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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Wolverines reach semis


READ MORE: A DREAM ENDS: Panthers had envisioned reaching the state final.



With four minutes left in Saturday’s 5A state quarterfinal game at Massaponax, North Stafford running back Von Purvis lay on the ground clutching his leg.

Cramps had been hampering the Wolverines’ star running back for much of the fourth quarter. But on North Stafford’s next possession, the hard-running senior returned to the lineup and carried the ball one final time for 24 yards.

Those last yards gave him 199 for the game to go along with three touchdown runs and a touchdown pass reception, as the Wolverines posted a hard-earned 42–21 victory.

“We were able to run the ball today. That was the difference,” Purvis said. “It’s always a physical game when we play them. We just had to make sure we finished.”

By finishing the job they started with a 60-yard touchdown march on their opening possession, the Wolverines assured themselves of their third straight trip to the state semifinal round, where they’ll visit Briar Woods next week.

Earlier this season, North Stafford (11–2) halted the Falcons’ 32-game winning streak with a 19–7 road victory.

To earn the rematch with Briar Woods, though, the Wolverines had to go through a powerful Massaponax team that had defeated them in overtime in October, and had won 12 straight games.

“Today was a game of wills,” said North Stafford coach Joe Mangano. “It was two really good teams playing hard football. I’m proud of how our guys fought.”

Besides Purvis, there were plenty of standouts on both sides of the ball for North Stafford, which held the Panthers to their lowest point total of the season and limited their explosive running game to just 148 yards.

Senior Joey Slye turned in another outstanding performance on defense, and also scored touchdowns on his only two carries on offense, both in the fourth quarter.

“We had to earn this one,” Slye said. “[Massaponax] is a good team. They deserved that 12–0 record. But we had a really good game plan and came in here and executed it.”

Quarterback Jalen Sarratt was another key cog in the Wolverines offense, making just his second start of the season. He completed 7 of 9 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for 50 yards.

Factor in a hard-hitting defense led by Slye, linebacker Jae’Wuan Horton and lineman Cameron Myers, and the ingredients for the Wolverines’ biggest victory of the season all came together at the right time, especially in the second half.

Touchdown passes by Sarratt and Massaponax’s Alphonso Trice had tied the score at 13 apiece to end the first half, and it appeared that the large crowd was going to be treated to another exciting finish by the two regional rivals.

But the start of the third quarter brought a big shift in momentum, and North Stafford made the most of the opportunity.

After recovering a fumble by the Panthers’ A.J. Forbes on the second-half kickoff at the Massaponax 16, it took the Wolverines just four plays to score on a 6-yard scamper by Purvis and go ahead, 20–13.

Two minutes later, they scored again after Sarratt set up another short touchdown run by Purvis with a 43-yard sprint to the Massaponax 13.

“I thought [Purvis] was hitting the hole at 100 miles an hour,” said Massaponax coach Eric Ludden. “When he gets a head of steam from that deep back set, they’re tough.”

A 54-yard scoring pass from Trice to Javonte Latney and a 2-point PAT narrowed the margin to 27–21 early in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers’ comeback hopes were short-lived.

Slye scored on a 4-yard run to cap a 66-yard drive by the Wolverines, and then added icing to the cake with a 30-yard burst up the middle with two minutes left.

“We had 12 wins in a row,” Ludden said. “Unfortunately, the one game where we had some off performances turned out be a one-and-out situation. But this team showed a lot of character.”

So did the Wolverines, who are just two victories away from their first-ever state title.

“Scoring 42 points was good, and our defense played lights-out today,” Mangano said. “But we’re not done yet. Hopefully, we can continue this ride.”

Steve Franzello: 540/374-5440