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September 9, 2012
Grizzlies Pull Out Wild Win: There are wins teams pull out that are tough, and then there are some victories that can only be described as improbable. File Friday night's 22-21 triumph for the Grassfield Grizzlies in the ladder category as the Chesapeake program travelled to Suffolk and Arrowhead Stadium to take on an improved Nansemond River Warriors squad.
It was a back-and-forth battle much of the evening with the defenses controlling things for the most part until Nansemond River pushed ahead with 7:17 left to play on a 65-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from diminutive, yet talented running back Latrell 'Vegas' Sandifer. The one answer Nansemond River had for Grassfield's defense the whole night, Sandifer ran for 152 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.
Meanwhile, Grassfield's usually outstanding running game was bottled up for the duration of the contest and they had to go to the air more than they're accustomed to doing. With 4:36 remaining in the contest, it appeared the Grizzlies were about to tie the game when junior quarterback Blake LaRussa connected with running back Isaiah Harper for an eight-yard touchdown pass, except the extra point to knot the score at 21 was unsuccessful.
Nansemond River was able to move the chains twice when they got the ball back. However, a couple of snaps that flew backwards put the Warriors in fourth-and-41 from their own five-yard line, punting out of their end zone. Nansemond River's punter was unable to get the kick off before Grassfield senior linebacker Marcus Mitchell tackled him in the end zone for a safety that gave the Grizzlies the lead.
"They got their second first down and we had three time-outs left. We just kept telling them if the ball's in, you've got to tackle them, tackle them, tackle them, and fortunately for us they had two bad snaps that really played into our hands and allowed us to keep calling time-out," remarked Grassfield Head Football Coach Martin Asprey afterwards.
It was definitely not your typical kind of Southeastern District game. Grassfield, which has been to the regional semifinals twice since the school opened up in 2007, graduated a bevvy of seniors from last year's team and there were some sitters for a few players making their first ever district road start. With that being the case, they leaned on one senior on the offensive side of the ball to jump-start the offense when it was stagnant.
Coming off a career performance in the season-opening win over Maury where he dazzled both on special teams and at receiver, Paris Smith scored two more touchdowns for a Grizzlies team that sure did need playmaking skills to even be in position to stun the Warriors in Suffolk.
"Nansemond River's defense was putting on one heck of a show. They were stopping our run game, which is a big part of our team. Coach said it's your last year, and you've got to step up and make plays. I just used my talent and speed to make plays, and we train really hard for moments like these.
Smith's two touchdowns measured 40 and 59 yards, which included a game-tying score in the fourth period. He and his teammates believe they'll get better from Friday night's dramatic finish as the program seeks a fifth consecutive playoff berth in 2012.
"We never let our heads down. We pick our heads up throughout the whole game. Even if we lose, we go home heads up ready for the next week," Smith continued. "This game's over with and we're going to move on, but down the road, we'll definitely learn from the mistakes we made tonight and try to make sure games don't get close, and if they do, we have to play Grizzly football."
Matthew Hatfield has covered Eastern Region Football & Basketball since 2004 for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related updates, and you can also read his work in the Suffolk News Herald. To contact Matthew, please e-mail email@example.com, and don't forget to listen to him on the VirginiaPreps.com Hour every Saturday at 11AM on ESPN Radio 94.1 plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.