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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Panthers up next for Wolverines

BOX SCORE

LEESBURG—As usual, North Stafford’s Thanksgiving Day menu will include football practice. Then comes a game the Wolverines have been hungering for nearly a month: a playoff rematch with Massaponax.

Friday night’s 39–20 5A–North quarterfinal victory over Tuscarora earned North Stafford (10–2) a second shot at the top-seeded Panthers. The bitter taste from their first meeting—a 23–17 overtime loss on Oct. 25—still lingers in the Wolverines’ mouths.

“For lack of a better word, the last time we played them sucked,” senior defensive back Tyler Bailey said. “We knew we’d get another shot at them. That’s what we wanted, and it’s going to be a good game next week.”

Bailey was one of the Wolverines’ many heroes Friday night, intercepting three passes and returning two of them into the end zone. One was negated by an illegal block penalty, but North Stafford forced the Huskies (9–3) into four turnovers and used two defensive touchdowns to lead from start to finish.

The first came less than five minutes into the game. After Joey Slye took a shovel pass from Jalen Sarratt 25 yards for a 7–0 lead on North Stafford’s initial possession, Cedric Watkins scooped up a fumble by Tuscarora’s Noah Reimers and scored from 29 yards out.

“You can’t turn the ball over against a good team, and they’re a good team,” Tuscarora coach Michael Burnett said. “When you get down two scores against a good team, you’re facing an uphill battle.”

The Wolverines made sure the Huskies never scaled that hurdle, thanks to the usual contribution of senior tailback Von Purvis (147 yards, two touchdowns) and unexpected ones from Bailey and Sarratt.

Making his first start of the season at quarterback in place of freshman Pat Ayala, Sarratt completed 8 of 9 passes for 92 yards and ran for 44 yards on 11 carries.

“We thought he could give us a different look and run a few different things with the option,” North Stafford coach Joe Mangano said.

Defensively, the Wolverines held Reimers in check for the first half, forcing the Huskies out of their game plan. Reimers entered the game with 1,614 yards rushing despite missing last week’s playoff victory over Mount Vernon with a concussion.

But linebacker Nakia Thomas and the rest of the Wolverines limited Reimers to 54 first-half yards on 17 ineffective carries, and Tuscarora trailed 27–7 early in the third period after the first of Purvis’ two touchdown runs. So the Huskies had to throw more than they wanted, and Bailey was waiting.

He stepped in front of Jordan Fisher midway through the second period and dashed 57 yards for a touchdown. He had an apparent 74-yarder nullified by a penalty late in the first half, and he completed the hat trick in the game’s final two minutes. He finished with 129 return yards.

“We knew when we got up [13–0] in the first quarter, they’d have to throw the ball,” Basiley said. “And as a [defensive back], you look for opportunities to take advantage of that.”

Reimers did break free for a 60-yard touchdown run and a 57-yard jaunt in the third period and finished with a game-high 183 yards on 23 carries, but the Wolverines were never seriously threatened. Andre Hamilton made sure of that by outleaping Tuscarora’s Anthony Zorb and wrestling the ball away from him for a 24-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter.

Mangano insisted the Wolverines hadn’t discussed the chance of earning a rematch with Massaponax. But now that it’s set, he was all smiles.

“We’re just very thankful to be playing on Thanksgiving week,” he said. “Our goal every year is to practice on Thanksgiving. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play a great team.”

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