Phoebus High’s 58-14 win over Brentsville District in the Class 3 semifinals on Saturday at Darling Stadium came with a big reward. The Phantoms (14-0) earned a spot in the state championship game against Heritage of Lynchburg next Saturday at Liberty University, where they will defend their Class 3 state title.
But the victory might have come with a huge cost. Nolan James, the Phantoms’ All-Peninsula District quarterback, left the game in the first quarter with an apparent ankle injury and exited the stadium on crutches.
Phantoms coach Jeremy Blunt said immediately after the game he was unsure of the extent of James’ injury. As it was, the Phantoms were so superior in the semifinal against the visitors from Nokesville, they did not need him.
And if James is slowed or even out for the state final, the Phantoms can take comfort in the performance by his replacement, Jayden Earley. Earley, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior, completed 6 of 7 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns in addition to running five times for 33 yards and a touchdown.
Even the Phantoms’ third-string quarterback, sophomore Trenton Mitchell, looked good. He completed his only pass attempt by threading the needle for a 15-yard touchdown to Noah Jefferson before running 22 yards on a sweep for a TD.
“Nolan has been exceptional for us, but Jayden has been preparing for this his whole career,” Blunt said. “Jayden Earley and Trenton Mitchell, they understand when the time comes and it’s time for them to step in, they handle business.”
Jordan Bass is usually Earley’s business partner in the defensive backfield, where both are starting safeties, but their partnership as quarterback and receiver blossomed quickly. With the Phantoms already leading 10-0 early in the second quarter, Bass made a terrific leaping catch of an Earley pass, keeping his foot inbounds for a 25-yard gain.
Earley broke a run 17 yards for a touchdown two plays later, and the Phantoms led 17-0 with 10:53 left in the first half. The lead was 31-7 by halftime as Keyontae Gray returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown before Earley connected with Bass for a 50-yard score.
“Me and Jayden go back to our [junior varsity] years, when we actually won a [Peninsula] district championship and were undefeated,” Pittsburgh recruit Bass said. “The chemistry has always been there, and he was my quarterback then, so it was nothing to come and show out again today.”
It was not difficult, either, for Ty’Reon Taylor, who ran for 100 yards on nine carries as his 29-yard touchdown run on the Phantoms’ third offensive play began the rout. The game proved to be another showcase for Peninsula District Defensive Player of the Year Mychal McMullin, the defensive lineman who had at least three sacks and was in the Tigers’ backfield all day.
“Most of it was just watching film and studying hard because I knew [Brentsville] had a lot of really great offensive linemen,” said McMullin, a James Madison University recruit. “I just wanted to play against the best and show why I want to be the best player in this country.”
The Phantoms’ goal this week will be to show they are the best in the state on the Class 3 level again.
“It’s amazing having a chance to go back-to-back,” Bass said. “You can’t even describe that feeling.”