No state title for Peninsula District this time, but there's always next year

SportsFootballMike Smith (ice hockey)

Phoebus' remarkable postseason run came to a crashing thud two weeks ago. After winning 22 consecutive postseason games and four state championships, the Phantoms were embarrassed by Lake Taylor in the Eastern Region final.

Hampton failed to make it out of the region for the seventh consecutive year. And for the first time since 2003, there wasn't a Peninsula District team in the state semifinals.

It was a down year for the PD, which has produced 14 of the last 20 state champions in Group AAA Division 5. Yet it was also memorable.

Let's recap … and look ahead.

5 MEMORABLE PLAYERS

Khalid Abdullah, Heritage. Proving last year was no fluke, Abdullah rushed for 1,611 yards and 21 touchdowns. He was the Canes' workhorse with 22 carries per game. Like his friend Cardon Johnson of Warwick, Abdullah has committed to James Madison.

Deon Newsome, Hampton. He played out of position at quarterback, but he produced with 2,168 total yards (1,141 rushing, 1,027 passing) and 25 touchdowns. He also started at outside linebacker and returned kicks. He's off to Virginia Tech as an athlete.

Tony Pittman, Phoebus. In another terrific season, Pittman rushed for 1,784 yards and 22 touchdowns despite missing two games for reasons that were never officially disclosed. He has high-level talent but as of now hasn't made a commitment.

Richie Staton, Phoebus. Everyone knew he'd be a force on defense. Nobody expected him to score 14 touchdowns five different ways. Though he had only 10 catches as a tight end, a PD-leading seven went for TDs. Committed to Old Dominion.

Trenton Cannon, Kecoughtan. It was no secret he'd be getting the ball on just about every play, but Cannon kept producing. He rushed for 1,347 yards and 15 touchdowns and had another score on a kickoff return. He's currently uncommitted.

5 MEMORABLE GAMES

Phoebus 28, Heritage 27. In what turned out to be Stan Sexton's final game as the Phantoms' coach, the Hurricanes took a 13-0 lead with 3:30 left in the first quarter. Phoebus rallied and led 28-27 going into the fourth quarter … and that was it. Sexton was removed the following week, and defensive coordinator Jeremy Blunt served as interim head coach the remainder of the season.

Bethel 42, Kecoughtan 28. There was no drama at the end, but the beginning pretty interesting. The teams combined for six touchdowns in a 6 minute, 45-second span. The Warriors' three scores came on a pair of returns and a one-play drive. Bethel led 28-21 at halftime and put it away with two touchdowns in the third quarter … which went unanswered this time.

Phoebus 21, Hampton 19. In the Eastern Region semifinals, Hampton had a chance to end Phoebus' playoff run with a first down at the Phantoms' 43 with 1:25 left. But Newsome was intercepted by Da'quan Lane, and Phoebus ran out the clock … which set up the 54-0 loss the following week vs. Lake Taylor.

Western Branch 23, Bethel 21. In the Eastern Region D-6 quarterfinals, Bethel took an improbable 21-20 lead with 5:30 remaining. But with its methodical and unconventional offense, Western Branch moved into field-goal range and won on Brady Schomburg's 30-yard kick with 46 seconds left.

Phoebus 19, Bethel 17. Bumped to Saturday because of rain, it was played three days after Sexton was dismissed and a player suspended for two games. (The player was not identified, but Pittman missed this and the following game.) Phoebus had two turnovers, a blocked punt, and 13 penalties … but still pulled out the win.

5 PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013

Ricky Walker, Bethel. The Blineman will go into his senior season as the highest-rated uncommitted recruit in the district. So far, he has offers from Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Old Dominion, Boston College, N.C. State, and Penn State.

Marshawn Williams, Hampton. It's hard to believe this kid who looks like a man is only a junior, but he'll be back next year. Williams rushed for 1,159 yards and 17 touchdowns on only 159 carries. He's the kind of back you'd like to feed 20-plus times a game. Committed to Virginia Tech.

James Scott, Gloucester. How sore and exhausted must Scott have been every Saturday morning? On 307 of the Dukes' 464 snaps — that's nearly two out of three — Scott either ran or passed. He had 1,292 of Gloucester's 1,680 total yards.

Terrell Toliver, Phoebus. True, he looked like a freshman in the playoff loss to Lake Taylor (as did the seniors). But for the rest of the season, he played beyond his years and led the Phantoms to 12 straight wins. If he remains focused, he could be the PD's next great quarterback.

Kevin Lyles, Phoebus. The brother of last year's Eastern Region Co-Defensive Player of the Year — Justin, a.k.a. "Boom Box" — Kevin made first-team All-PD as a junior. He should emerge as a team leader next season.

5 QUESTIONS GOING INTO 2013

What happens on Ireland Street? With eight wins in nine games, Blunt did a credible job under trying circumstances. Will he be retained, or will Phoebus go outside the program for a fresh start? And how will the players handle ending their season with a loss for the first time since 2007?

Will Heritage lose a step? The good news is the Hurricanes had their best season in five years. The bad news is that 20 seniors are leaving. That includes Abdullah, quarterback Richard Outlaw, and two-way starters Cameron Siler and Charlie Harrison. That's a lot to replace.

Who has the most talent coming back? Hampton's senior class should include Newsome, linebacker/center Daunte Wilson, and tight end/safety Daquin Moore. But in addition to Williams, the Crabbers will have wideout Jovonn Quillen and defensive back Cal Kee. Coach Mike Smith also likes rising junior quarterback Joe Addison.

What team will be the most improved? Denbigh went from 0-10 in 2011 to 2-8 in '12 and should take another step next season with only six seniors leaving. Making the playoffs would be a reach, but a .500 season is realistic.

Can Woodside return to the playoffs? For the first time since 2006, the Wolverines failed to make the postseason. Woodside finished 5-5, with two of the losses coming by a touchdown or less. The Wolverines should return the PD's best passing combo in quarterback Darius Howell and wideout Trey Reed.

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