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Saturday, October 7, 2023

THE #TEAM136 REPORT: Week 5: #10 Randolph-Macon 59, Averett 7

(RVA Sports Network continues our season-long, exclusive behind-the-scenes coverage of the Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets with a look at their Week 5 victory at home over Averett, with Rob Witham reporting.)


When the first play from scrimmage is an interception thrown directly at your defender, it could be a good sign that it's going to be a great day. 

For the second straight week, Randolph-Macon was the recipient of a gift turnover on the opponent's first play from scrimmage, turning the interception by Tony Skinner into a two-play, eight-yard drive capped by a touchdown by Nick Hale for a 7-0 lead that the Yellow Jackets would never relinquish, rolling to a 59-7 win on Family Weekend and Hall of Fame Weekend in Ashland.

Hale's tenth rushing score of the year was only the beginning. Randolph-Macon (2-0 ODAC, 5-0 overall) forced a punt, began the next drive at their 38, promptly driving 62 yards, as Kwesi Clarke took over in the running game, garnering an eight-yard scoring play for a 14-0 advantage.

One of the Yellow Jackets' few mistakes on the afternoon came on the next drive as Clarke fumbled at the Averett 15, recovered by the Cougars. But Averett (0-2 ODAC, 3-2 overall) continued to sputter on offense, giving the ball back to Randolph-Macon, who, on first down, went over the defense as Drew Campanale unleashed the bomb to David Wallis for a 57-yard touchdown strike for a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Another Campanale touchdown pass, this time a short route to Zach Bowman, who benefited from two fantastic blocks to race down the near sideline for a 67-yard reception, put the Yellow Jackets up 28-0. After the Yellow Jacket defense had stopped Averett on fourth down at the Randolph-Macon 30, the two-play drive, which began with a three-yard Campanale himself, was the gut punch to the Cougars' hopes for an upset.

Not that it meant Averett faded away. That fourth down stop mentioned a moment ago was because starter Bryce Jackson overthrew a receiver open in the end zone. If that pass is on target, it's 21-7. Within seconds, truly a fourteen-point swing. The Cougars' offense finally got on track later in the second, but nowhere near what they needed being in a four-score hole.

For the third straight game, the opponent mustered a long touchdown drive during the second quarter, as Averett scored on a 13-play, 88-yard drive thanks to a Jackson eight-yard pass to Shawn Watlington with 1:34 left in the half.

Speaking of history repeating itself, Randolph-Macon's opening drive of the second half was textbook Yellow Jackets. Six plays took 3:20, with Clarke scoring on a short run to up the lead to 35-7. For the fifth straight game, head coach Pedro Arruza was able to take advantage of a big lead to bring in substitutions liberally, giving them lots of important reps that will reap benefits not only down the stretch, but looking ahead beyond 2023.

But we only look that far for a second, as there is so much left to do, to improve upon, and to accomplish, as the Yellow Jackets reach the halfway point of the regular season, with their toughest opponents still to come.

The Yellow Jackets' other second half scores came on a Cameron Chatmon one yard run which included a huge Chatmon run to get to the red zone, a Mitchell Johnson five yard score late in the third period, a 41 yard field goal by Kyle Ihle, and then, after Averett's fifth and final turnover, an interception by Trevon Faison who returned the ball to the seven yard line, the final tally was courtesy of Jaxon Jones running left side to the pylon on first and goal.

Randolph-Macon committed no penalties, a huge improvement over the six-penalty performance a week ago. The running attack took control in the second half, earning 155 of their 232 yards on the ground after intermission. The Cougars rushed for 79 yards, by far the best performance against the Yellow Jacket defense this season. 

This was the first game this season where the Yellow Jackets were forced to punt more than once, with Ty Bowman averaging 34.5 per punt on two attempts. Campanale finished 10-of-14 for 202 yards and the two second quarter passing scores. Chatmon rushed for 90 yards, Hale for 80, and Clarke for 46. 

Wallis caught three passes for 82 yards, while Bowman caught two for 81. Nine different Yellow Jackets had catches. Fifth year senior Drake Schaeffer had five tackles, as did Neftali Reyes, starting for the injured Daniel Eliasek and junior defensive end Wade Grubbs.

The frustration that tinged the post-game conversation with Arruza a week prior in North Carolina was nowhere to be found after this victory.

"I'm proud of the way we played," Arruza began. "A lot of guys made plays. I thought we played really physically, in the first half in particular. Coleton Payne had a great tackle, Matthew McNichol on the kickoff (tackle). I thought we started to play a little more tentatively near the end of the first half. But I thought we played well."

Five words really sum up the feelings of Arruza after watching his team's performance.

"We made progress today, okay?"

As the head coach has mentioned after each of the past two games, practices had been uneven the week prior. Practice improved in the lead-up to the Averett contest, and it showed on the field.

"We've still got to be better, but I thought it was a better week," Arruza said of this past week's preparation. "Today was a fun day."

Now the four teams most discussed as possible threats to the Yellow Jackets' bid for a fourteenth Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) championship appear in the second half of the regular season, beginning with a trip to Bridgewater next Saturday. Randolph-Macon defeated the Eagles 44-7 in Ashland last season, and won in 2021 on their last trip to Bridgewater, 31-13. 

After that, it's back to back weeks with threats coming to Day Field. Shenandoah comes in for Homecoming October 21st, then it's the annual showdown with Washington & Lee on October 28th.

"The details need to matter more," Arruza explained. "It's one of the best groups of kids I've ever had, maybe the best, a lot of really invested guys, guys that have a lot of character."

When asked about the details he referenced, Arruza dug down.

"Football is a game of nuances, it's not a complicated game," Arruza said. "Life is like that. It's not always black and white, and football is the same way. What I want is for guys to just get better. If the best players get better, and guys at the bottom of the roster continue to improve, that's what we want."

Continued improvement for Team 136 can, with excellent preparation and equaled execution, produce results never before seen in the storied history of Yellow Jacket football.


(Kwesi Clarke scores on a first quarter touchdown run to give Randolph-Macon an early 14-0 lead Saturday. Photo by Rachel Witham)

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