MONETA — The race was on.
And Danteas Braxton won.
The swift Jefferson Forest senior celebrated as he exited the field after a touchdown-saving forced fumble.
“I’m the fastest one on the field!” he screamed, to everyone and no one. “I can catch anyone!”
That speed certainly showed Friday, as Braxton was off to the races early and often in Jefferson Forest’s 42-14 season-opening victory over Bedford County rival Staunton River.
Braxton, already with two touchdowns in the game, saw Staunton River’s Jacob Kirtley catch the short pass and beat the JF defense to the corner. A Golden Eagle touchdown looked imminent, and it would cut the visitors’ lead to two scores.
But Braxton streaked down the sideline, catching his foe at the 5-yard line, and knocked the ball out of Kirtley’s arms and out the back of the end zone.
Then he made the declaration that was already evident on many occasions Friday.
“I had [teammate Jacob Hackworth] next to me,” Braxton recalled, “and it pretty much turned into a race.
“I’m the fastest one on the field. I can catch anyone.”
“That’s true,” JF star running back Keenan Cupit said of his classmate. “He can catch anybody.”
JF did its damage with big plays throughout the night, which brought new head coach Paul White his first victory as a Cavalier.
On JF’s first play from scrimmage, Braxton beat the defense and caught a bomb from quarterback Blake Riddlebarger for a 56-yard touchdown.
The teams ended the first quarter tied at 7 — Staunton River tied the game on Aiden Brown’s 44-yard touchdown run — but JF seized momentum in the second.
After the Cavalier defense pinned SR deep in its own territory, Braxton caught a short punt and ran 40 yards untouched for the second JF touchdown, and Hackworth added a third TD with a 59-yard scamper with 6:30 left until halftime. The Cavaliers led 21-7 at half.
“There was four big plays in the first half,” first-year Staunton River head coach Shaun Leonard said. “They had three; we had one.”
JF kept it up in the third quarter, getting Cupit into the act. The Central Florida commit opened the second-half scoring with a 44-yard touchdown run on JF’s second play of the third.
Four plays later, Staunton River’s Kirtley broke the big play that looked to bring momentum back to the Golden Eagles.
Braxton had other plans.
“As I was running, I was thinking about my teammates,” he said. “I knew if I could get this, we could restart and get back down the field.”
The Cavaliers did just that, capitalizing on the turnover with a mechanical seven-play touchdown drive that Cupit capped with a 14-yard plow.
The two TDs marked a rebound from a lackluster first half from Cupit, who had just 37 yards on eight touches before intermission.
The senior didn’t care, as his team had a two-touchdown lead at the break. “It just shows we are not a one-dimensional team at all,” Cupit said.
White, the first-year coach who played for Ferrum College in the Panthers’ heyday, said the big plays were indicative of success later in the year.
“We can score from a distance,” he said. “And you know, if you can score from a distance, that’s a big deal.”
But, he quickly added, a football victory is short-lived, even if it is the first of an era. It’s back to the grind Saturday morning.
“I’ve got about eight hours to enjoy it,” he said, “and I plan on sleeping part of that.”