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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Defense lifts Panthers
Photos from Week 4 of Fredericksburg-area high school football action. Photos by The Free Lance-Star photography department.
Defense rarely finds its way into headlines about Massaponax High School football victories. The Panthers’ explosive option offensive attack usually gets most of the attention—as it did in last season’s 59–30 whipping of Colonial Forge.
But Massaponax wouldn’t have reprised that success Friday night in a 34–28 road triumph over the Eagles without some late heroics from the guys on the other side of the ball.
In an early showdown between Commonwealth District favorites, the Panthers (4–0, 1–0) allowed just one touchdown on Colonial Forge’s four fourth-quarter possessions, each of which reached Massaponax territory. The defense even scored the game-clinching touchdown on Alex Scott’s 88-yard interception return.
Perhaps most impressive of all, the Panthers did it with their most heralded defender, Vinny Mihota, watching from the sideline.
“Even though he went down, other guys had to step up,” said Tony Barnett, who also had a key fourth-quarter interception.
The 5-foot-8, 145-pound Barnett denied the Eagles’ final bid by outwrestling Daniel Ezeagwu—who’s 6 inches taller and 55 pounds heavier—for a long pass at the Massaponax 1 with 1:15 to play.
Colonial Forge coach Bill Brown pleaded for a simultaneous-possession call, which would have given his team first-and-goal. But officials ruled that Barnett came down with the ball, and that Ezeagwu grabbed it afterwards.
“I don’t know if I saw what I wanted to see or what, but I was arguing for a simultaneous catch,” Brown said. “They didn’t see it that way.”
Scott and Barnett weren’t the Panthers’ only defensive heroes.
Brandon Parks made a key stop on Colonial Forge quarterback Damen Daniel on fourth-and-1 at the Massaponax 11 late in the third period. Gus Little had a big night, forcing Daniel to throw the ball away on fourth down early in the fourth.
And in Mihota’s absence, the Panthers used a revolving door of defensive linemen, each of whom contributed.
“I thought that [defense] was going to be a key,” coach Eric Ludden said. “We’re really so injured right now.
“ I know it’s a cliché, but it’s next man up. Anthony Campbell, Greg Brown, Aubrey Wilson—those guys played their hearts out. Maliek Leggette stepped in and played well on the defensive line.”
They needed to, because the Panthers’ offense wasn’t at full strength, either. Senior quarterback Alphonzo Trice played on a sprained ankle, and fullback JaVonté Latney has battled knee issues all year.
Both still managed to shine, though. Both of Trice’s completions went for touchdowns: 65 yards to A.J. Forbes and 5 yards to Brandon Parks. Latney, meanwhile, bulled his way for 120 yards and two scores on 15 carries.
They helped overcome a strong game by Daniel, who ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 175 yards more.
But Daniel threw the two interceptions, and the Eagles (2–2, 0–1) also paid dearly for another turnover when they failed to field a squib kickoff midway through the second quarter.
Trice and Forbes had just connected for the 65-yard touchdown, and when Colonial Forge couldn’t handle the kickoff, Bo Fields pounced on it at the Colonial Forge 35. A personal-foul penalty gave Massaponax the ball at the Eagles’ 20. Six plays later, Trice connected with Parks on fourth-and-goal, and the Panthers never trailed again.
Still, it wasn’t easy. The Eagles were on the verge of tying it early in the fourth period when Scott stepped in front of a pass in the left flat and raced untouched 88 yards to give Massaponax a 34–21 lead.
“We were keying on the screen the whole game,” Scott said. “They kept running that little bubble screen, and I feel our team needed a play.”
So did Barnett, whose interception allowed the Panthers to run out the clock.
“As defensive backs, we knew they were going to throw the ball,” he said. “I saw the ball in the air, and I jumped as high as I could and came down with it.”
Both teams complete their nondistrict schedules next Friday. Massaponax is at home against Franklin County and Colonial Forge visits Patrick Henry–Roanoke.
Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443