Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Northside creates a classic

BLACKSBURG -- For the Northside Vikings, a whole year's worth of work had come down to this: One snap, one hold, one kick. And they needed to find a way to stop it.

They placed their hands onto the frozen turf for the final time this season, their breath puffing in the afternoon chill. Cameron Carter, the big man in the middle, said a little prayer. Please, Lord, let somebody get a hand on this.

Beside him, Marque Johnson dug in for one last surge.

Together, they represented roughly 650 pounds of hope.

Behind those two, sophomore linebacker Adam Hardister remembered what he'd seen earlier. There will be a hole there, he thought. Be ready to shoot through. This is your chance.

On the sidelines, Northside linebacker Matt Sandoval supported his gimpy knee by resting his arm on his best friend's shoulder. Sandoval had been a monster the first half, keeping the Vikings in the game with tackle after tackle. But now he was injured and helpless, watching Bruton try to tie the score with a last-second field goal.

"Please don't let this be on me," he thought.

The ball was snapped. The ball was placed.

"I came through the line," Carter said. "And I saw like seven white jerseys just come past me, like a big white cloud.

State championship: Northside beats Bruton, 20-17

Video by Chris Zaluski | The Roanoke Times

State football championship coverage

Group AA Division 3: Northside 20, Bruton 17

Group A Division 2: Essex 30, Radford 0

From the Press Box


"It was just...Whooooosh!"




For Northside, there could not have been a more appropriate way to end this 20-17 victory over Bruton in Saturday's VHSL Group AA Division 3 title game. In blocking Ben Arbino's 26-yard field goal on the final play of the game, the Vikings seemed to plow through the line all at once.

Like a big white cloud.

Like a team.

It was hard to tell immediately who had blocked it. Nobody cared. Some of the players swan-dived onto the turf, celebrating the program's first state championship. Others jumped and shouted toward the large Roanoke County contingent that had made the trip to Lane Stadium. They'd cheered this team the whole time, after all, even when the Vikings had trailed 17-7 in the second half.

And others? Well...

"Basically, my knees just collapsed," senior linebacker Nick Sigmon said. "I just laid there. I'm able to admit I was crying. It was just a great feeling."

All football games should be this good. From the terrific power running of Bruton's Lorenzo Taliaferro to the resilience of both quarterbacks to the cavalcade of huge -- and often bizarre -- plays in the fourth quarter, this qualified as a classic.

"That was a game where both sides gave everything they had for 48 minutes," Northside coach Burt Torrence said. "That game did not end until the last second fell off the clock. That's what this is all about, isn't it?"

Yes. It is. And in the Northside locker room afterwards, as players hugged and cheered and listened to speech after speech, what they'd done began to set in.

"All the hard work in the offseason," Sandoval said, leaning on crutches. "All the stuff in August, all the weightlifting, all the 7-on-7s, this is where that got us. We're reaping the benefits."

"We knew we were doing this," quarterback Ryan Keith said. "At the beginning of the season, Coach Torrence had us fill out a sheet with our team goals. Not one person on the team didn't have 'state championship' on it."

Two years removed from a 2-8 season, Northside pulled this off by getting just enough from all three phases of the game.

Philip Scott, the senior running back who didn't play last season, found the end zone in the third quarter to help bring the Vikings back. Keith threw the perfect pass at the perfect time, a 64-yard strike to Dustin Phelps that put the Vikings ahead to stay.

Sigmon, Sandoval and Ryan Moran all posted double-digits in tackles to lead the defense.

And then, of course, there was the special-teams play at the end that saved the season.

The record will show Hardister was the one who got the hand up to block it. The same Hardister who'd filed away that information earlier in the game and knew the hole would be there. He dove headlong toward the ball and got his left hand on it. As he did, his right arm skidded across the frozen ground.

In the locker room afterwards, he held up that right arm. Blood gushed from a 7-inch gash.

"I've got the scar to prove it," he said, smiling.

And the trophy, too.

One that will be passed around the big white cloud all winter long.

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