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Kettle Run again beats Warren County, advances in football playoffs

Saturday, Nov. 10 | By Cody Sealey
Kettle Run's Carlos Vegerano returned a kickoff 84 yards during a 24-21 victory over Warren County in the quarterfinals of the Region II Division 3 playoffs. --Times-Democrat Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Much like the last time they met, the Kettle Run Cougars forced some pivotal turnovers Friday to beat the Warren County Wildcats, 24-21, at home in Nokesville during the quarterfinals of the Region II Division 3 playoffs.

The Cougars’ defense applied pressure to the Warren County offense all night and forced Evergreen District Offensive Player of the Year Tyler Post to throw four costly interceptions.

With the victory, fourth-seeded Kettle Run (9-2) advanced to play in the region semifinals against No. 1 Skyline (10-1), which defeated No. 8 Loudoun valley, 43-6, Friday.

“Interceptions turned the tide of the game for us,” Kettle Run head coach Jeff Lloyd said. “We were not able to punch in many points, but we were able to get points off of turnovers. Playoff games are not supposed to be easy and this one certainly wasn’t .”

Warren County ended its season with an 8-3 record after beginning on an 8-0 run. Kettle Run started the Wildcats’ losing streak with a 28-21 victory in double overtime Oct. 26. In that game, the Cougars recovered a fumble forced by nose tackle CJ Brownlow to end the second overtime period.

“We broke their hearts a couple weeks ago and we knew tonight it was going to be do-or-die in the playoffs,” Szklennik said. “We set the tone early.”

Electric Kettle Run running back Josh Tapscott did not play in the Oct. 26 game after suffering a knee injury the week before, but he returned to action in the rematch Friday. Tapscott amassed 83 yards on 15 carries, but the Cougars’ offense only accumulated 188 total yards with De Jackson gaining 29 yards on 10 carries.

On the first drive of the game Lloyd’s team ran on 14 consecutive plays and knocked six minutes of the clock. Jackson fought his way into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run to start the scoring.

Warren County answered by throwing the football. Post passes to seniors Zane Grudzinski and Christopher Larsen highlighted a drive that the Wildcats capped with an 11-yard screen pass to Matt Nicholson, who ran past the Cougars defense for a touchdown.

Despite the quick start offensively for both teams, the second quarter became a defensive battle. After forcing the Cougars to turn the ball over on downs, the Wildcats marched down to the Kettle Run 35-yard line. However, Cougars junior Evan Szklennik picked off a Post pass and returned the ball 62 yards to the Warren County 11-yard line.

“They liked to run out- and up-routes, and I remember they scored a touchdown on me in the last game, so when I saw the same route being run, I was able to jump it and came down with the ball,” Szklennik said.

A few plays after intercepting that pass, Szklennik made a 35-yard field goal.

On the next Warren County possession, Kettle Run tipped a Post pass at the line of scrimmage and senior Carlos Vegerano intercepted it. The then ran 50 yards with the ball to the Wildcats’ 30-yard line. Soon after, Vegerano completed a pass over the middle to a wide open Tapscott for a touchdown, giving Kettle Run a 17-7 lead at halftime.

“The tipped interception was a giant momentum swing. We kept countering them,” Vegerano said.

Post threw his third interception to Tapscott, but Warren County got the ball back on a fumble by Vegerano. Post then made amends for his turnovers by finding his reliable tight end, Grudzinski, for a touchdown.

Right when Warren County began to find momentum, Vegerano delivered a clutch kickoff return. He followed his blockers en route to an 84-yard touchdown run down the sideline.

Hoping to overcome the special teams letdown, Post lobbed a ball towards the sideline but his pass found the hands of Kettle Run sophomore David Eldridge.

The Wildcats got the ball back with two minutes left, but they ran out of time. Post engineered a final touchdown drive of 60 yards on nine plays in 90 seconds. He connected with junior Jontae Rollins for a 6-yard touchdown reception and then completed a pass to Larsen to convert the 2-point attempt.

Then Warren County attempted an onside kick, which Kettle Run’s Matt Tingle recovered to end any thought of a comeback.

“This game was everything a playoff game was supposed to be,” Lloyd said. “We knew this would be tough. To be perfectly honest I wasn’t comfortable even when we were up by 11. Warren County is a great team.”

Warren County coach Tony Tallent said, “We had a chance to put points on the board but some miscommunication and a tipped ball put us in a bad spot. It hurt. Our fight was all game long. Even with five seconds left we thought we had a chance.”
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