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Group AAA, Div. 5 Football: Wolverines not quivering about facing tough Titans

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Cody Farrell’s phone lit up with texts as reports came in from last Friday’s Eastern Region championship game.

Lake Taylor pummeled reigning four-time Group AAA, Division 5 champion Phoebus 54–0, and Farrell’s friends wanted to gauge his feelings.

“My friends were asking me if we beat Mountain View [in the Northwest Region championship game], would we be scared to play Lake Taylor or would it be a blowout game,” said Farrell, a North Stafford senior. “But we just kind of laugh at that. We take it as a challenge. We’re definitely not scared, definitely not intimidated.

“This is the kind of game we want to play. We want to play the best. We want to beat the best to say we are the best.”

The Wolverines (11–1) and Titans (13–0) meet for the first time ever in today’s Group AAA, Division 5 state semifinals at North Stafford.

Lake Taylor, which is located in Norfolk and plays in the Eastern District, got North Stafford’s attention with its thorough beating of the previously unbeaten Phantoms. But when asked if that outcome motivated them to perform even better in practice this week, the Wolverines scoffed at the notion.

They don’t need more motivation.

Not a day goes by that the coaches and players don’t think about last year’s 27–26 state semifinal loss to Phoebus. The Wolverines were inches short on a two-point conversion run that would have given them the win in overtime.

“This team has been on a mission since we lost to Phoebus last year, and that was to come back and be where we are right now,” North Stafford coach Joe Mangano said.

The Wolverines were all business after last week’s 49–12 win over Mountain View. They were ecstatic about clinching their second straight Northwest Region crown, but the celebration was tempered because they have been focused on a much bigger goal all season.

“Last year when we won the region, we were doing back flips, doing cartwheels and throwing water on each other. After the regional championship on Saturday, it was fun, it was nice. We got the trophy, but we’re not satisfied. There’s a deeper focus.” Mangano said. “This is where we wanted to be, and all 50 kids are locked in. The staff and the program is locked in for this game.”

The Wolverines are expecting a smashmouth game with the Titans, and they know yards will come at a premium, especially on the ground. Lake Taylor has allowed only 60 rushing yards all season. That’s not a typo. The Titans have combined for 189 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for a net loss of 678 yards.

Phoebus, which entered last week’s game averaging more than 250 rushing yards a game, managed only 10 rushing yards on 23 carries against Lake Taylor last Friday.

“It’s going to be real physical,” said North Stafford senior Anthony Shegog. “Our offensive line is experienced, because they’ve been together for a while. Every run is not going to be a big run, but every once in a while we’ll get one on them and we’ll be able to take over from there.”

Shegog is a big-time talent, but he has taken his game to a whole new level in the playoffs.

Mangano said he didn’t want to wear out Shegog at the start of the season, but he has gradually loosened the reins on the Virginia Tech commit. Now Shegog is lining up all over the field—wide receiver, tailback, safety and on the punt return and block teams.

In two playoff games, Shegog has rushed for 341 yards and four touchdowns on only 22 carries and has also caught five passes for 89 yards and three scores.

Shegog’s impact on defense—where he has knack for creating turnovers—is immense as well.

“Playoff time is crunch time. I’ve got to go out there and do my best,” he said.

The Wolverines have big-play potential with Shegog and wide receiver Brandon Ravenel, a JMU commit, but they also know ball control will be important against the Titans. North Stafford wants to match Lake Taylor’s physicality up front, and they also want to keep a Titans offense that is averaging 46.9 points per game off the field.

“We’ve got to play good defense. We’ve got to play good special teams, and then we’ve got to control the ball when possible and be opportunistic,” Mangano said. “There are some opportunities to make plays, and when those opportunities present themselves, we have to take advantage of them. If we don’t it could be a long day.”

Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442