Warriors win first playoff game since 1995

Published 6:23 pm Saturday, November 11, 2017

By Matthew Hatfield


On a frigid Friday night, the fourth-seeded Nansemond River Warriors played host to the fifth-seeded Princess Anne Cavaliers from Virginia Beach in the opening round of the Class 5, Region A playoffs. Nansemond River reached the postseason each of the past four years but was eliminated in the first round each time.

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The fifth time proved to be the charm as Nansemond River prevailed 21-6, earning its first playoff victory since 1995.

“It means a lot, because we’ve been working so hard during the whole season, doing what the coaches are telling us to do and playing as a family,” said Warriors senior Gerard Stringer. “Everybody came together, trusting one another and we’re just playing for each other.”

After forcing Princess Anne to go three and out on the game’s opening series, the Warriors began with excellent field position and capitalized as quarterback Kori Riddick found Kevin Johnson in the flat for a 13-yard touchdown pass on third-and-8.

A junior, Johnson ran for 171 yards and a touchdown in the regular season finale against Grassfield. He knew his number would be called on quite a bit again, finishing with 76 yards from scrimmage on 13 touches.

“I understood that we needed some touchdowns and big plays for my team. I just was able to make it happen,” said Johnson, recognizing that everyone goes into the playoffs with a fresh slate.

“It’s a new start. We’re going day-by-day in practice, taking notes and executing on Fridays. Our teamwork is getting better. We’re all listening and taking pointers from the seniors.”

A 62-yard touchdown run by Rashaad Williams was called back on a penalty in the second period, though the Warriors added another score to extend their lead to 14-0 when Stringer punched in a four-yard touchdown before the half. That capped a 17-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 9:03.

Fourth-year Warriors head coach David Coccoli felt it was a defining drive for his team.

“Any time you get up two scores, especially in the playoffs, it’s key. We want to grind games out. I like the way we’re playing and winning football games,” Coccoli stated.

“I thought we played well defensively. In the first half, we tried to stop No. 4 (Darryl Jones). He’s a heck of a player. Offensively, we moved the ball a little bit. We need to clean up some of the errors and penalties. But at this time of the year, it’s survive and advance.”

With all eyes on Jones, the Maryland commit for Princess Anne, the Warriors answered the call on defense. They held Princess Anne to just 23 total yards in the first half. Jones finished up with only 21 yards rushing on 14 carries to go with two receptions for 28 yards.

Trailing 14-6 with 4:14 to play, Princess Anne faced a fourth-and-13 from their own 44-yard line. The Nansemond River defense stepped up again when Joeziah Autrey and freshman Payton Payne combined to bring down quarterback Azaiyah Roberts. Nansemond River’s defense made 14 stops behind the line of scrimmage, with Autrey and Payne together accounting for seven of them.

“(Payne) did a good job, and JaQuelle Harrell did a good job at linebacker. It’s a total team effort on defense. We only have three seniors on defense, so it’s a young football team still,” Coccoli pointed out.

Stringer — who is headed to East Carolina to play linebacker — was another player that shined bright for the Warriors. He carried the ball eight times, many on direct snap plays, for 71 yards, scoring his second touchdown with 2:10 remaining to put the game out of reach.

“We game-planned for this,” said Stringer of his new role on offense. “We’ve been working on it for a couple weeks, finally got to do it and executed.”

As a team, the Warriors used nine different ball carriers, amassing 211 yards on 37 attempts. More than anything, it wore down a Princess Anne defense short on bodies and depth.

“We switched offenses a couple weeks ago, trying to get the ball in more people’s hands,” Coccoli stated. “We’ve done that effectively, have scored more points and we’re pleased where it’s going. We’re a work in progress.”

Next up for Nansemond River is a trip to Indian River, which won the regular season meeting 26-10 on Sept. 22. A victory would push the Warriors to 7-4 overall and put them in position to play for a regional title on Thanksgiving weekend.

“We played a tough schedule. Our losses have been against some of the better teams in the area,” Coccoli said. “Indian River is a well-coached football team with tons of athletes. Our guys are confident and excited about a new week with another opportunity, because there are a lot of teams not playing next week.”

Nansemond River 21, Princess Anne 6

Princess Anne 0 0 0 6 — 6

Nansemond River 7 7 0 7 — 21

NR-Williams 13 pass from Riddick (Lomax kick)

NR-Stringer 4 run (Lomax kick)

PA-Roberts 1 run (kick failed)

NR-Stringer 15 run (Lomax kick)