David Pierce sat his football helmet down at the 30-yard line. He kneeled, as the rest of his St. David’s School teammates joined him, the sounds of celebrations piercing each of them.
After the somber huddle grew to all 20 of the Warriors and their coaches, they turned their attention to midfield, where Arendell Parrott Academy prepared to collect its N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 2A championship plaque.
“I know it hurts,” St. David’s coach Daniel Evans told the Warriors after their 28-14 loss to Parrott on Saturday night. They entered the game undefeated after an improbable season, one in which they had to compete with fewer players than expected.
Parrott’s only loss on the year came against St. David’s to the tune of 50-28 on Sept. 4. This time around, the Patriots (11-1) made adjustments to win their first football championship since 1990.
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They studied the blocking behind the Warriors’ leading rusher Melvin Briggs. They used their personnel to strike early, declaring they had a “really big team” on their pregame banner.
And they used their desire, burning from their state championship loss to Rocky Mount Academy a year ago, to hold a team that had scored 57.5 points a game to two touchdowns – shutting the Warriors out completely in the second half.
“Some of their blocking, we felt like we could exploit. They were leaving some gaps there,” Parrott coach Matt Beaman said. “The key was, if he (Briggs) got down the field with that wall of blockers, we couldn’t stop him, but we were able to get to him before he got to the blockers.”
On Briggs’ first four touches, he tallied minus-4 yards. When he gained some traction in the second quarter, St. David’s (11-1) found the end zone.
The Warriors laid down gallant efforts in the second quarter, pressuring receivers on Parrott’s first possession and laying down sacks on the next.
Junior Blake Sanders, who finished his first year of football, was responsible for the first sack, followed by one from Kevin Godeaux. The Warriors recovered a fumble on the next play, leading to what would be their final touchdown of the night.
Starting quarterback Garrett Lewis connected with senior Braxton Montague on a 15-yard touchdown with 6:55 showing in the first half. That gave the Warriors a 14-8 lead, but Parrott tied it by halftime.
St. David’s, going into Saturday’s championship, had never trailed this season. It was forced to play from behind all night and lean on its passing game.
“Coach could tell that they kind of hemmed in the run a little bit, and I knew they were going to count on me,” said Montague, who finished with 77 yards on four catches. “There’s a couple of drops that are still probably going to haunt me. I did the best I could.”
Lewis finished with 126 yards on a 9-of-17 night.
On St. David’s final possession, the junior quarterback unloaded four quick passes to set up the group at the 10. With three Briggs touches, the Warriors were at the 5. But on a hit that knocked the all-state rusher back 2 yards, he had to come out for rest.
With Briggs on the bench, the Warriors had to come up with something without their best player.
“It’s almost like getting – oh gosh, no words can even describe that,” Briggs said of sitting out on the final play. “When they told me I had to come out, it hurt me so much.”
Briggs rushed for 59 yards on 18 carries. In the first meeting between the teams, St. David’s gained 486 yards of offense. It finished with 186 Saturday.
In the third quarter, Parrott completed 23 plays to the Warriors’ seven.
“I think we’re disappointed,” said Evans, the 2A coach of the year. “I feel bad for the seniors because of how we finished, but I also think given a little bit of time and the ability to reflect, they’ll be able to remember this was a pretty awesome season.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan