum for us.”
County didn’t score from the 6-yard line due to a lost fumble, but the Raiders retained a field position advantage after a Fauquier punt. Then Crew-Naylor scored his rushing touchdown on the ensuing drive to give County the lead for good.
“We could feel the pressure,” Campbell said of that touchdown. “We just fell apart. Once we get down by a little bit, nobody wants to be the one to spark anything and get us back up. We’ve just got to get mentally tough."