In early August, St. David’s School football found itself wondering how it could play an entire season understaffed.
With fewer players than they would have liked, the Warriors wouldn’t have a choice. In the days leading up to the regular-season opener, they were still focused on conditioning.
“I’ve got to play since freshman year, and we’ve dealt with a lot. We’ve been humbled a lot,” senior Braxton Montague said of the Warriors, who are astonishingly undefeated going into Saturday’s state championship game against Arendell Parrott Academy.
After the Warriors’ 64-24 N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 2A 8-man football playoff victory over Cary Christian on Friday, senior Melvin Briggs, who scored each of his four touchdowns in the first quarter, described how well their training has simulated the strength they’d need during games.
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The Warriors start at one sideline, run out to the nearest number, then back to that sideline. They then go past the number to the nearest hash and back. Then the far hash. They continue until the width of the field is covered.
These are known to St. David’s players as “gassers” and are only one conditioning tactic behind the physical and mental stamina the Warriors have used through an 11-0 season. The Warriors finished the regular season undefeated for the first time since 2006.
“Our goal was never to go undefeated,” St. David’s coach Daniel Evans said. “We just wanted to be where we are right now, whether we’re 5-5 and sneak into the playoffs or 10-0. We just wanted a chance to play in the state championship game.”
The Warriors will travel to Kinston to face last season’s runner-up Parrott Academy on Saturday at 6 p.m. Parrott’s only loss this season came at home against St. David’s.
Evans said though his Warriors handed the Patriots a 50-28 setback in September, Parrott has the privilege of numbers. It can platoon players, while most of the Warriors play both ways.
“Parrott’s a different animal. We will have to do better than we did tonight,” said Evans, juxtaposing the Patriots to his latest opponent. Though the high-scoring Warriors upheld their season-long trend, they gave up a few big plays to the 3-8 Knights. St. David’s has averaged 57.5 points a game this year.
The Warriors allowed touchdowns of 49 and 70 yards in the first half. St. David’s also gave up a 51-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter on the Knights’ first snap of the period.
With Cary Christian set up at the St. David’s 35 in its final possession of the game, Montague picked off the Knights to prevent another touchdown. He is the team’s leading receiver and one of many two-way players.
“We knew that we didn’t necessarily have a first team and second team that was incredibly strong, but we knew that our best eight could go up against anybody out there,” Montague said. “We knew it was going to be tough, we knew we had to be in good shape, but we felt confident.”
Evans said his seniors across the board have produced. Along with Montague, Briggs is the team’s leading rusher and David Pierce is the leading tackler.
The seniors, many having played since seventh-grade, lead in more ways than statistical categories.
“I think they are just leading really well in that effort of (good conditioning) and making sure the underclassmen are following suit,” Evans said. “Braxton Montague, David Pierce and J.B. Novak are our three captains, leaders on the field, off the field, leaders in practice and study hall. I’m proud of them.”
In 2011, St. David’s football finished with three wins on the year. The next season, they improved to four, then five after that.
Last season, the Warriors posted a 7-4 record and were eliminated from the playoffs by eventual champion Rocky Mount Academy, the team Parrott defeated last week to advance to the finals.
“We struggled the last two years, and now we’re finally here,” said Briggs, the conference’s co-offensive player of the year. “We have a team that doesn’t quit. We get tired, we want to stop but we have hearts of Warriors, as cliché as it sounds. We have hearts of Warriors and we don’t stop.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan