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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Season’s end stuns Panthers
READ MORE: Read Steve Franzello’s full game story to see how North Stafford took home the win.
No matter who came out on top of the Group 5A state quarterfinal between Massaponax and North Stafford Saturday afternoon, one team with high expectations would leave bitterly disappointed.
That squad turned out to be Massaponax at the end of a 42–21 defeat.
The Panthers (12–1) had won 12 straight games and were feeling like they had the talent, experience and chemistry to earn the school’s first state championship.
However, the Panthers weren’t able to contain North Stafford star running back Von Purvis (238 total yards, four touchdowns). They also committed a key fumble on the second-half opening kickoff and weren’t able to keep the Wolverines out of the end zone once they pulled within 27–21 with 10:23 left in the game.
Massaponax players sobbed as they departed their home field, many touching the rock at the stadium’s entrance one last time as the finality of their first loss of the season sunk in.
“It’s just unreal,” Panthers’ senior quarterback Alphonzo Trice said. “I never thought it would end like this.”
Trice is one of 22 seniors on the Massaponax roster. They entered the year with state title aspirations but had to overcome injuries to standout players to get as far as they did.
Senior fullback Javonte Latney, who was the leading returning rusher in the Fredericksburg area entering the year, played all season on a torn meniscus he suffered in August, and was never quite himself.
Two-way lineman Vinny Mihota, who has orally committed to Virginia Tech, missed the final 10 games of the season after he broke a bone in his left foot Sept. 6.
The Panthers endured another blow when starting cornerback Joey Bennett sustained a concussion and missed Saturday’s game.
“The thing I’ll remember most about this team is when we first looked at it we thought we would be a powerhouse, then major guys got hurt,” senior lineman Steven Sobczak said. “But the way this team responded to adversity was probably the most remarkable thing that you could see from a football team.”
The Panthers weren’t able to mount a final comeback against North Stafford once they fell behind 35–21 with 4:08 remaining. But that didn’t leave head coach Eric Ludden any less proud of his bunch. The Panthers finished 7–4 in 2012, but vowed to return a better team.
Ludden said he put his players through the most strenuous offseason workout in the program’s history, and they responded. Ludden said he’ll talk to his seniors later this week about their accomplishments because directly after the game they were “inconsolable.”
“I think they expected to play two more games,” he said. “But they overcame a lot, and I’m very proud of that.”
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