Days before the Massaponax High School football team took the field for its opener in a pandemic shortened six-game regular season, head coach Eric Ludden discussed the hardships his squad and others have faced in the past year.
“We talked about the disappointment of no spring ball,” Ludden said. “Then we couldn’t work out in the summer. And then the fall season was canceled. It was one thing after another.”
Ludden said his coaching staff may have lost motivation and perhaps perspective, more so than his players.
The Panthers stayed focused on the season which finally kicked off Monday night with a Commonwealth District matchup at Stafford. Massaponax’s starters were crisp as the Panthers scored on their first five possessions en route to a dominant 62–27 victory over the Indians.
“They’re just very resilient,” Ludden said of his players. “These guys have been coming in doing doubles, going 6 in the morning because of the weather and everything. It just seems like nothing bothers them. I’m just really, really proud of them and the way they’ve worked.”
The Panthers (1–0, 1–0 Commonwealth) put that work ethic on display Monday night.
The defense held the Indians (0–1, 0–1) to four first downs, 61 total yards and forced three turnovers, including interceptions by defensive backs Luke Morley and AJ Miller.
Morley is headed to the Naval Academy to play quarterback, but he didn’t have to show off his quick feet that allowed him to rush for 1,388 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2019. He was held to no rushing yards on three carries, but went 7 for 8 through the air for 138 yards and a 25-yard touchdown pass to Miller to cap a 35–0 first-quarter onslaught.
Earlier in the quarter, the Panthers scored on two Jacob Romero touchdown runs as well as runs by Elijah Christopher and Ty-Shaun Colbert.
Massaponax amassed 301 rushing yards on 52 carries.
“Our offensive line was beautiful tonight,” Massaponax senior Mike Swain said. “Everything was opening up. The receivers were blocking. Everything was on point.”
Swain recorded two catches for 41 yards and his 3-yard touchdown run in the second quarter gave the Panthers a 42-0 lead. Ludden removed his starters late in the second quarter.
In the second half, sophomore backup quarterback Donte Hawthorne scored on three touchdown runs.
“Being able to learn from somebody like Luke is an honor,” Hawthorne said. “He’s such a great athlete and he’s taught me a lot … I’m just grateful to be out here.”
The Panthers had two mishaps on lost fumbles in the third quarter that led to 13 Stafford points in a seven-second span.
Stafford’s first points came on Kiori Edwards’ 85-yard kickoff return to trim its deficit to 49-7. The Indians then added a 13-yard scoring pass from sophomore Aidan McConnell to freshman Austin Meisner after a Massaponax fumble. That was followed by Elyjah Lewis’ 7-yard touchdown return of another Panthers’ fumble on the ensuing kickoff.
“I think it’ll be a good learning experience for some of the younger guys,” Ludden said of his backups’ miscues.
Stafford outscored Massaponax 27-20 in the second half. Indians’ backup quarterback Colten Dunmire tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Andrew Koetter with 5:30 to go in the game and Hawthorne closed out the scoring with a 14-yard touchdown run.
Stafford has a bye before returning to action March 5 at home against North Stafford. Massaponax hosts Brooke Point Saturday at noon.
Ma—Elijah Christopher 8 run (Jack Hudson kick).
Ma—Jacob Romero 11 run (Hudson kick).
Ma—Romero 1 run (Hudson kick).
Ma—Ty-Shaun Colbert 6 run (Hudson kick).
Ma—A.J. Miller 25 pass from Luke Morley (Carson Pugh kick).
Ma—Mike Swain 3 run (Pugh kick).
Ma—Donte Hawthorne 1 run (Hudson kick).
St—Kiori Edwards 85 kickoff return (Blake Childress kick).
St—Austin Meisner 13 pass from Aidan McConnell (kick failed).
St—Elyjah Lewis 7 fumble return (Childress kick).
Ma—Hawthorne 6 run (kick failed).
St—Andrew Koetter 25 pass from Colten Dunmire (Childress kick).
Ma—Hawthorne 14 run (Pugh kick).
RUSHING: Massaponax—Ty-Shaun Colbert 13-68, TD; Donte Hawthorne 9-61, 3 TDs; Jacob Romero 3-46, 2 TDs; William Wiggins 5-41; Tyheem Kimble 7-35; Mike Swain 2-20, TD; Elijah Christopher 3-18, TD; Lydell Carroll 2-8; Javaney Bruno 1-4; D’Juan Brady 4-0; Luke Morley 3-0. Stafford—Colten Dunmire 2-21; Kiori Edwards 7-18; Edwin Searcy 3-6; Aidan McConnell 5-(-27).
PASSING: Morley 7-8-0, 138 yards, TD; Hawthorne 0-1-0. Stafford—Dunmire 2-3-0, 32 yards, TD; McConnell 6-14-2, 11 yards, TD.
RECEIVING: Massaponax—Swain 2-41; Nathaniel Quance 1-35; AJ Miller 1-25, TD; Bruno 1-17; Izaiah Dowell 1-13; Romero 1-7. Stafford—Andrew Koetter 3-34, TD; Austin Meisner 3-25; Edwards 2-(-16).
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