Safety costs Warriors a win

Published 12:12 am Saturday, September 8, 2012

Nansemond River High School defensive end Nathan Wyche chases the Grassfield High School quarterback Blake LaRussa during the Warriors’ heartbreaking loss to the Chesapeake team on Friday at home. A safety with one minute to play cost Nansemond River the game.

By Matthew Hatfield


It hasn’t been often that the Nansemond River Warriors could say they were playing in one of the area’s spotlight games for football. That was the case on Friday night at Arrowhead Stadium when the team welcomed in Chesapeake visitor and Southeastern District counterpart Grassfield for what turned out to be an exciting, down-to-the-wire finish that lived up to the billing.

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Unfortunately for the Warriors and their home fans, they came out on the short end of the scoreboard, losing 22-21 to the Grizzlies.

Nansemond River claimed two separate leads of 14-7 in the third quarter and 21-14 in the fourth period on a Grassfield squad that reached the regional semifinals a year ago. The Warriors even maintained a slim one-point lead when the Grizzlies failed to convert a potentially game-tying extra point following a touchdown with 4:36 left in the contest.

However, Grassfield pushed ahead with exactly one minute remaining, when Nansemond River had consecutive errant snaps that pinned them inside their own five-yard line, and then the Warriors were unable to get off a punt on fourth down, getting tackled in their own end zone for a safety.

Grassfield got the ball back and was able to run out the clock and improve to 2-0, despite Nansemond River out-gaining the Grizzlies 178-23 in rushing yards for the evening.

“I told the kids at the end that there’s nothing I can say to console them at a time like this or take away the pain,” Nansemond River head football coach Tracey Parker revealed afterwards.

After falling behind 7-0 early in the first quarter, Nansemond River fought back and did so behind its running game with the tiny, yet talented Latrell ‘Vegas’ Sandifer, and an experienced offensive line featuring Jay Westray, James Bowden, Tracey Parker Jr. and others that gave the little guy plenty of room to run.

The 5-foot-3, 150-pound Sandifer was electrifying, rolling up 152 yards rushing on 26 carries. Sandifer found the end zone twice, the first coming on a 14-yard run with 3:49 to go in the second quarter that knotted the score at 7 apiece.

That concluded a drive that took nearly seven minutes off the clock before the half, and the Warriors went into the locker room tied with plenty of confidence they could pull out what many would view a signature win early in the season.

Nansemond River’s defense controlled the Grassfield running game, with special contributions by the trio of senior defensive end Nate Wyche, senior linebacker Damario Valentine and junior linebacker Marvin Branch. Those three combined for 20 tackles, three behind the line of scrimmage, as the Warriors allowed only one run of seven yards or longer the entire night.

Wyche was on the receiving end of a four-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Darwin Barbee with 9:32 to play in the fourth quarter that capped a nine-play, 68-yard drive and gave Nansemond River a 14-7 advantage.

After Grassfield completed a 59-yard touchdown pass to tie the score with 7:31 to go in regulation, the Warriors struck back on Sandifer’s second touchdown, a 65-yard kickoff return that came just 14 seconds later to put the Warriors back on top 21-14.

“Our offensive line did what we normally do, and Latrell did what he’s capable of doing,” Parker said. “I just wish we could’ve put it all together and got that team win tonight.”

A couple of years ago, the Warriors would’ve accepted a close game into the final moments of the fourth quarter against a quality team as major progress and a step in the right direction.

But Parker feels differently about the program now as they hope to be able to play with some of the better teams around in the Southeastern District and challenge for a postseason berth after last year’s 5-5 finish saw the team narrowly miss out on the playoffs.

“We expect to win games like this, and when we don’t it hurts,” Parker said. “There’s a lot to be said about learning how to win, and we’re still in that phase.”

Now 1-1 overall, Nansemond River will look to capture its first district victory when it plays host to Suffolk rival King’s Fork on Sept. 14. The Bulldogs moved to 2-0 overall after defeating Indian River on Friday, 36-14.