They hadn't played any games like this, games that went deep into the fourth quarter, where every play becomes critical and your focus and your resolve are tested.
Phoebus had kneecapped its first 12 opponents on the way to the Peninsula District title and the Eastern Region Division 5 final.
On a frigid and blustery Friday night, facing a game and gifted opponent in a converted baseball park, the Phantoms leaned on their defense for a 14-0 victory over Lake Taylor that propelled them into the state semifinals for the third consecutive year.
"In our locker room, our tradition is: Defense wins games," Phantoms standout lineman and occasional linebacker Dominik Davenport said. "Basically, we focus on a shutout every week. We came out this week with more passion to stop the Boogieman and the Jitterbug — so called — and we got the job done."
Davenport was referring to Lake Taylor's running-back tandem of 210-pound Boogie McCray and shifty Derrion Walton. The two had combined for more than 2,000 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns.
The Phantoms held them to a combined 43 yards on 15 carries. Unbeaten before Friday, Lake Taylor managed just 101 yards and, obviously, was shut out for the first time this season.
Phoebus turned two of Lake Taylor's four turnovers into its only two touchdowns of the game. Caleb Taylor's interception and long return in the first quarter set up the Phantoms' first score.
Rasheed Clark's fumble recovery in the fourth quarter after the Titans' Tony Wiggins was stripped by two defenders gave the Phantoms a short field and set up the clinching touchdown on a Shawne Alston run.
"Our plan was, at halftime, we knew that we were struggling on offense, but our specialty is defense," Phantoms linebacker LoVanté Battle said. "We decided that we were going to keep on stopping them and get the 7-0 win, or we were going to score on defense until we got something started with the offense."
Defensively, Lake Taylor challenged the Phantoms like they haven't seen all season. The Titans were solid on the line, and their linebackers were as good as advertised — particularly Louisville commitment Mike Privott and Travis Williams.
Phoebus had one play and one series in the first half. Quarterback Tajh Boyd found DaQuan Romero open down the middle of the field for as easy a 38-yard touchdown play as the playoffs allow.
The Phantoms also ran their version of what's become the fashionable direct snap to the tailback, Alston, which flummoxed Lake Taylor for a time in the first quarter. But the Titans adjusted and ended the drive by sacking Boyd on consecutive plays.
Suffice to say that Boyd hasn't wound up flat on his back on many occasions this season, nor have the Phantoms faced many fourth-and-32s.
But as the Phantoms' defense continued to squeeze Lake Taylor, Alston finally got cranked up. The senior gained 94 of his 151 yards in the fourth quarter and carried on 12 consecutive plays over two possessions.
Lake Taylor was the region's No. 1 seed and Phoebus No. 2, which is why Friday's game was played at Norfolk's Harbor Park, the home of the Triple-A Tides.
As football facilities go, Harbor Park remains a darn fine baseball venue. The football field was laid out along the third-base line, with one end zone almost butted up against the first-base dugout, and the other just shy of the left-field fence.
The infield comprised roughly 40 percent of the field. The dirt base paths didn't seem to affect players' footing, though the grounds crew didn't drag the infield after 41/2 innings.
"It was weird, I'm not going to lie to you," Phoebus coach Bill Dee said. "The thing I hated the most, quite frankly, was not seeing the clock. It's hard to manage a football game when you don't have a clock."
The Phantoms' sideline was in right-center field, with their backs to the Harbor Park scoreboard and clock.
If the Phantoms play that kind of defense, it doesn't matter if they're on a baseball field, a basketball court, a parking lot or a cornfield.
"We knew what we had to do," Battle said. "We played our usual lockdown defense and just hustled to the ball — made every tackle, made every play. We wanted to make sure they didn't get any yards and show them who the real No. 1 team in the region is."
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.orgCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times