Like most high school football teams, Poolesville High School likes to run the football — running back Charles Lyles has rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns this fall. But when a team has a playmaking tight end like Cody Zinsser, getting the ball in his hands is a must.
Zinsser made the most of his four chances in Friday's 41-18 win at Rockville High that clinched the Falcons' (7-3) second straight postseason appearance. Poolesville will face two-time defending state champion Middletown in next week's Class 2A West Region semifinals.
In Friday's win, Zinsser caught three touchdown passes, all for more than 10 yards, and added a 64-yard play.
“We try to give Cody the ball as much as we can but we like to run the football as well, so he's not going to get eight or 10 throws, but when we throw to him, he makes plays,” third-year Poolesville coach Will Gant said. “He made some phenomenal catches [Friday].”
Racking up points against Rockville (5-5) is one thing; the Rams have struggled defensively in 2013. But the Falcons did a tremendous job keeping what has been one of the county's most productive offenses to well below its 37 points-per-game average.
“Their defensive line did a [heck] of a job,” Rockville quarterback Chuck Reese said. “We couldn't run the ball. We couldn't get a push off, so we basically just had to pass into a cloud zone all day and we just didn't have it.”
Gant said it was important for the Falcons to accept that Reese, who had thrown for 36 touchdowns through Week 9, would throw for one or two scores Friday and that how Poolesville responded to those big plays would be vital. The Falcons shut down all three of the Rams' two-point conversion attempts.
“[Reese] is a good quarterback, he's thrown for a lot of yards so we tried to mix it up,” Gant said. “He beat us a few times and we knew he would. We talked all week about being able to take it and he's going to complete passes and probably score on us and they'll score some points but it's how we respond that will be key. If we give up a touchdown, do we stop the conversation? Can we come back and put a drive together? I thought we did that very well [Friday].”
Four players scored at least one touchdown for Poolesville Friday, which is an amazing stat given that only 23 players dressed to play — a full roster would consist of only 26 players. There are teams with 60-person rosters that still only rely on one or two playmakers. While Gant said Poolesville does sometimes rely mostly on Lyles, the Falcons are also able to spread the ball around, which is vital given the team's small numbers.
Neither team took long to get on the board Friday. Rockville opened up the scoring when Reese connected with Spencer Brigman for a 70-yard touchdown reception on the third play of the game. Poolesville retaliated by scoring on its first play of the night, a six-yard touchdown run by Trey Willis that was set up by Lyles' punt return to the 6-yard line. Then Poolesville began to pull away.
The Falcons took a 13-6 lead on quarterback Steven Morningstar's 26-yard pass to Zinsser and then went up 20-6 early in the second quarter on Morningstar's 10-yard keeper. Zinsser's 64-yard reception late in the second quarter set up Lyles' 1-yard dive into the end zone to give Poolesville a 27-6 lead.
Reese's 40-yard pass to Louison Biama put Anthony Albert in position to score on a 6-yard run to keep Rockville within reach at halftime. But that didn't last long.
Despite Friday's disappointing end to 2013, Rockville took major strides this fall and won more games than in the previous two years combined. With players slated to return in all skill positions, Reese said the Rams look forward to a promising 2014.
Poolesville has quite a task ahead of it in next week's region semifinal but the Falcons seem to embrace the opportunity to play what could be the state's best team.
“To make the playoffs with a 26-person roster is unbelievable,” Gant said. “We've just had to get the kids to believe in themselves, because we know they can be successful.”
Poolesville 41, Rockville 18
Poolesville (7-3) 13 14 7 7 — 41
Rockville (5-5) 6 6 0 6 — 18
RV — Spencer Brigman 70 pass from Chuck Reese (run failed)
PV — Trey Willis 6 run (Kevin Rakow kick)
PV — Cody Zinsser 26 pass from Steven Morningstar (kick failed)
PV — Steven Morningstar 7 run (Kevin Rakow kick)
PV — Charles Lyles 1 run (Kevin Rakow kick)
RV — Anthony Albert 6 run (pass failed)
PV — Cody Zinsser 12 pass from Steven Morningstar (Kevin Rakow kick)
RV — Anthony Albert 9 run (run failed)
PV — Cody Zinsser 12 pass from Sean Parker (Kevin Rakow kick)
Poolesville — Trey Willis 18-128; Charles Lyles 19-52; Steven Morningsar 9-25.
Rockville— Anthony Albert 8-49; Kahan Louissaint 5-19.
Poolesville — Steven Morningstar 6-16-122-1; Sean Parker 1-1-12-0.
Rockville — Chuck Reese 13-30-233-2.
Poolesville— Cody Zinsser 4-114; Sean Parker 2-21.
Rockville — Louison Biama 4-81; Spencer Brigman 2-74; Anthony Albert 6-62.