Last season, Malachi Fields scored in overtime and the Monticello defense followed with a crucial stop in a win over Western Albemarle.
Nearly 16 months later, Fields experienced some déjà vu as the Mustangs rallied from a 10-point deficit to force overtime, then came up with the game-clinching turnover in the extra session to earn a 17-10 victory over the Warriors on Monday night in Crozet in the season opener for both teams.
“It was really familiar,” Fields said. “The same thing happened this year as last year.”
With Monticello trailing by 10 points, Fields engineered a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives to send the game to overtime. The UVa signee scored from four yards out after converting a pair of fourth downs to put the Mustangs (1-0) on the board with 9:25 left in the game.
After another defensive stop, the MHS offense went to work again.
After struggling offensively in the first half, Monticello drove the ball to the 5-yard line with less than three minutes left in regulation. Western Albemarle’s defense stiffened in the red zone and the Mustangs settled for Chase Hummel’s 22-yard field goal to tie the game at 10-10.
The Warriors tried to mount a late challenge in the final minute, driving the ball to the Monticello 27, but the clock expired before they were able to set up for a potential game-winning field goal.
Monticello won the coin toss in the extra session and Monticello coach Matt Hicks decided to take the ball first. After two stops from the Western Albemarle defense to start the drive, Hicks put the ball in Fields’ hands.
Fields set up in the shotgun formation and took two steps back before finding a hole in the middle of the defense. The senior sprinted through the opening, cut back to his left and hurdled a diving defender before scampering into the end zone untouched to give Monticello its first lead of the game, 17-10.
“We knew what they were going to do if we dropped back for a pass,” said Fields, who finished with 44 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. “So we called a quarterback draw, and you see what happened — touchdown.”
Western Albemarle tried to answer on its ensuing possession, but the power running game that had worked for the Warriors in the first half stalled out because of a great push from the Monticello defensive line, forcing third and goal from the 9.
On the next play, quarterback Hudson Toll rolled to his right and hit Dakota Howell at the 2-yard line. The junior tight end tried to muscle his way into the end zone, but Fields came up from his safety position and made a big hit that dislodged the ball. Monticello recovered to secure the win.
“Once we figured out they weren’t going to run because we were stopping that, we knew it was going to be a pass,” Fields said. “We said ‘Hands on the tight end, watch the short stuff and come up and tackle him,’ and that’s what we did,”
Monticello players stormed the field in celebration after the play to celebrate.
“This was huge,” Fields said. “It’s our first win with [Hicks] in charge of the program and against a rival. It’s just huge.”
Hicks gave all the credit to his players.
“We believe in our young people and that’s what we’re always going to preach and coach,” Hicks said. “Our young people knew what they wanted to do there and we trusted them and it made great results.”
Early in the game, it was Western Albemarle (0-1) that looked in charge as it dominated on both sides of the ball.
The Warriors took advantage of a muffed punt and drove the ball inside the 20 on their first possession, but settled for Embry Pulich’s 33-yard field goal that bounced off the upright and through with 8:15 left in the first quarter.
Western Albemarle added to its lead on the next possession as Howell rumbled in from two yards out to build a 10-0 first quarter lead. The Warriors were held without a point for the rest of the game.
After the early struggles, Monticello found its footing and delivered a memorable win for Hicks in his head coaching debut with the Mustangs.
“This is the most amazing feeling,” he said. “This has been a decade of my life I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to be the head coach at Monticello, what it would be like to stand here on this field. So many great men have led this program and so many great men have played in this program and it’s an honor and a privilege to coach at Monticello and we’re so blessed to be experiencing this moment.”