Against the state's most successful high school football program, Massaponax had plenty of chances to add an impressive chapter to its younger but also successful history.
But in the end of Saturday's Virginia AAA Division 5 semifinal game against Hampton, the eighth-ranked Panthers could not complete their gutsy comeback. Done in by three interceptions, a blocked punt recovered for a Hampton touchdown and a fumble with less than 30 seconds remaining, the visiting Panthers lost to the Crabbers, 21-16, before about 4,000 at Darling Stadium.
"We just made too many mistakes," Coach Eric Ludden said. "We threw interceptions, [gave up] a blocked punt. I don't think they ever really stopped us -- I thought our offense could run the ball."
Hampton (12-1) has won a state record 16 state championships, the last in 1998. Next Saturday at University of Richmond Stadium, the Crabbers will play for their 17th title against Stone Bridge, which beat Matoaca, 52-12, in the other semifinal.
Senior E.J. Wilson rushed for 145 yards for Massaponax (12-1), an eight-year-old school making its third playoff appearance in a row. Over that period, the Panthers have a 34-5 record and two Northwestern Region titles.
"We're definitely proud of that," quarterback Jay Kenney said. "We're trying to start our own little franchise, or whatever they call it here. . . . Massaponax is going to be good for years to come."
Trailing 21-9 at halftime, Massaponax dominated the second half defensively, limiting the Crabbers to minus-10 yards in the fourth quarter. But unable to pull off the big play on offense, Massaponax could not capitalize until Kenney scored on a five-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes 21 seconds left. Hampton fumbled the ball on the next play from scrimmage, giving Massaponax the ball with more than three minutes left.
But three plays later, a wide receiver reverse pass resulted in an interception. After three Hampton plays and three timeouts, the Panthers got the ball back at midfield with 1:26 left, but a fumble ended that drive a minute later.
Hampton led three minutes into the game when junior Jacobi Fenner scored on a 38-yard reception from junior quarterback Tyrod Taylor. But Massaponax quickly bounced back, as junior Spencer Bolen made a 28-yard field goal and sophomore Thaddeus Scruggs scored on a one-yard run for a 9-7 Panthers lead.
But the Crabbers scored two more times in the half. Taylor (182 passing yards, 65 rushing yards) scrambled out of trouble for an impressive 68-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, and then, late in the second quarter, the Crabbers' Fenner blocked a punt, and senior Sherron Childress returned it for a touchdown and a 21-9 halftime lead.