ABINGDON, Va. — Gary Hammer smiled as he entered Latture Field on Thursday night.
There was a good reason for that.
In the mid-1970s, the speedy Hammer starred at running back in the historic Main Street stadium for the Abingdon Falcons.
Before a sellout crowd that approached 2,000, Abingdon played its first game since 1977 at Latture on Thursday.
“It looks like old times,” Hammer said. “A lot of guys began with midget league football here and played here right on up to high school. There are a lot of memories for athletes and fans.”
The Falcons created another memory Thursday by earning a 53-24 victory over the Patrick Henry Rebels in a VHSL benefit game that lasted nearly three hours.
The Falcons (9-3) won the Mountain 7 District title last season before dropping a 63-27 decision at Lord Botetourt.
Before the power running of 6-foot-3 junior Martin Lucas (81 yards rushing, one touchdown) and 5-foot-10, 155-pound sophomore Christian Foran (122 yards, 3 TDS), AHS generated more excitement Thursday by opening a 7-0 halftime lead and gradually wearing down the Rebels.
“This was a good environment,” Abingdon coach Garrett Amburgey said. “I heard a lot of stories this week from alumni, and we appreciate the history of this field. It’s neat to tie everything together and build pride.”
Amburgey said he was pleased with how his team handled the challenge from the Rebels.
“Patrick Henry is going to be a handful for every team they play,” Amburgey said. “Their backs run hard, and they have really good linemen.”
In the off-season, the Falcons also lost massive offensive lineman Gage Bassham via transfer to Lord Botetourt, which is coached by former AHS and Emory & Henry football standout Jamie Harless.
Players such as linebacker Eli Ratcliff, Justin O’Quinn and Isiah Freeman led the AHS defense Thursday.
“We’ve got some things we need to clean up,” Amburgey said. “We will go back this week and make our corrections.”
PH, which earned its fifth straight playoff appearance last season, kept the game close through three quarters behind quarterback Dakota Rector, running back Zach Brown and dynamic freshman running back J-Kwon McPhail.
“I was pleased with what we accomplished,” PH coach Mark Palmer said. “Both teams turned the ball over a couple times, but this was a great atmosphere, and I could tell how important this field is to people.”
Rector passed for over 50 yards in addition to intercepting a pass.
“Dakota stated the last six game of last season, and I was very pleased with him tonight,” Palmer said. “We were kind of one-dimensional last year, and I want us to be more balanced.
“Anytime you can compete with Abingdon, you’ve got a chance going into the season. We’ve got to tackle better, protect the football and clean up our penalties.”
Big offensive tackles Nate Stovall and Ryan Bunnell cleared running lanes for PH, while Cody Smith bulled for yardage up the middle.
Fans began arriving nearly two hours before kickoff Thursday and lingered well after the finish.
“This was fun,” Hammer said.