Not that it's here, as everyone knew it would be, it's time to ask: How much has changed in 35 days?
On Oct. 22, the regular-season game between
and Hampton was expected to be a down-to-the-wire struggle between two teams with explosive offenses and sound defense. Instead, it was over by halftime.
Final score: Phoebus 37, Hampton 12. The Phantoms won for the fifth straight time in this rivalry, and by the third-biggest margin this century.
"I don't know what happened to us that game," Crabber wideout/defensive back Deon Newsome said. "We're going to try to make everything better for this game."
Friday night's rematch in the Eastern Region Division 5 final carries more significance. The winner moves on to next week's state semifinals; the loser calls it a year. And for the Crabbers (11-1) to make this any kind of game, they have to change how the previous one began.
Hampton had possession first and went three-and-out. Phoebus (12-0) took over at the Crabbers' 48-yard line and went ahead 3-0 on an Eric Enderson field goal.
Hampton went three-and-out again, and the Phantoms got the ball at their 46. Seven plays later, Jordan Roby's quarterback sneak made it 10-0.
Detecting a trend yet?
The Crabbers got on the board on quarterback
's touchdown run, but field position again was a killer. A punt out of the end zone and a 23-yard return by Breon Key set up a one-play, 17-yard touchdown drive to make it 17-6.
Hampton punted again. Phoebus went 35 yards in two plays to make it 24-6 at halftime.
"You can't cry about it," Hampton coach
said. "We had our chances just like they did. But we put ourselves in predicaments a lot of times we shouldn't have been in."
Phoebus didn't score an offensive touchdown in the second half. But Key's two touchdowns on returns (80 yards on the a kickoff, 90 yards on a punt) were more than enough to put it away.
The final stats were telling. The Crabbers actually had more total yards (250-181). Then again, with longer fields, they had more room to work with. Phoebus had 244 return yards, 170 coming on Lee's touchdowns.
"We had a really good special teams effort, and special teams are part of the game," tailback/defensive back Tyree Lee said. "That was a big help on our side."
And how about this stat? In the first half, Hampton's average starting point was its 18-yard line. Phoebus' was the Crabber 43. The Phantoms' four scoring drives went 41, 54, 17 and 35 yards.
"When you play a team that has a great defense, you want to have good field position," Phantoms coach Stan Sexton said. "You want as short a field as possible. And we did a great job in special teams making them have to go the whole field. We never gave them a short field to work with."
Punter Skyler Hutcheson averaged a decent 34 yards per kick, but Hampton's coverage did a poor job against Key. Don't bet on him or Lee getting many opportunities on returns Friday night.
The Crabbers' defense was effective in containing Lee, who was held to 95 yards — 74 below his per-game average — on 21 attempts. Roby and Enderson threw for only 56 more, though each passed for a touchdown in the second quarter.
The Phantoms allowed little. Kavon Bellamy had 79 yards, 55 of which came on a second-quarter run. Watford hit on 6-of-18 passes for 96 yards.
In the rematch, Smith stresses the importance of stopping Lee, who has rushed for 2,032 yards and 26 touchdowns.
"You give credit where it's due, and their tailback is a great player," he said. "I mean, he just does a great job. He has such great vision with cutting back and hitting the alleys. He finds creases as well as anybody I've seen around here in a long time.
"He's a pretty special player. They do a pretty good job blocking, but it's nothing complicated. They just go hit people in the mouth and that kid, he's good."
Sexton expected a close game last time, and he does this time.
"They're a great football team and they've rebounded well after the loss to us," he said. "They shut out a real good offensive football team in Norcom. So I expect it to be more of a defensive battle this time than it was last time.