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November 3, 2012
Phantoms Pull Away Late Versus Rival: Avenging last year's overtime loss in the regular season finale, the Phoebus Phantoms scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, one on offense and the other on defense, to break a 21-all tie against their archrival, defeating the Hampton Crabbers 35-21 in front of over 5000 fans on Thursday night at Darling Stadium.
With the victory, Phoebus concluded its regular season with a perfect 10-0 record for the fifth time in six years and secured no worse than the #2 seed for the upcoming Eastern Region Division 5 Playoffs. While Hampton leads the all-time series 30-14, the Phantoms have now won seven of the past eight meetings against the Crabbers.
"It was a very hard-fought game. You've got to tip your hat to Hampton and their coaching staff. They keep their guys ready to go. The thing is we'll probably see them again, so our kids have to really learn that team over there has a lot of fight in them," commented Phoebus Head Football Coach Jeremy Blount, who took over for Stan Sexton at the midway point.
"We were able to get the job done, but I can definitely foresee those guys coming back, fighting harder, wanting it even more, so we've got to learn from this and can't keep it close."
If the two teams meet again, it would come on November 16th at Darling Stadium in the regional semifinals. Their last encounter in the postseason came in the 2010 Eastern Region Division 5 Championship game, which Phoebus won with a touchdown pass on fourth down late in the fourth quarter.
Versatile senior Richie Staton delivered the nail in the coffin for Hampton with his 24-yard interception return for a touchdown with 31 seconds remaining. He also made eight tackles, three for loss during the game, making up for a blunder early in the contest when he muffed a punt, leading to a 50-yard touchdown run by Roscoe Hale that gave Hampton a 14-6 lead.
"Early in the game, I messed up by dropping the punt, but my team kept me alive as they do every game," noted Staton, who picked up his first offer from ODU this week. "We stuck together, they told me that I would get it back and I believed them. We worked much harder in the second half and came through. I felt like it was up to me. After I scored, I cried because I don't like losing."
For Phoebus, this win capped another undefeated regular season as they continue their 'drive for five,' which means five postseason victories away from a record fifth consecutive VHSL Group AAA Division 5 state title. The Phantoms have won 20 postseason games in a row, and haven't lost a region playoff game since 2005 when Hampton defeated them in the regional title game.
After a coaching change during the season, seeing their top player get suspended for two games after an incident at practice and a couple of close scares from Heritage and Bethel, the Phantoms enter the playoffs as one of the favorites again, despite having to overcome some hurdles along the way.
"We've got a lot of adversity that we've been facing," Blount pointed out. "These guys have to keep focusing at what we've got coming at us. Every week people are going to come at us, so I look at this week like no other. This was a good atmosphere, we knew it was going to be tough and it really prepped us for the playoffs."
Most impressively was perhaps the fact this came against a Hampton defense that pitched a shutout in each of their last five games.
"Tell you what, they played him so well, those stats right there are surprising to me," admitted Blount. "He ran hard, had to fight for everything he got, but they played him well, so that's something for him to build on."
Pittman set the tone to start the third quarter,
breaking the long run that Hampton's defense seldom ever gives up. His 65-yard touchdown run gave the Phantoms a
21-14 advantage only 21 seconds into the third period. From there, 11 of his next 12 carries were
between three and six yards, biting off small, yet solid chunks.
Always High Intensity: You can't simulate the intensity of a Hampton versus Phoebus game. Physical plays on both sides of the ball, talented athletes with speed as well and teams that are normally evenly matched when they get together. If there's an edge for either team, it's razor-thin and hardly noticeable.
The players sense the big-game atmosphere, pressure from the crowd and find no trouble getting hyped.
"I told Coach Blount that this was the hardest game I've ever played," Staton stated. "The crowd is real into it, it's very intense and any time you messed up a little bit, everybody saw it, so it's kind of like College Football."
The unit going from left to right of Harry Lewis, Jamal Earls, Tyreek Bailey, Walter Brantley, Mark Wilson and Anthony Burrell did such a respectable job than none of Phoebus' three main ball carriers of Pittman, Atavius Matthews or Da'Quan Lane lost yardage on any of their 36 attempts. They didn't let Hampton's defensive line get the kind of penetration they thrive on to disrupt the rhythm of a team's offense.
Blount went on to comment about his line, offering up plenty of praise for the individuals that help make the strong rushing attack possible.
"Very good job, kid was solid tonight offensively and defensively," he said of Lewis, a starter on the d-line as well.
"They were doing a lot inside on the interior and our guards, Jamal and Walt, were able to dig those guys out," he added of the guards.
"Bailey at center played hard tonight, too. People were keying on him because they felt if you line up with somebody in front of him, they might be able to pressure him."
Then over at right tackle they used Wilson, an ODU commit to play defensive end, and Burrell.
"Those guys were solid. For Mark to be able to do what he did at the defensive end and help carry the load on offense, we needed that," Blount added.
In addition, Hampton out-gained Phoebus by 100 yards in the first half and lost by two touchdowns. Two different players in Hale and Virginia Tech commit Deon Newsome rushed for 100 yards on the evening, something you never see done against a Phoebus defense, and they were able to hold Pittman in check to 44 yards on 14 carries in the first half.
So what ended up hurting Hampton? They lost the turnover ball with Phoebus getting three takeaways and the Crabbers only getting two. Furthermore, what really hurt them was shooting themselves in the foot with penalties. The Crabbers were flagged for five delay of game penalties, part of why their offense bogged down in the second half and even following a superb 10-play, 69-yard scoring drive that took 5:16 off the clock to open the game.
If the Crabbers want to win their first region crown in seven years, they'll have to be crisper in their overall execution.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and don't forget to listen to him on High School Sports Talk from 10AM to Noon on ESPN Radio 94.1 plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.