Kevin Saunders knelt on the sideline as he patiently waited for time to slowly tick off the clock late in the fourth quarter and turned to his defensive players to give them a simple message.
"We've got to play defense," the third-year Gretna coach said as the Hawks prepared to punt the ball back to Amelia County in the waning moments of Saturday's Group A Division 2 semifinal.
The calling card for Gretna in the regular season and its two challenging road playoff games, the defense came through with two plays that are microcosms of the Hawks' run through the playoffs.
The first was Kevin Moorman's 14-yard interception return for a touchdown with a little more than 2 minutes remaining in Gretna's 20-12 victory.
The second was Coleman Osborne's sack and forced fumble on Amelia's final offensive play. The ball was scooped up by fellow senior Rory Haskins with 3 seconds left to seal the Hawks' sixth championship game appearance in nine seasons.
Gretna (12-2) will play Goochland (14-0) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in Salem for the state championship. Goochland has played Gretna three times in postseason play from 2006-08. The Bulldogs won 6-0 in 2006 before Gretna won the next two meetings (52-14 in '07 and 36-0 in '08).
The Hawks got a spectacular performance from their defense, especially in the second half. Gretna held Amelia (12-2) to 40 yards of offense in the second half after allowing the Raiders to move the ball somewhat effectively in the opening 18 minutes.
"We made a couple of mistakes down at the goal line at the end of the first half, gave up a touchdown, but you've got to give them credit. They did a good job," Amelia coach Brad Bradley said. "I thought our kids played very hard. They never gave up, and we just came up one or two plays short at the end of the day."
Amelia senior quarterback A.J. Royal accounted for 182 yards of offense (92 yards rushing on 24 carries and 90 yards on 6-of-15 passing) and both of the Raiders' touchdowns.
Royal scored on a 4-yard run that put Amelia up 6-0 late in the first quarter and then hooked up with senior Quentin Hite on an easy 50-yard touchdown pass with 6:04 left in the second quarter for a 12-0 lead.