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October 27, 2012
Smoke Sends Marlins to Sixth Straight Win: On Senior Night at Frank W. Cox High School in Virginia Beach, the visiting Bayside Marlins overcame a fourth quarter deficit thanks to a pair of touchdowns in the final seven minutes by five-star running back and UVA commit Taquan 'Smoke' Mizzell to defeat the host Falcons, 34-27.
It was another stellar performance turned in by Mizzell, who finished with 253 total yards and three scores on 21 touches including 19 rushes for 158 yards. Rising to the occasion when the moment calls for is what Bayside's coaches, and his teammates, have come to expect.
"That's what he's supposed to do," declared Marlins Head Football Coach Darnell Moore. "It shouldn't have come to that, but Cox played an inspired game, did a good job and had two weeks to prepare for us. It showed in their preparation. I thought our guys did a good job of not getting down on themselves and making a few plays."
In the first half, Mizzell ran only five times for 35 yards. Cox controlled the ball for nearly the entire the opening period with a decisive Time of Possession advantage of 9:03 to 2:57 as they built a 10-0 lead before Bayside even touched the football on offense. Once the Marlins got it, their main playmakers - - Mizzell, four-year starting QB Deion Stitt and junior star WR Quin Blanding - - went to work.
Stitt scored first on a seven-yard scramble, followed by a 30-yard touchdown pass to a diving Blanding that gave the Marlins a 14-10 lead. Cox went back in front on Jaylan Brice's 7-yard touchdown run and the Falcons had a chance to increase that advantage until Jamez Brickhouse made an interception with 3:24 to go until intermission. Four plays later, Stitt found Mizzell for a 69-yard touchdown pass that gave Bayside a 21-17 lead they would take into the locker room.
Following Friday's outing, Smoke now has 174 attempts for 1056 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns on the season with 29TD's total. For his career, he has 3629 yards rushing and 74 total touchdowns with 64 of them coming on the ground.
"We always say big-time players come through in big-time games. He's a big-time player for us," Blanding said of Mizzell. "We all love him to death as a brother, teammate and he came through with that touchdown. It gave us happiness, but we started slacking off a little bit and had to fix our focus. As great as he is, we know we can't rely on him all the time."
On Bayside's opening possession of the third quarter, the Marlins had a chance to go up double-figures, but got stopped on 4th & Goal. Cox then proceeded to drive 98 yards in 13 plays, chewing up seven minutes of clock time when Bryan Campbell's 17-yard touchdown run gave them a 24-21 lead. David Morrison's second field goal put the Falcons up 27-21 when Mizzell took matters into his own hands.
"We were upset when they got the lead," Mizzell admitted. "Coming into the game, I already knew what Coach Moore wanted to do. He said he wanted to throw the ball almost every play. In the second half, that one play got me rolling and I said I wanted the ball. Deion went to him and said we're running Smoke."
"I'm glad we got those first two losses out of the way early and matured from that," Mizzell noted, "And we know what we have to do better."
With the win, Bayside's sixth in a row, the Marlins close out the regular season at 8-2 overall and claimed a spot in the Eastern Region Division 6 Playoffs for the fourth straight year.
The Marlins have made quite a bit of progress from back in early September when they were 2-2 and their postseason hopes weren't too promising.
"We've grown a lot," Moore added. "We look around and see every defensive linemen we have with the exception of one is a sophomore, so we're still young, but they've gained some experience. For us, we look at it as we have to get better every week."
His skills as a playmaker from the safety position and now at receiver, where he's been one of the state's best, were unquestioned. Over the last two years he has more interceptions than any other player in the region with 12, and this season he has 50 receptions for 1031 yards and 6TD's, ranking atop the leaderboard in those categories as well. Now he's proving to be a leader for this team.
"He is the vocal leader. When he talks, everybody shuts up," Coach Moore pointed out, calling him the mouthpiece earlier in the week. "He's intense and intense with what he says. He doesn't always say a whole lot. He's not always running his mouth, but when he's talking, he's saying something that's constructive."
Usually, the Marlins have turned to seniors that roll over to be their leaders from such past guys as Florida State's E.J. Manuel when he was their quarterback, to UVA linebacker Henry Coley, UVA defensive backs Demetrious Nicholson and Anthony Cooper, and now such guys as Stitt, Mizzell and linebacker Will Dillard. Following the game, Blanding was at midfield with the team gathered around while he gave a brief, yet purposeful speech.
Even though he's not a senior yet, Blanding has taken it upon himself to make his presence felt with his play and voice, and the results are speaking for themselves.
"I'm trying to step up and be a big leader for my team, be more vocal," Blanding said. "I know I'm a young guy and haven't been here as long as Will, Deion and Smoke, but I've been playing since I was a freshman and want to put my input into it and work with them to keep our team up. This was a big win for us to really clinch our spot in the playoffs, so we've really got to get ready, start critiquing ourselves and go for it now."
"Deion is one of the toughest kids I've ever had. Not just tough physically, but tough mentally," Coach Moore stated. "I knew that even though he wasn't feeling well he was going to get out of his bed and be at the game on Friday, and had a heck of a game for us."
Despite throwing his first interception in six games, Stitt completed 10 of 16 passes for 178 yards, a pair of scores, had a rushing touchdown and continued to climb the VHSL career passing charts.
Stitt is now 40-8 as a starter with a career TD/Int. ratio of 81-23. His 8418 yards passing with the Marlins put him 313 yards shy of Vic Hall for third place on the VHSL career passing yards list as he moved past Great Bridge grad Casey Turner. Speaking of Turner, Stitt sits three touchdowns away from tying Turner for seventh place on the VHSL career TD pass list.
Give him decent protection and he'll be effective. Bayside's offensive line played better than it had earlier in the season when Stitt was sacked several times against the likes of Salem, Ocean Lakes and even in the first half of their win over Landstown. On the night, he was sacked only twice out of 18 times when he dropped back to throw.
Cox has competed well against each of them, and while they will need to beat neighborhood rival First Colonial in the regular season finale and get help from Maury beating Granby next week to have a shot at reaching the postseason, their program continues to hang with some of the better teams around, and the future will be bright with several members from their undefeated 7-0 J.V. Championship squad coming up next year and beyond.
"They put up a good game against us," Blanding said of the Falcons. "We left them in the game and that's what happens when you leave teams in the game as good as Cox. They came out and played hard, and don't deserved to be knocked at all."
Particularly impressive was how consistently well Cox ran the ball on Bayside to the tune of 289 yards on 52 attempts with 263 yards on the ground through three quarters of play. Mike DeMasi churned out 174 yards on 28 rushes.
Major props go to that interior offensive line with left guard Cody Reuss, center Aaron Holt and right guard Gabe Hollins, one of the area's best seniors without a D-1 offer to date. Reuss was filling in for the injured Jeremy Ramey (broken leg).
Although this team is just two years removed from capturing the D-6 Eastern Region title, they believe they'll be in the same role as 2011.
"We already know going into the playoffs that that no matter who we're playing, we're going to be the underdog," Mizzell commented. "We're going to try to learn from this game, go practice hard, thankfully we've got a bye to get some rest and after that we'll have to get back rolling because we're really going to have to play big to win."
Stats: *** Courtesy of Doug Ripley & Eddy Hendricks ***
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 Saturdays from 10AM to Noon on ESPN Radio 94.1 plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.