Elijah Belcher wasn’t named Mr. Football at halftime of Franklin County’s homecoming game Friday night.
Nor did he rush for more than 200 yards at the expense of the Eagles’ latest conquered foe.
But, he has a special memory that will last a lifetime too, one that he’ll rightfully brag about each and every time he returns for homecoming.
Belcher, a senior who competes on defense for the Eagles, got a chance by accident to return a kickoff for the first time just before intermission.
His return reached its destination — the end zone — for his first career touchdown. It covered 96 yards and it gave the Eagles a lead they would not surrender in a 31-14 non-district varsity football victory over Hidden Valley at C.I. (Cy) Dillon Stadium-Fred M. Brown Memorial Field.
The win is FCHS’s second in a row, its third this season and its third over Hidden Valley in a series that began in 2017.
The Eagles (3-2), who have scored 71 points in their last two triumphs, completed the non-league portion of their 2019 slate with the win. In two weeks, they’ll make their Blue Ridge District debut at Staunton River.
FCHS has not surrendered the lead in its three wins. It led early in setbacks to Salem and E.C. Glass, both of which are undefeated.
Belcher’s return broke a 14-14 stalemate.
Belcher said he took the field to return the kick because first-string returnman Garrett Garman was unavailable.
“Garrett couldn’t go in so I came in for him. I’d been back there in a couple of games but I’d never gotten to return one,’’ Belcher said.
The Titans were kicking off from the 50 yard line because of an Eagles’penalty, one of nine they committed for 100 yards. On their first try, the Titans attempted an onside kick, but they failed to execute it.
The subsequent boot landed in Belcher’s arms and he with aid from his blockers, did the rest.
“I thought it was going to be onside again,’’ Belcher said. “I just saw an opening and I hit it. It’s my first touchdown. It felt good to get in the end zone.’’
“I’ll take one of those (touchdowns) whether it’s homecoming or not,’’ Eagles sideline boss J.R. Edwards said.
Leading 21-14 at intermission, the Eagles’ offense produced the only points of the second half.
The Eagles’ third-period TD was their most pivotal.
Hidden Valley had driven the ball into the red (scoring) zone, but it was denied a possible game-tying TD when defenders Parker Scott and Will Hairston stripped the football away from Titans running back Matt Strong and defender Jacob Stokcton recovered the miscue.
Strong’s fumble was not the Titans’ only blunder as defender Jamerise Holland intercepted a pass in the second half.
However, Hidden Valley’s miscue produced a 14-point swing as running back Jayron Smith, who gained 205 yards on 25 carries, scored the last of his two TDs on an 85-yard dash on the next play.
“It was a great response by the defense and great response with our off-tackle play down the left sideline by Jayron,’’ Edwards said.
Smith has been proverbial kryptonite for the Titans.
In only his fourth varsity game last year, Smith rushed for a single-game, program-best 310 yards. Of his more than 1,500 career rushing yards, more than one-third (515 to be exact) have surrendered by the Titans.
“(Jayron) is a real tough kid...All running back have good features about them, but he keeps his legs constantly churning. They never seem to stop,’’ Edwards said. “That bodes well for him. Sometimes, when he comes out of those piles, if (the opponent) doesn’t wrap him up, he’s going to make them pay by gaining a couple of extra yards.’’
Despite not playing a full season in 2018 — he missed several games after sustaining an injury in the first half of a victory at Bassett, Smith was able to gain 1,000 rushing yards.
“We didn’t get him for a full season last year and that was tough. When you touch the football, it attracts a lot of attention. Keeping (a running back) healthy is a task for every team,’’ Edwards said.
Edwards highlight the play of defensive end Ty Ermini, whom he said is one of his club’s strongest players “pound for pound.’’
Ermini collected six tackles, all solo stops, with a sack and a tackle for loss. Stockton finished with nine tackles, eight of which were solo stops, and Hunter Cannaday had seven tackles, all of which were solo stops.
The Eagles gained 350 offensive yards on 56 plays. The Titans ran three more plays but produced only 217 offensive yards. Both teams had 15 first downs.
Forty-eight of the Eagles plays from scrimmage were rushing calls; those plays generated 278 yards.
FCHS’s defense held Hidden Valley to 54 rushing yards on 36 plays. Quarterback Grayson Carroll was 10 of 23 for 163 yards, including a 44-yard TD toss to Tyler McDaniel, a score that squared the count at 14.
FCHS quarterback Joshua Luckett was 4 of 8 passing. He was intercepted once, but did hit fullback Ke’Shawn Wright with a 10-yard scoring strike that gave the Eagles their initial advantage.
Wright caught three passes from Luckett and gained 19 yards rushing on 12 carries.
Luckett rushed for 44 yards on six carries, while Belcher, Landon Church and Eli Foutz produced positive rushing yards.
Smith’s first TD run cane one a one-yard sprint in the second stanza that made the
Chandler Holley nailed a 27-yard field goal in the final frame to complete the scoring. He was 4 of 4 on point-after-touchdown (PAT) a ttempts.
The Titans got a three-yard scoring run in the first quarter from running back Jovan Wilson, but they missed the extra-point kick. Following McDaniel’s TD, Wilson made up for the lost point with a successful 2-point conversion dash.