NSA falls in state championship game

Published 8:38 pm Saturday, November 17, 2012

NSA sophomore running back Addison Peak drives ahead for yardage against Blue Ridge during the Saints' 41-16 loss in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state championship game on Saturday.

Nansemond-Suffolk trailed by only four points at halftime after committing four turnovers, but an inability to score and another turnover in the second half led to a 41-16 loss to host Blue Ridge in the VISAA Division II state title game on Saturday.

“We fought hard, we just made too many mistakes,” NSA head coach Lew Johnston said. “I don’t think we’ve had five turnovers the whole season, the previous 11 games put together, and then turn it over five times today. You can’t get in a big game against as good a football team as they are and make mistakes like that.”

The Saints started the game with some strong running on offense by the sophomore running duo of fullback David Gough and running back Addison Peak. The drive sputtered a few plays later, however, and the Saints turned it over on downs.

Nansemond-Suffolk seniors Jacob Laine, left, and Parker Mizelle console one another after their final game in a Saints football uniform.

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The Barons took over on their own 44-yard line and, with the help of a long reception that brought them to NSA’s 4-yard line, they ran it in from a yard out to take a 6-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

The Saints defense was strong for most of the game, giving NSA a chance. The Barons’ scoring drives frequently benefited from good field position created by good defense of their own or special teams.

After the Barons’ first score, NSA’s next offensive drive ended in an interception by senior defensive back Darryl Smith. The Saints’ defense held, though, and Blue Ridge was forced to punt.

NSA started on its own 9-yard line, but Peak fumbled, giving the Barons possession at the 8-yard line. They scored on a 4-yard run a couple plays later.

Three and a half minutes into the second quarter, the Saints were energized when a Blue Ridge pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, and sophomore defensive tackle Jack Johnson snatched it out of the air. He returned it to the Barons’ 13-yard line.

Gough dominated the resulting drive, scoring on a 5-yard run and also rushing for the 2-point conversion to make it 13-8 with 7:09 remaining in the first half.

Blue Ridge responded quickly with a scoring drive that extended its lead to 20-8, and then the teams traded turnovers. First NSA senior quarterback Tim Burns threw an interception, but then junior strong safety Matt Newhall scooped up a fumble and returned it to the home team’s 19-yard line.

Burns threw what looked to be a likely interception in the end zone, but instead, the defender could only tip the ball and junior split end Michael Tyler Lepore grabbed the ball for an 18-yard touchdown reception. He also ran in the 2-point conversion to make the score 20-16.

“I think (Tim Burns) kind of threw off of his back foot because he was getting pressured,” Lepore said. “When he threw it up, it just went up, (the defender) tipped it, somehow fell into my hands. It was kind of a prayer, but you take what you can get.”

The second half seemed like it would be the Saints’ opportunity to take over the game.

“I really felt at that point we had them on the ropes because we’re in such good shape and we played so well in the second half all season,” Johnston said. “I figured, all right, we stop them, we get the ball back, we go ahead, the game totally shifts.”

It did not come to pass, though, as the offense was not able to produce.

Blue Ridge took advantage of a punt return to NSA’s 17-yard line to make the score 27-16 near the end of the third quarter and another interception helped extend the lead to 34-16 with 8:26 to go in the fourth.

“We had a couple chances and couldn’t it all together,” Johnston said. “But you got to give them credit for that. That’s as good a defense as we’ve played all year.”

A 36-yard running score with about four minutes remaining brought the final score.

The Saints were encouraged by the fact that only four players will leave their rosters this year to graduation, though those shoes will need to be filled.

One of the seniors, running back/defensive back Ryan McClain reflected on the bonds he has formed and how it impacts his outlook on this game.

“I thought it was a family thing to make it the state championship,” he said. “If we win together, we win together, if we lose together, we lose as a team, so I think that’s a family thing.”

Junior wingback/linebacker Jack Russell, who was injured in the third quarter and had to leave the game, took motivation to fuel his desire come back next season.

“I’ll remember them being able to stand in the middle of the field,” he said, looking on as the Barons celebrated.

Johnston felt good about the season overall and looked ahead to 2013.

“I expected this to be a good football team, and I think we lived up to those expectations,” he said. “We’re disappointed today, but excited for the future.”