As St. Anne’s-Belfield’s football team returned to the field from the halftime break with the scoreboard even at 14-14, the Saints had to feel good about their chances. The ground game had already amassed 167 yards with four effective runners, including junior quarterback Chase Emmert and his two rushing touchdowns. The special teams and defensive units each came up with first quarter fumble recoveries and, but for a hook-and-ladder that ended the half, had contained the spread passing attack and outgained the visiting Saints of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy.
After just one play from scrimmage in the third quarter, the outlook changed drastically as junior lineman Will Edelson stayed down with an injury. After some time on the trainer’s table, he joined a handful of other team members unavailable for action. As a young squad with depth issues, there may have been as many in the crutches-and-no-pads group as the available subs and reserves with helmets as NSA pulled away for a 48-28 victory over the Saints.
“When we were healthy, we did well, but we got a little beat up and that’s what happens,” said St. Anne’s coach John Blake, addressing both the contest with NSA and the first five games of the season, as his Saints now head into a much-needed bye week.
Edelson’s absence had tremendous impact on both lines, as the offense managed just 77 more rushing yards the rest of the way while NSA more than doubled its first half ground game production. As STAB brought a member of the secondary into the box to help, the vertical passing game opened up big-time. Senior quarterback Robby Tew tossed three second-half touchdowns, including a gamebreaking 64-yarder to junior wideout Zac Morris. NSA scored 20 straight points from the 4:30 mark in the third to 4:36 in the fourth and handed STAB its second straight defeat.
“When we put our minds to it and come out like our backs are against the wall, that’s how they play,” said Nansemond-Suffolk coach Mike Biehl, whose Saints racked up 305 second-half yards to STAB’s 133. “We’ve got to do it for 48 minutes now. So I was happy with the second half, but we’ve got to start faster.”
STAB kicked off to start the game but an NSA fumble on the return brought the offense on at the visitors’ 42. With a heavy dose of freshman back Amani Woods, STAB set the tone with a 10-play drive lasting nearly five minutes, including a fourth-and-two conversion. Emmert scored on a 1-yard keeper. NSA’s offense got on the field after the next kickoff and quickly marched into STAB territory, but the defense forced a fumble by freshman running back George Pettaway and linebacker Doug Brooks recovered. After a punt, NSA settled down with a 13-play, 61-yard drive that stretched into the second quarter before Pettaway made amends with a 2-yard touchdown.
STAB answered with a 13-play drive of its own. The Saints covered 86 yards and drained nearly six minutes with all but one play being a run. Emmert tallied his second touchdown with a 2-yard plunge, and then hit junior Dawson Dickerson for two points to make it 14-7. The back-and-forth continued as NSA drove 57 yards in six plays. Tew hit junior receiver Ehron Knight for a gain of 8 on fourth-and-6 and then offered a preview of the second half as he hit senior Erek Smith for a 22-yard touchdown to tie the game 14-14. STAB had one last chance before halftime and drove to the NSA 29, but Emmert was intercepted by Zac Morris in the closing seconds.
Following Edelson’s exit, STAB’s opening drive of the third quarter ended when Emmert was sacked on fourth-and-8. NSA promptly drove 51 yards in five plays, capped by Tew-to-Morris from eight yards. In a bit of symmetry, a fumble thwarted STAB’s next possession after crossing midfield, which NSA senior defensive tackle Austin Hardee recovered. NSA scored in four plays, aided by defensive pass interference, as Pettaway ran it in from 28 yards.
“If you can run the football in high school, you’re going to put people in a bind,” Blake said. “And that’s what happened [in the second half]. We had to stick one more guy in the box, and they outrun you.”
STAB has relied on big special teams returns in their early-season wins, and junior Myles Ward came through on the ensuing kickoff. His 66-yarder pulled STAB back within 28-21 and re-ignited the Hawaiian-shirt clad student section. NSA’s answer came quickly, however, as Tew converted a third-and-9 by hitting Morris for a 64-yard touchdown.
“Once we were able to get the lead, they stacked the box so we could hit our guys deep,” Tew said. “I think we got more and more comfortable as the game went on.”
STAB had a chance to continue the shootout on its next drive that stretched into the fourth quarter. Aided by a couple of defensive penalties, the Saints had first-and-goal at the 6, but could not score. Emmert’s third and fourth down passes fell incomplete, and STAB still trailed 34-21 with 9:54 remaining. NSA then hammered a nail in the coffin with a nine-play, 96-yard drive, capped by Tew’s 36-yard toss to Smith, his fourth TD pass of the game. Blake gave Thomas Harry a series at quarterback, but that ended badly when Pettaway intercepted a pass thrown under heavy pressure and took it back 82 yards for NSA’s final touchdown. Gabe Decker capped the scoring with a nine-yard run for STAB.
“He’s electric, on both sides of the ball,” Biehl said of Pettaway, who in addition to the pick-six broke the century mark with 15 rushes for 103 yards and two touchdowns. “He’s 14 years old playing with 17- and 18-year old kids and he’s making it look like it’s a rec league game.”
For NSA, Tew completed 16-of-20 passes for 267 yards and four touchdowns. Zac Morris was his top target with 110 yards and two scores on six receptions. Knight pulled down seven for 76 yards.
Woods led St. Anne’s with 121 yards on 25 carries, both game-highs. Emmert added 68 on 16 rushes, and Decker finished with 40 yards on 12 attempts. Emmert completed 4-of-12 passes for 69 yards.
“We just need to get some rest, to be honest,” said Blake. “With our numbers, this will be good for us to get a couple days off and get healthy again.”
After the bye, STAB (3-2) jumps back into 8-man action when Hampton Roads Academy rolls into town on October 13.