By Matthew Yoder
The Nandua Warriors relied on the legs and efforts of Joseph Teasley and Jaheim Bailey in sync with a well-thought-out and executed defensive plan to secure a 23-20 victory against the Arcadia Firebirds last Friday.
Under a full harvest moon, the Warriors made hay early, capitalizing on a fumble on Arcadia’s opening drive. Nandua stuck to its game plan early with quarterback Teasley effectively gaining yards on the ground, in addition to handing off to Bailey, who stretched the field all night. Teasley barreled forward five yards amidst a throng of tacklers for Nandua’s first score, giving the Warriors an early 7-0 lead.
Arcadia had a series of drives stall out in the first quarter with penalties, incomplete passes, and strong pursuit by Teasley and Larry Jones chasing Lethon Williams and the Firebirds into third and long situations.
Dezmon Jackson ran in a blocked punt for the Warriors second score of the quarter and the game was beginning to resemble a Friday the 13th horror story for the Firebirds and their stunned fans.
On the following drive, Arcadia failed to convert on good field position after Nandua was assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty for excessive celebration. Tevon Bunting opened the drive with a 12-yard run, but able tackling by Markay Collins sent Arcadia’s punt unit back to work.
The Warriors took over, but their momentum against a reeling Firebird team was interrupted on the very first play of the drive. Jaden Hope stripped the ball from Bailey and tiptoed the sideline to the endzone. The Firebirds failed on the extra point but, for the time being, diverted the course of the game.
The seesaw nature of the first half continued as Arcadia’s defense then continued its early-season trend of rising to the occasion, on this night in response to Nandua’s pressing ground game. Hope chased Teasley on the Warriors’ first possession of the second quarter, aiding a sack by Demonta Copes and William Scarborough. A failed option exchange on the next play was recovered by Keith Grinnage. The Firebirds ran the ball three consecutive times to cross midfield and a face mask penalty on the defense put them within the Warriors’ 25-yard line. Williams connected on a quick pass to Hope, who again used his speed to run 23 yards for a touchdown. A successful two-point conversion set the game level at 14 apiece.
Hope, who predominantly accounted for Arcadia’s first half scoring, didn’t seem overcome by Nandua’s fast start.
“It’s nothing we’ve never seen before,” he said. “Our defense is doing the job, and our offense has to push through and block a little more.”
Poor special teams play by Arcadia surrendered a safety, shifting the score to 16-14. The remainder of the first half was marked by failed attempts by Nandua to convert on offense and continued efforts by Grinnage, Scarborough, and Arcadia’s defense to keep them in the game.
Arcadia’s coach Alan Hall praised his defense headed into halftime for the second consecutive week, emphatically responding with “yes” when asked if this unit was keeping the game within reach for his team. Hall’s assistant, Dan Macca, urged his defense throughout, saying, “the team will lean on us until the offense catches up, that’s what family does.”
The attendance for this rivalry on the night was a robust 532, and opinions and predictions on the sidelines were equally large. Calvin Hagins was at a loss for words when trying to make sense of Arcadia’s first-half effort, but believed the passionate nature of this rivalry would carry them through the second half.
“I can’t figure this one out,” Hagins said. “We gotta take it away from them and play Arcadia football.”
On the Nandua side, Calvin Bailey, father of Jaheim Bailey, roared in spirited, colorful language and made his own predictions.
“We’re looking real good, they (Nandua) are gonna win this game,” said Bailey.
On the field, the game bogged down into a war of attrition in the third quarter. Penalties soared, the teams traded turnovers, scoring halted, and Arcadia lost a number of players to cramps and various injuries.
The Warriors’ scheme on defense challenged Williams physically all night. He was replaced by Collin Marshall at quarterback.
Nandua’s coach Thomas Rotkowski lamented previous losses where Williams shredded his defense and was determined to keep this from happening again.
“Lethon killed us for two years, we had to come up with a different plan,” Rotkowski said. “The kids executed from Monday at the plan.”
The plan was punishing for Williams. He fought through pain, lined up at receiver, and was still running the ball, but with each hit by Collins and Jones, Williams was knocked further from the game.
“He was beat and bruised,” Hall said.
Arcadia’s defense was left to keep the game at bay and stop Bailey. Bailey’s father continued to prognosticate.
“Put it in the paper: Daddy said he’s gonna break one,” said Bailey.
Almost immediately following, Bailey had a strong punt return, then broke one into Arcadia’s red zone. Teasley pushed the ball across the goal line on a quarterback keeper. The score was 23-14.
Bailey was undeniably a workhorse on the evening.
“He does not go down,” said Rotkowski. “He’s always level with his shoulder pads.”
The team’s traded unsuccessful drives and the clock raced against Arcadia’s favor. A pair of pass plays to Tiair Bibbins resulted in big yardage for the Firebirds and led them downfield to the Warriors’ goal line. Marshall pushed the pile for a touchdown with 41 seconds left to play. The score was 23-20.
Left only to the desperation of an onside kick, Arcadia failed to recover and the game was in the books.
Preparation was a common theme discussed by coaches following the game.
“We had ideas coming into this game that didn’t work out,” Hall said. “District rivalries are unlike any other game and it’s all about whoever is more prepared for the game.”
Rotkowski sensed early in the week that his team was facing a great effort on the road.
“It was a tough week at practice, the kids really got at it, they have heart,” Rotkowski said.
“It wasn’t a pretty game, but there is no such thing as an ugly win at Arcadia.”
Bailey, who ran hard and determined all night, summed up his evening smiling. “I feel pretty good, my line did excellent. We had some mental breakdowns, but we got it together.”
This week Nandua is home against Bennett. Arcadia travels to Snow Hill for a 6 p.m. matchup with the Eagles.