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Football: Group AAA, Div. 5 Semifinal: Titans’ field goal ends North’s quest
BY NATHAN WARTERS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
The final whistle of North Stafford’s 23–21 loss to Lake Taylor had sounded long before, but senior Cody Farrell sat on a step outside the Wolverines locker room, sweat-soaked uniform still on, dazed at taking yet another gut punch in the Group AAA, Division 5 semifinals.
It was hard for Farrell and his teammates to process what just happened. It was hard for them to accept they lost a state semifinal game in the final seconds for the second straight season.
SATURDAY’S LOCAL STATE SEMIFINALS
Group AAA, Div. 5
Lake Taylor 23, North Stafford 21
Group AA, Div. 4
Briar Woods 45, Courtland 15
Group AA, Div. 3
James Monroe 37, Kettle Run 30 (3OT)
Group A, Div. 2
Esses 40, John Battle 9
FOR LINKS TO ALL OF THE GAME STORIES: CLICK HERE
Lake Taylor (14–0) came back from a two-touchdown halftime deficit and won on a 26-yard Marquise Poole field goal with 1.6 seconds remaining.
It was oddly reminiscent of North Stafford’s one-point loss to Phoebus in last year’s state semis. The Wolverines fell inches short on a two-point conversion run in overtime in that game. This year’s loss, Farrell said, was much worse.
“It’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever felt,” Farrell said as he choked back tears. “It’s my senior year. On the ride home after last year’s game I was ready for redemption, but now it’s on to a new era in my life.
“Besides a close personal death in the family, I don’t think I can think of anything tougher. It’s a life lesson. I’m gonna push through it.”
North Stafford coach Joe Mangano found little fault in his team’s performance. But cruel fate stepped in for the second straight season.
Poole’s kick was the first made field goal of the season for the Titans, a detail that left Mangano shaking his head with a disbelieving laugh.
“Of course. That’s apropos, par for the course,” Mangano said.
Lake Taylor started its game-winning drive at its own 30 with 1:50 remaining. The Titans, who will take on Stone Bridge in the championship game Saturday in Charlottesville, reached midfield with 30 seconds left, and then quarterback Delmon Williams completed a 28-yard dump-off pass to Jalyn Holmes while under duress to get them to the 22.
After a spike to stop the clock and a false-start penalty pushed Lake Taylor back to the 27, Williams scrambled 18 yards before getting out of bounds at the 9-yard line with 5.7 seconds left.
That left enough time for Poole, a toe-kicker who missed his only other field goal attempt this season, to split the uprights and end the Wolverines hopes of avenging last year’s disappointing state semifinal loss.
Poole, whose miss came from 27 yards against Maury on Nov. 9, said he was nervous but confident the kick would go through.
“The team was counting on me. The players were counting on me. Everybody was counting on me. I had to make it,” Poole said.
North Stafford’s defense was stout against a Lake Taylor offense that came in averaging 46.9 points a game. The Wolverines forced two turnovers and made two fourth-down stops deep in their own territory.
But North Stafford’s offense, which opened the game with much success, found things much tougher in the second half, particularly in the final minutes.
“We couldn’t run the ball in the second half. We tried to pass it, but it just wasn’t there,” said the Wolverines’ Anthony Shegog, who rushed for 107 yards in the first half but was held to negative yardage after the break.
The Titans cut the Wolverines lead to 21–20 on tailback Brandon Moore’s second touchdown of the game with 3:02 remaining, but Moore was stuffed at the line by North Stafford linebacker Nakia Thomas on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt.
Moore tossed the ball forward to lineman Nyquan Harris in the end zone, but the Titans were penalized for an illegal forward pass to negate the play.
The Wolverines took over at their own 39-yard line with 3:02 left. A first down would have salted away the game, but Lake Taylor stacked the line and forced a three-and-out with two minutes left.
“They had no timeouts. We knew a first down would have killed them,” Farrell said.
Lake Taylor scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the second half and was driving for another when North Stafford linebacker Joey Slye forced a fumble that Shegog picked up and returned 41 yards to the Titans 44.
North Stafford needed two plays to score its only points of the second half. Wide receiver Brandon Ravenel ran for 17 yards on a jet sweep and then quarterback Jalen Sarratt dashed 32 yards to the end zone to put the Wolverines up 21–14 with 10:48 remaining.
The Titans drove to the North Stafford 11 on their next drive, but Wolverines defensive back Cedrick Watkins broke up a pass in the end zone on third down, and Titans receiver Nhyre Quinerly dropped a pass in the end zone on fourth down.
The Wolverines were held to only 32 yards and two first downs in the second half. It was a different story before the break. They controlled the clock for the first two quarters and went into halftime with a 14–0 lead and a 193–144 advantage in yardage.
Wolverines tailback Kwesi Dadzie scored on a 16-yard run in the first quarter, and Shegog rumbled 73 yards for a score in the second. Shegog twisted out of a tackle at the line of scrimmage and sprinted down the right sideline to put the Titans behind by two touchdowns for the first time all season.
Lake Taylor stormed back to clinch its first state championship game appearance since 1982. It wasn’t easy. The Wolverines made them work for it.
“They were outsized, outmanned, outmatched at times, and they fought like winners,” Mangano said of his players. “They’re great kids.”
Farrell sat outside the locker room for several minutes afterward. He wasn’t ready for his career to be over.
“Sooner or later,” Farrell said, “I’m going to have to go in there and clean out my locker.”
Lake Taylor 0 0 14 9 — 23
North Stafford 7 7 0 7 — 21
NS-K. Dadzie 16-yard run (J. Slye kick)
NS-A. Shegog 73-yard run (J. Slye kick)
LT-B. Moore 21-yard run (M. Poole kick)
LT-J. Pinkney 37-yard pass from D. Williams (M. Poole kick)
NS-J. Sarratt 32-yard run (J. Slye kick)
LT-B. Moore 3-yard run (run failed)
LT-M. Poole 26-yard field goal
First downs18 9
Rushing yardage47-278 29-162
Passing yardage200 65
Rushing: North Stafford—Anthony Shegog 9-106, TD; Brandon Ravenel 4-26; Jalen Sarratt 6-16, TD; Kwesi Dadzie 10-14, TD. Lake Taylor—Brandon Moore 17-109, 2TD; Donovan Powell 7-73; Daquan Davis 12-72; Delmon Williams 11-24.
Passing: North Stafford—Jalen Sarratt 6-13-0 65. Lake Taylor—Delmon Williams 11-19-1 200, TD.
Receiving: North Stafford—Brandon Ravenel 5-54; Anthony Shegog 1-11. Lake Taylor—Jalyn Holmes 5-109; Ja’Kale Pinkney 1-37, TD; Brandon Moore 2-26; Nhyre Quinerly 1-12; Daquan Davis 1-9; Isreal Waddell 1-7.
Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442