Earlier in the week, Hampton coach Mike Smith declared Daquan Romero to be Phoebus' best receiver. It didn't matter to him that Romero had caught six passes all season.
And with the Eastern Region Division 5 championship on the line, Smith knew Romero would be the Phantoms' go-to target. He wasn't happy to be correct: Romero's 6-yard touchdown catch gave Phoebus its first lead with 2:55 remaining, and the Phantoms hung on for a 12-7 win Friday night at Darling Stadium.
It was Romero's only catch of the night, and it came on fourth-and-goal. With the Crabbers' linebackers dropping into coverage, Romero ran a drag route and made the catch at the 1-yard line. He dragged a couple of defenders into the end zone, just when it looked like Phoebus' VHSL record winning streak would end.
"What a great route," quarterback Jordan Roby said. "He had the perfect speed and when he caught it, I said, 'Please get into the end zone.' He made a great play."
With its 43rd consecutive win, and its fifth straight Eastern Region title, Phoebus (13-0) moves on to next week's Division 5 semifinals at Dinwiddie. And this one wasn't easy.
Unlike five weeks ago, when Phoebus dominated in a 37-12 win, it was the Crabbers (11-2) who played the more crisp game. The Phantoms had three turnovers, two coming inside the Hampton 12-yard line. Hampton's lone scoring drive was not only set up by a fumble, it was assisted by unsportsmanlike conduct and roughing the passer penalties.
When Kavon Bellamy's touchdown put Hampton ahead 7-0 with 4:09 left in the first quarter, it was only the second time all year that Phoebus trailed. And the first time, Oct. 2 against Woodside, the Phantoms regained the lead 125 seconds later.
Phoebus went scoreless in the first half for the first time since last year's state semifinals against Hanover.
"We came out thinking we'd run over them," tailback/defensive back Tyree Lee said. "But at halftime, we knew we really had to step it up."
The second-biggest play of the night came with less than five minutes to go in the third quarter. Still leading 7-0, Hampton faced a fourth-and-1 from its 37-yard line. After a timeout, Smith chose to leave his punting team on the sideline and go for it. But Bellamy was stopped for no gain.
"I thought we could make it," Smith said. "We didn't get it, but we play to win."
The Phantoms didn't get the tying touchdown, but a 42-yard field goal by Eric Enderson at least got them on the board, down 7-3.
"Huge play," Phoebus coach Stan Sexton said. "We had to get that stop."
The Crabbers had a chance to extend their lead back to a touchdown, but Skyler Hutcheson's 37-yard field goal attempt was wide left. Phoebus then took over at its 20-yard line with 9:44 remaining.
"I was nervous," said Roby, a transfer from Hampton. "I didn't know what was going to happen."
The workhorse on the drive was Lee, who had nine of his 31 carries and 64 of his 155 yards. He also was stripped of the ball at the 7-yard line on second-and-goal, but lineman Jonathan McLean recovered.
Roby then threw incomplete to Atavius Matthews, not seeing a wide-open Breon Key in the end zone. Then came fourth-and-goal, and Sexton didn't think there was enough time to send Enderson in for the chip-shot and try to get the ball back.
"Da-Da ran a great route, and Roby made a great throw," Sexton said. "This is the first time we faced adversity this season, and it was good to see how they reacted. Our kids really showed their heart and character tonight."
PHOEBUS 12, HAMPTON 7
Ham: Bellamy 2 run (Hutcheson kick), 4:09.
Pho: Enderson FG 42, 2:47.
Pho: Romero 6 pass from Roby (Enderson kick), 2:55.
Pho: Safety, Watford tackled in the end zone, 1:02
RUSHING: Hampton, Watford 18-58, Bellamy 10-43, Newsome 1-1, Cogdell 4-2. Phoebus, Lee 31-155, Lyles 2-14, Arnold 2-9, Matthews 2-7.
PASSING: Hampton, Watford 7-11-0, 68. Phoebus, 6-11-1, 65.
RECEIVING: Hampton, Moore 3-29, Cogdell 2-32, Bellamy 2-7. Phoebus, Lee 2-18, Key 1-21, Deloatch 1-17, RoCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times