By Daniel Whitehead
NEWPORT NEWS, Va.—Facing The Apprentice School for the second time this season, the Southern Virginia University football team earned a 38-6 road victory over the Shipbuilders Saturday afternoon at Apprentice Field in Newport News, Va.
The win, Southern Virginia's sixth of the season, matched a program best for a single season as the 2007 team went 6-5. The victory also secured Southern Virginia's winningest season in school history due to the fact that if the Knights (6-2) were to lose their final two games, they would finish with a 6-4 record.
"Today was a great team victory because we played well in all phases of the game to get the win," said Southern Virginia head coach DeLane Fitzgerald. "When you don't turn the ball over on offense, your defense plays great and your special teams are lights out, your chances of victory bode pretty well. Our punt return unit in particular played fantastic today. I was pleased with how our offense was moving the ball, so I think our efforts resembled a total team victory."
After a scoreless opening quarter for both teams, the Knights opened up early in the second quarter (12:50) with a four-yard touchdown scamper by Jared Watts to cap a 15-play, 69-yard drive that lasted nearly eight minutes. The drive was highlighted by a 31-yard pass completion from quarterback Andy Jones to Chris Harper to the Builders' 40-yard line.
On the first play of the Builders' ensuing possession, Knight defensive end Robert Crews forced and recovered a fumble at Apprentice's 25-yard line that he was able to pick up and rumble into the endzone for a quick 14-0 advantage.
The Knights forced an Apprentice punt moments before the first half expired and took possession with only 41 seconds remaining. Jones threw to Harper again for a 16-yard gain before running for a 14-yard gain to the Apprentice 40. He then connected with freshman Kjell Henness for a 19-yard reception to the Builders' 21-yard line with one second remaining. Kicker Davis Cragun lined up for the field goal and connected from 39 yards out as time expired for the half to give Southern Virginia a 17-0 lead. The 39-yarder was a season best for Cragun and second-longest in school history, just three yards shy of the school record of 42 yards.
Southern Virginia's all-time leading kick returner, Dakoda Winsor, took the opening kickoff of the third quarter 41 yards to the 50-yard line to set up excellent field position for the Knights to open the second half. Watts led the Knights down the field with runs of 14 and 21 yards before scoring on an 11-yard rush to put Southern Virginia up, 24-0, early in the third quarter (13:07).
Later in the third quarter, two consecutive tackles for loss pinned the Builders deep in their own territory before Southern Virginia freshman Grant Darrington blocked an Apprentice punt attempt and recovered it in the endzone for a touchdown and resulting 31-0 lead. It was Darrington's fifth block kick of the season between opposing punts, field goals and extra-point attempts.
Senior Dee Sanford opened the fourth quarter returning an Apprentice punt 57 yards for a touchdown, which marks the second-longest punt return in program history just one yard short of the record.
Southern Virginia finished with 14 first downs to the Builders' eight and had 167 rushing yards to Apprentice's 51. Jones finished the game 5-for-13 through the air for 98 yards, while freshman running back Jared Watts led the team on the ground with 114 net yards and two touchdowns, averaging 10.4 yards per carry. Harper led the Knights in receptions with three for a total of 56 yards.
Junior Robert Robbins led the Knights' defensive efforts with 10 tackles (5 solo, 5 assisted), a half-sack and half tackle-for-loss, while Sam Mellor totaled eight (4 solo, 4 assisted) tackles, 1.5 sacks and four tackles-for-loss for a combined 11 yards.
The Knights return home for their final two games of the season beginning with next Saturday's matchup with Alfred State when Southern Virginia will seek a program-best seventh victory. The game is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at Robert E. Williams Field.