Warriors beat back Indian River

Published 12:12 am Saturday, October 6, 2012

By Matthew Hatfield


In what started out as a back-and-forth Southeastern District battle, the Nansemond River Warriors closed on a flurry, outscoring the host Indian River Braves 22-0 in the fourth quarter en route to claiming an important 46-23 victory.

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The 46 points for Nansemond River marked their most in a single game since scoring 51 against Wilson back in 2006. At 3-3 overall and 2-3 in district play, the Warriors now stay alive in their quest to qualify for the Eastern Region Division 5 playoffs.

“I mentioned to the kids earlier in the week that every game is a playoff game from here on out for us because of the hole that we dug for ourselves,” Nansemond River head football coach Tracey Parker said after the game. “We have to treat each one like a playoff game and give it our all for four quarters.”

On the road, Nansemond River turned to a couple of their most dependable playmakers in junior running back Latrell “Vegas” Sandifer and junior linebacker Marvin Branch to lead the way. Sandifer got the Warriors started off on the right foot with a pair of touchdown runs in the first 13 minutes of the game as they bolted to a 14-0 lead.

In the first quarter alone, Sandifer rushed for 82 yards on 10 carries. The rest of the half he gained only 27 yards on nine carries, and Indian River closed the gap to 14-10 by half-time, eventually making it 17 unanswered points in the early moments of the third quarter to take the lead.

Kameron Burnor’s 22-yard field goal with 6:39 in the third period tied the game at 17. The Warriors then got lifts from a couple of seniors in linebacker Damario Valentine and running back/defensive back Justin Madison.

With Indian River pinned inside its own five-yard line, Valentine came free on a blitz to force a fumble the Warriors recovered. DeShon Saunders punched in a two-yard touchdown that put Nansemond River back on top 24-17 with 4:31 left in the third quarter.

Nansemond River put Madison in the backfield to give the speedy 5-foot-3 Sandifer a chance to catch his breath. Madison, who earlier in the game made an interception on defense, picked up all 52 of his rushing yards in the second half, including a touchdown.

“We’re really fortunate to have what we consider to be two really good backs in Latrell and Justin,” said Parker. “I think they are direct opposites. Justin is that downhill guy, and Latrell is that speedy, make-people-miss guy. It was good to have an opportunity to have both of them on their game at the same time.”

Sandifer and Branch helped carry the Warriors home. Sandifer returned to action and scored his third touchdown to give Nansemond River a 39-23 advantage with 4:03 remaining. Two plays later, Branch intercepted a pass and returned it 37 yards, leading to Sandifer’s fourth rushing touchdown of the night shortly thereafter.

“We go through our ups and our downs, but the defense bailed us out so many times, and Marvin stepped up,” said Sandifer, who ran for 136 yards on 25 attempts to put him above 800 yards for the season.

“I think I knocked myself out of the groove, because I missed a key block. Once I got my head cleared and got back in the game, I went back to what I do, and the offensive line helped me out tremendously.”

One week after scoring touchdowns on defense and special teams in a win over Deep Creek, Branch played a major role on a Warriors defense that had three takeaways and limited Indian River to 179 yards of offense.

“I didn’t feel like we could relax once we got the lead, but if we did what the coaches were telling us — go down and score and keep stopping them — we’d pull it out,” remarked Branch, who also caught a pair of passes for 31 yards from senior quarterback Darwin Barbee. “We stepped it up after halftime, because we had to get this win.”

Next up, Nansemond River hosts winless Great Bridge. After a 1-3 start that included a heartbreaking loss to Grassfield in their home opener just a month ago, the Warriors know the opportunity is still there to make some noise and put together a postseason push. There’s a sense of urgency and finishing strong will be imperative.

“We have to beat every opponent that faces us if we want to get to the playoffs,” Branch added. “We want a sure thing to get in and don’t want to have what happened last year, where we were left out by a couple games.”