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Kettle Run will play Monticello for the Region II D-3 football title

Wednesday, Nov. 21 | By Jeff Malmgren
Tommy Oliver and the Kettle Run Cougars will play Monticello on Friday in the Region II Division 3 championship game. --Times-Democrat Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
A district champion will not win the Region II Division 3 title this season.

That speaks to the resiliency of both the Kettle Run Cougars and the Monticello Mustangs, who will play for the region championship Friday in Charlottesville.

Monticello finished second in the Jefferson District after starting its district schedule with a 1-2 record. Kettle Run finished tied for third in the Evergreen District after starting 0-2 in its district play. Despite those struggles, both teams rebounded and will enter the region final with 10-2 overall records.

“Those losses helped us develop a toughness,” said Kettle Run coach Jeff Lloyd, whose team won the Region II D-3 title last season. “Before I think the kids thought because we’re Kettle Run we can just roll on our helmets [and win]. Then they realized, ‘Hey, we’re not the same team from a year ago.’”

The Cougars won the 2011 region title thanks to 13 consecutive victories. Their only loss came in the Group AA state semifinals against James Monroe, 14-7.

Kettle Run began this season on a similar 6-0 run during non-district play, but then it lost consecutive games to Liberty, 15-14 on the last play of the game Oct. 12, and Fauquier, 17-10 in overtime Oct. 19.

Warren County and Fauquier ended up as co-champions in the Evergreen District, but both lost in the first round of the region playoffs, and district runner-up Liberty lost in the semifinals. So Kettle Run is the only Evergreen team still standing.

“I’ve always thought we were the best team in the district,” Lloyd said. “We had some extreme adversity at that time of the year [when Kettle Run lost twice]. We lost some kids that had been very significant. Our kids rallied together and moved on.”

For example, Division I recruit Michael Parker and fellow senior D.J. Whitney haven’t played during the second half of the season.

Regardless, the Cougars’ goal is to repeat as region champion.

“’We know what it takes. We’ve got to ball out,”’ Cougars quarterback Carlos Vegerano said. “We have the talent.

“Losing, we got that out of the way,” he said of Kettle Run’s early district games. “It’s not going to happen again.”

Lloyd said that having players who competed in the 2011 region title game will aid his 2012 squad.

“That experience helps,” he said. “I’ve been blessed as a coach to go to six of these [region title] games in 15 years. I’d love for this group to win this again and get back to the state semifinals and have a different” outcome there.

This season’s Region II champion – fourth-seeded Kettle Run or No. 3 Monticello – will play in the AA state semifinals Dec. 1 on the road against the Region I champion, which will be determined Saturday in a region final between No. 2 James Monroe and No. 4 Park View.

The victor out of that foursome will then play in the state championship game Dec. 8 against a representative from either Region III or Region IV. In the Region III championship game Friday, No. 1 Brookville will play No. 2 Rockbridge County, while No. 2 Tunstall will play No. 4 Cave Springs in the Region IV title game Friday. The winners of those games will then play in the state semifinals Dec. 1

“We’re just trying to keep up the same thing as last year, trying to go even farther,” Kettle Run tight end Matt Tingle said of advancing to the state championship game. “Do it for the people that aren’t here anymore and should have” had a chance to win the state title last season.

Like Kettle Run, which recovered from consecutive losses to go on a 4-0 run, Monticello has won six consecutive games since losing to Western Albemarle, 28-0, Sept. 28 and Charlottesville, 28-7, Oct. 5. The Mustangs advanced to the Region II D-3 title game by beating Fauquier in the quarterfinals, 44-14, and Western Albemarle in the semifinals, 41-29.

Kettle Run advanced to the region championship game by beating Warren County in the quarterfinals, 24-21, and Skyline in the semifinals, 31-14. The Cougars have outscored opponents 375-113 this season, while Monticello has a 415-245 margin.

The Mustangs have a slightly more balanced offense than Kettle Run thanks to running back T.J. Tillery and quarterback Jhalil Mosley. Tillery has 1,596 yards and 27 touchdowns on 235 carries (6.5 yards per) while James Madison-bound Mosley has over 4,000 passing yards in his career, including 1,170 and 16 touchdowns this season. He has also run for 745 yards and seven touchdowns.

Mosley’s leading receivers are James Banks (31 receptions, 448 yards, five touchdowns), Chase Phillips (23, 323, 4) and Alex McNair (17, 246, 5).

“They have a very talented kid at quarterback, and their running back is a real tough kid,” Lloyd said. “As a defense, every week we try to take away what each team does best offensively and make them one dimensional.”

That seems to be a harder decision than normal, but Lloyd is confident in his defense.

“I don’t think it’ll be a high scoring game,” he said. “We’re pretty good defensively.”

As in any game, turnovers will be pivotal. The Cougars have an 8-to-1 turnover ratio thus far in the playoffs.
“We have to continue that,” Lloyd said.

Forcing turnovers was a strength of Kettle Run during its run to the region title last season. The Cougars finished with a 43-to-12 turnover ratio and have a 31-to-20 ratio this season.

“I don’t think we can replicate a year ago because we had an astronomic amount of defensive turnovers,” Lloyd said. “But we stress that.”

Monticello’s defense will have to contend with Kettle Run quarterback Carlos Vegerano, who has thrown for 886 yards and seven touchdowns with a 45 completion percentage and nine interceptions. Plus, he has run for 603 yards and nine touchdowns on 147 carries.

Otherwise, Kettle Run has split running back carries between Josh Tapscott and De Jackson with the former rushing for 1,041 yards and 12 touchdowns on 131 attempts. Jackson has 986 yards and 13 touchdowns on 134 carries. Vegerano’s favorite receiver is David Eldridge, who has 293 yards and three touchdowns on 15 receptions.

Defensively, Monticello has 19 interceptions with four each by Denzel Terry and Willie James, who have combined to return three interceptions for touchdowns. For Kettle Run, Evan Szklennik has seven interceptions, while Vegerano and Eldridge have each returned an interception for a touchdown.

Kettle Run has never played Monticello. The teams shared two regular season opponents in Fluvanna County and Fauquier. The Mustangs beat Fluvanna, 48-13, on Oct. 19 and Kettle Run beat, 56-0, Sept. 21. Monticello then dominated Fauquier, 44-14, in the playoffs, while Fauquier beat Kettle Run in the regular season.

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