The Longwood football team took to its home field Friday night for its season-opening matchup against Whitman with heavy hearts. Just eight days earlier the Lions lost senior teammate Darrius Jones, who along with his brother was killed in a car crash.
Mason Hauser and Joey Gallo led the team from the locker room, carrying Jones’ No. 21 jersey. Louis Kaleb and Tyson Taylor brought it out for the coin flip before placing it with his helmet on the home bench. The Lions scrawled his ‘21’ on eye black and shoes and gloves.
"They’re hurting," Longwood coach Sean Kluber said, "but this is how we go forward. We play and we help each other get through it."
The game, however, did little to lift their spirits. Whitman quarterback Nicholas Bottoni threw for three touchdown passes in the first quarter, the Wildcats led by 28 at the half en route to a 42-0 Suffolk Division I victory.
Whitman was a division champion for the first time in 37 years when last season was played in the spring, but fell to Floyd in the county championship game. This time around the Wildcats have bigger aspirations: a first Suffolk championship in 38 years. And from the look of their explosive big-play offense, the ‘Cats are looking very capable.
Bottoni was 7-for-16 passing for 217 yards and the three touchdowns and he rushed for a 10-yard score. Rahsan Thompson did a little of everything, scoring touchdowns on a 21-yard reception, a 60-yard interception return and a 14-yard run on a direct snap on the Wildcats’ Wildcat.
Tyreik Mays McCoy caught a pair of touchdown passes – 87 and 48 yards – and Liam Villanti, at linebacker, spent most of the game in the Lions’ backfield making big play after big play.
Whitman wasted no time getting to work after forcing Longwood to punt on the game’s first possession. On the ’Cats first snap Bottoni hit a streaking Mays McCoy, who made a leap of Longwood defender Bailey Nowaski, and it went for the 87-yard touchdown. Whitman’s second possession ended with the 21-yard touchdown pass from Bottoni to Thompson. It was Bottoni to Mays McCoy for 48 yards and a score with 13 seconds left in the first quarter for a touchdown and the 21-0 lead.
Thompson’s interception return came midway through the second quarter.
Whitman got a Brandon Ivy interception to set up its first possession of the second half, capped by Buttoni’s 10-yard score on a block by Logan Elmore. Thompson’s rushing touchdown came on the first play of the fourth quarter.