Devils find a way in 41-40 win

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Grayson seemed destined for its first loss until a blocked punt turned into a game-winning safety.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

INDEPENDENCE –– Grayson County isn’t perfect, but the Blue Devils’ record still is.


Despite allowing Fort Chiswell more than 400 yards of offense, despite incurring a dozen penalties and despite coughing up a three-touchdown fourth-quarter lead, Grayson ran its record to 8-0 on the year thanks to a career night by Xavier Rodriguez and a miracle of a score in the final minutes.

In a game that featured more than 1,000 all-purpose yards, a safety was the difference as the Devils stole a 41-40 win from the Pioneers in a thrilling Mountain Empire District game at Bill Strong Field.

“You just hope somebody makes a play, and somebody made a play,” Grayson County coach Brett McPherson said. 

The Blue Devils (3-0 in MED play) took a 39-21 lead into the fourth quarter but were virtually helpless against the short passing game of the Pioneers (4-4, 1-2), who scored three times in less than four minutes to zoom into a 40-39 lead with 7:08 to play.

Stagnant offensively through most of the fourth quarter, Grayson appeared to get the boost it needed when Rodriguez broke loose on a zigzagging 66-yard run to the Pioneer 7-yard line. But the Blue Devils were stopped twice inside the 1 and turned the ball over on downs.

Grayson’s perfect season seemed ruined when a 38-yard pass and a personal foul call quickly moved Fort into Blue Devil territory with time ticking away. The Pioneers were at the Grayson 35 when things went horribly awry. First a holding penalty and then a Jarel Smith sack of Cory Mabry had Fort backed up to a fourth down at its own 33. In an all-out punt rush, Zack Vaughan won the race to the punter and blocked the kick with the ball hurtling back toward the Pioneer end zone. The 33-yard scramble for the ball ended with the Fort punter recovering in his own end zone for a safety and a 41-40 Grayson lead with 2:06 to go.

Grayson recovered the ensuing onside kick and killed the rest of the clock to preserve the win.

A defensive play providing the winning points was oxymoronic in a game that had saw Rodriguez rush 19 times for 282 yards and Mabry complete 21 passes for 302 yards. Add in a furlong of return yards and the two teams were running up and down the field to the tune of 1,074 multi-purpose yards. 

Rodriguez got the fireworks off to a quick start with an 83-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kick, then added a 36-yard score on his third rush of the night.

Corey Gravely recovered a blocked Grayson punt in the end zone for Fort Chiswell’s initial touchdown, but the Devils were in the end zone again less than two minutes later on an 8-yard burst by Smith. A series of failed PAT attempts didn’t seem to matter at the time as Grayson led 19-7 after one quarter.

The Blue Devils kept Fort Chiswell at arm’s length through the middle quarters. Mabry hit Gravely on a 45-yard touchdown strike to open the second period, but Grayson tacked on Rodriguez scores of 24 and 33 yards, the second giving the Devils a 33-14 lead with 1:59 left in the half. The Pioneers trimmed the gap to 33-21 just before the half on Ray Rodriguez’s 1-yard run.

“We kind of kept a comfortable distance, but I thought those missed extra points would come back to haunt us,” said McPherson after his team failed to convert four PATs, including three two-pointers. “Then we let them score quick. They got us in a bind on two or three things. We had to play 48 minutes and we hadn’t had to do that before, and it showed.”

Max Rodgers scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak for the only touchdown of the third quarter and Grayson County took a 39-21 lead into the fourth.

Here came the Pioneers. Mabry passed Fort to inside the Grayson 10 and scored on a keeper from the 8 at 10:54 of the fourth, then connected with Levi Mooney on identical scoring passes at the back of the end zone, the first one from 13 yards out.

The Pioneers recovered a pooch kickoff at the 29 and Mabry found Mooney alone in the end zone again, this time from 9 yards out for a 40-39 lead at the 7:08 mark.

“We didn’t play particularly well,” McPherson said. “[Fort Chiswell] played really well. All the penalties, we had kids falling out left and right, but I’m not making excuses. We found a way to win.”

Mabry connected on 21-of-32 passes on the night, hitting Gravely six times for 140 yards. Desmond Perry had seven catches for 83 yards.

Rodriguez had 176 rushing yards by halftime and had a 67-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the second half nullified on a holding call.



Fort Chiswell.............7  14  0  19––40

Grayson County......19  14  0    2––41


First quarter

GC–X.Rodriguez 83 kickoff return (Ruiz kick) 11:43

GC–X.Rodriguez 36 run (kick failed) 7:44

FC–Gravely recovered blocked punt in end zone (Gregory kick) 5:56

GC–Smith 8 run (run failed) 4:02

Second quarter

FC–Gravely 45 pass from Mabry (Gregory kick) 9:31

GC–X.Rodriguez 24 run (run failed) 4:30

GC–X.Rodriguez 33 run (Smith run) 1:59

FC–R.Rodriguez 1 run (Gregory kick) 0:33

Third quarter

GC–Mx.Rodgers 1 run (run failed) 0:13

Fourth quarter

FC–Mabry 8 run (Gregory kick) 10:54

FC–Mooney 13 pass from Mabry (pass failed) 7:57

FC–Mooney 9 pass from Mabry (pass failed) 7:08

GC–Safety, blocked punt recovered by punter in end zone, 2:06



                                     FC    GC

First downs                     19    14

Rushes-yards           26-100    48-338

Yards passing                 302    62

Comp-Att-Int          21-32-2    4-13-0

Return yards                 141    131

Punts-average          4-20.5    5-26.2

Fumbles-lost                  3-1    2-0

Penalties-yards            9-78    12-92




RUSHING—Fort Chiswell, R.Rodriguez 14-98, Hamm 5-9, Jackson 2-(-3), Mabry 5-(-4). Grayson County, X.Rodriguez 19-282, Smith 13-44, Vaughan 3-8, Anderson 1-4, Roberts 1-4.

PASSING–Fort Chiswell, Mabry 21-32-2-302. Grayson County, Mx.Rodgers 4-13-0-62.

RECEIVING–Fort Chiswell, Gravely 6-140, Perry 7-83, Moore 3-41, Hamm 5-38. Grayson County, Mk.Rodgers 4-62.