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Fun ’N’ Gun in Dogwood

Chatham’s Hunter Furr and Ethan Reynolds lead the Cavs’ transition to the spread …

Chatham senior wideout Hunter Furr (left) and junior quarterback Ethan Reynolds pose for a picture after finding out they both earned First-Team Dogwood District honors (Photo: Chatham Star Tribune Sports)

The Dogwood District isn’t the nickname for Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. Instead, it’s a Virginia High School League football district that houses Altavista, Appomattox, Chatham, Dan River, Gretna, Nelson County and Campbell. All schools that fall with the 5th’s boundaries.

But that doesn’t mean the Dogwood couldn’t share the 5th’s moniker of “The Fighting Fifth.”

Once the lights come up on Dogwood action on Friday nights, fans are treated to old-school, smash-mouth football with the focus on running the ball hard up the gut and playing Lunch Pail defense.

Chatham coach Matt Allen wanted to change that this season, at least on the Cavaliers’ end, implementing a Fun ’N’ Gun, Air Raid-style offense, with the focus on spreading out opponents’ defenses and giving them a different look to defend. In order to achieve his goal, Allen knew he was going to need an electrifying pass-catch duo.

Luckily for Allen, he had senior wideout Hunter Furr and junior quarterback Ethan Reynolds on his side.

Reynolds drops back to throw a pass during the Cavs’ matchup against Gretna (Photo Credit: Ricky Simpson/Star Tribune Sports

FEW OUTSIDE OF CHATHAM had heard of Furr and Reynolds before this season. However, all of that changed this year as the two put up the kind of numbers that gave them top billing on the Cavaliers’ marquee.

Reynolds set program single-game records for total receiving yards (342), passing touchdowns (six) and completions (16) — with him breaking the completions record twice on the season. He also threw for 300-plus yards in three of Chatham’s contests and didn’t throw an interception over the course of the Cavs’ last four games.

Furr proved Chatham’s record keepers needed to start keeping the books in pencil as he set single-game records for receptions (11) and receiving yards (192), while setting program-records for receptions (59), total receiving yards (1,123) and touchdown receptions (12) in a season.

In the end, Reynolds finished his junior year with a school-record 1,918 passing yards and 20 touchdown passes. If that wasn’t enough, Reynolds also led the team in rushing, recording 286 yards and five scores on a team-high 149 carries.

“That part got me at the end of the season,” Allen said, laughing. “We always joke around about Ethan being as slow as all get out and that he should never run the ball, but yet he ended up leading the team in rushing.”

Furr finished with 1,123 yards and 12 touchdowns on 59 receptions on the season. It was an impressive mark for the senior receiver, considering he entered 2018 with combined marks of 16 receptions, 180 yards and two touchdown catches over the course of his sophomore and junior years.

“I think we knew Hunter was going to be a big part of our transition this year,” Allen said. “And even though he didn’t have highest numbers coming into the season, we knew, and I knew, he had some of the best hands I’d seen in a while, and I’ve been around football a long time. But for him to come and have the season he did, shows the tremendous amount of growth he experienced.”

Let Furr tell it, putting up the numbers he did this season was easy as 1–2–3.

“It’s practicing routes, making sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing in practice and learning how your quarterback thinks, throws and does his own thing, so you can make any adjustments you need to make.”

Reynolds had a simple solution as well: “It was just putting in the work during the offseason and in the camps and just getting to know and learn the offense.”

Furr tries to haul in pass in the end zone during Chatham’s matchup against Altavista (Photo Credit: Ricky Simpson/Chatham Star Tribune Sports)

THERE WAS NOTHING SUBTLE about Chatham’s offensive performance in its 56–6 win over Cumberland. The Cavaliers provided all the action of a Hollywood action blockbuster popcorn flick with great catches and long passing scores replacing rampaging genetically-enhanced crocodiles and gorillas and burning skyscrapers.

Chatham posted a total of 387 yards of offense with 328 of them coming through the air. The Cavaliers also scored eight touchdowns in their route.

Highlight reel of Reynolds’ explosive performance against Cumberland. Reynolds threw for a program single-game high of six touchdown in Chatham’s 56–6 victory (Video: Ethan Reynolds/Hudl)

Reynolds threw for a single-game high six touchdowns and fell just 14 yards shy of re-setting the program record for passing yards.

Furr had a career night as well, falling just 19 yards short of setting the school receiving mark for the second time, picking up 175 yards on six receptions, while adding a pair of receiving scores as well.

Once again, Furr had a simple answer for his performance.

“Strong hands. Keeping your eyes on the ball. Getting separation from your defenders,” Furr said. “And when you get your hands on the ball, you have to use the strength in your fingers to pull the ball in.”

I RECEIVED AN EMAIL from Allen in early September, providing me with the rundown of Chatham’s game against Martinsville, which ended in a 43–27 Cavaliers’ loss.

At first, nothing really stood out to me, but as I got down to the third paragraph, a bit jumped out at me like seeing Shaq driving a Honda Fit. Furr set the school receiving mark with 194 yards, while Reynolds set school records of 16 completions and 342 passing yards. Adding to his already impressive resume, Reynolds also tied the program’s single-game high of four touchdown passes that he set last year against Cumberland.

Furr and Reynolds are soft-spoken kids who fit the “Speak softly, Carry a big stick,” leadership ideology to a tee. In fact, I was a little worried the two wouldn’t be comfortable talking about their feats over the course of the first two questions of our interview. It was said Teddy Roosevelt loved his football and 26 would’ve loved watching Furr and Reynolds’ performance against the Bulldogs.

In addition to his 194 receiving yards, Furr also hauled in two receiving scores, while Reynolds ran for a team-high 127 yards on a team-best 26 carries. But it’s the humility and desire to put team above the individual that would’ve impressed Teddy the most.

“I didn’t even think about it until I got back into the locker room after the game,” Reynolds said. “I didn’t think about it on the bus ride home, either. I was focused on the game we just played and the one we had the following week.”

Furr joined in on his quarterback’s refusal to revel in the moment.

“It was back to the grind,” Furr said. “I didn’t have time to think about it. All I was thinking about was what I needed to do to be competitive and help my guys win the game.”

Highlight reel of Furr’s performance against Martinsville. Furr set the school’s receiving mark of 194 yards in Chatham’s 43–27 loss to Martinsville. Furr also hauled in a pair touchdown receptions (Video: Hunter Furr/Hudl)

In other words, the two are a rare breed.

“I’ve heard of guys coming in here after having record-setting games and bragging about their accomplishments despite the team losing,” Allen said. “Not with those two. I went up to congratulate them after the game and they both said, ‘but coach, we lost.’ You don’t see that a lot nowadays.”

FLASH FORWARD A WEEK LATER to Chatham’s matchup against cross-county rival Tunstall. The Trojans scored early and often in their 49–20 victory, but there was some shine for Chatham and its offense.

Highlight reels of Reynolds’ record-setting performance against Tunstall. For the second week in a row, the junior quarterback broke the school’s completion mark, completing 18 passes for 322 yards and a pair of scores (Video: Ethan Reynolds/Hudl)

For the second week in a row, Reynolds set the school’s receiving mark completing 18 passes. He also came 20 yards shy (322) of breaking his own single-game passing yards record and threw two or more touchdowns for the second game in a row. Meanwhile, Furr came 19 yards from breaking his own receiving mark, finishing with 175 yards and a touchdown reception.

“We really demanded a lot of them and the offense has a whole this season, and they stepped up,” Allen said. “We demanded a lot of them in terms of precision, decision making and timing, because we all had to be on the same page on offense a lot more so than other teams in the area.”

The key to the Cavs’ success?

“Working on recognizing defensive alignments and knowing where the receivers were supposed to be,” Reynolds said. “We watched a lot of film on opposing defenses in order to figure out where their corners and defensive backs were going to be and made the adjustments. That was the difference.”

IT’S OCT. 5. Three-time defending champion Appomattox County has come to town. Chatham ends up losing, 63–14, but once again, the offense continued to come together like Paul McCartney at a funeral.

The Cavaliers posted 194 yards through the air as Reynolds fell one completion short of tying his own record set against Martinsville, completing 15 of his 31 passes for two touchdowns and an interception. Furr came in striking distance of his single-game receiving record, hauling in 10 receptions for 130 yards and two scores.

Furr’s highlight reel from Chatham’s game against three-time defending state champion Appomattox. Chatham posted 194 passing yards in the 63–14 loss. Furr hauled in 10 receptions for 130 yards and two scores. (Video: Hunter Furr/Hudl)

“That was the turning point where I realized we were clicking,” Allen said. “It was really cool to see us get more effective and efficient on offense because of it. But if you would’ve told me after the Buckingham game, that we would’ve put those kinds of numbers against the three-time defending champs, I wouldn’t’ve believed it.”

The game also marked another important turning point for Reynolds and the rest of the offense. His two interceptions marked the last he would throw on the season as he didn’t throw a pick in the Cavs’ final four games against Dan River, Cumberland, Altavista and Campbell.

WHEN I WAS PUTTING TOGETHER questions for this interview, I tried to think of a sports movie that Furr and Reynolds could compare their season to. I though about “Varsity Blues,” but then realized both of them were about eight years too young to remember that flick, and I didn’t feel like dating myself by asking the question. Then, there was “Friday Night Lights,” but that felt a little simplified and as overused as a pair of cleats.

In the end, I never thought of one, but there was a reason.

“I don’t think it can compare to any movie,” Reynolds said. “It was a season that had its ups and downs, but it was a fun season, and that’s just that.”

Furr shared Reynolds and mine’s struggles in thinking of a fitting movie.

“It was our own season,” Furr said. “One full of ups and downs and a lot of high points, even though we didn’t finish with the best record.”

In the end, Chatham’s offense posted 3,517 total yards of offense with 1,925 coming through the air. The Cavaliers averaged 192.5 passing yards per game and scored 30 touchdowns, including 20 of the passing variety.

“It was cool to see our offense develop and transition the way it did,” Allen said. “It really helped us open up our running game and really made us a multi-faceted offense. It was nice to see that kind of performance, especially coming after those first two games where I think we posted about a total of 230 passing yards.”

For the first time in a while, Chatham closed its 2018 season with a solid plan in place moving forward into next season. And with Reynolds and a large number of impact receivers returning next year, Allen and the Cavaliers are chomping at the bit to get their 2019 season going.

“I’m really excited about having so many of those kids coming back,” Allen said. “We have this system adopted and the offense is moving in the same direction, which hasn’t always been the case in years past.”

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