By HARRISON HAMLET
(MARTINSVILLE, Va.) – When Bassett High School and Martinsville High School get together for a football game, the cliché ‘throw the records out the window’ applies in spades.
Coming into Friday’s contest in Martinsville, Bassett had the most to lose when it came to playoff resumes, as they look to secure their slot in the Virginia High School League Region 3D bracket.
Martinsville, on the other hand, had little to lose playing for their first win under first-year head coach Bobby Martin.
The first half saw Martinsville play free and aggressive as they turned turnovers into touchdowns and built a 27-12 lead at halftime.
However, Bassett showed their playoff mettle in the final 12 minutes, scoring three touchdowns and converting three two-point conversions in the fourth quarter to storm back and win the rivalry game, 36-27.
“We needed halftime,” Bassett head coach Brandon Johnson said. “We weren’t tackling well or playing aggressive, we weren’t doing any of the things we have been successful with this year, almost like the pressure was getting to us. We felt like going in we were the better team but in Martinsville-Bassett there are no records.”
For Martin and his Bulldogs, the first half was evidence of Martinsville’s continued improvement.
“We probably played the best we played all year in all phases – defense, offense and special teams – we played a really good half of football,” Martin said. “We’re not the same team we were when we started the season and Bassett is not bad at all, they’re a good team. We stood toe-to-toe with them when we had our chances.”
Early on, it was Martinsville’s defense, running back Jahil Martin, and quarterback Rashaun Dickerson who impressed. The Bulldogs were able to force multiple turnovers, with Jaylen Finney scoring immediately on one fumble recovery, and their offense was able to convert those turnovers into points, with Jahil Martin scoring twice and Dickerson finding Khalil Niblett for another touchdown.
“When you create turnovers, our offense was on the field more than our defense in the first half, “ Martin said. “That helps your defense at any level of the game, and it helps your offense too. If you can get the defense off the field on third down or cause turnovers, it just makes the game shorter and easier.”
“We couldn’t hold onto the football, we fumbled three times and gave up two onside kick recoveries,” Johnson said. “We were overly excited. Anytime you’re a county kid and play Martinsville, you want to perform well. They attacked our weaknesses and took advantage of our mistakes. We didn’t make stops on defense after the fumbles.”
After a scoreless third quarter, the Bengals erupted in the final frame to steal victory from the jaws of defeat.
Johnson said that getting back to the team’s identity of running the ball offensively was key at the end of the game. It showed in the statistics, with running backs Kevon Smith (198 yards, 3 touchdowns, 3 2-point conversions), Elijah Stokes (106 yards) and Simeon Walker-Muse (101 yards, one touchdown) all producing at a high level.
“Once we figured it out, we kept pounding the football,” Johnson said. “The sideline never got down. We stayed true to what we do. The kids are really starting to buy in to what we do. We got key stops and touchdowns when we needed them.”
“They made their mind up they were going to run it no matter what,” Martin said. “We lost a couple of guys to injury on our defensive line and it went down hill from there. Then we lost two running backs and we couldn’t get over the hump offensively. If we ever could have caused a second-half turnover it could have turned the tide.”
Of the key fourth quarter touchdowns, two came thanks to the legs of Smith, with quarterback Jaricous Hairston connecting with Keshaun Valentine for the third. Smith converted two-point conversion runs after all three, giving him 18 of the team’s 24 points in the quarter.
On a personal note, the game was special for Johnson, who said that Martin has long been a mentor to him and everyone in the Figsboro community.
“It was surreal to share the field with him,” Johnson said. “Growing up in Figsboro, you know Bobby Martin and he makes himself known to you. He’s been a role model in the community for a long time. He’s a strong figure for us because of the way he lives his life. Getting into coaching and now coaching against him was pretty surreal. Bobby is a huge reason for the success of a lot of people from that community. He is and will continue to be a role model for a lot of us.”
Now, the teams both look ahead to the end of the regular season, as they both play two games and have a bye week still on the slate.
For Martinsville (0-8), having a bye week at this point in the season couldn’t have come at a better time as they look to get healthy this week before taking on Tunstall (0-7) in their next game on November 1.
“Our guys played so hard,” Martin said. “We have nothing to hang our heads down about. But, health is the number one thing for us. This bye week is not about Xs and Os. We are pretty wounded. We’re just looking to get healed up and fix little things that we can correct, not just for the last two games but looking towards next year.”
Bassett (5-3) will now turn the page to face Piedmont District powerhouse G.W.-Danville (5-2) on Friday before they get a bye.
“I’m expecting a hard-nosed football game. They love to run the football and have one of the toughest kids in the state doing it,” Johnson said. We’ve got our work cut out for us especially on defense. But, are we overmatched? No. Every Friday, we go in expecting to win the game. This week is no different. G.W. is going to be our toughest test up to this point this year.”
Bassett High School 36, Martinsville High School 27
BHS – 0 12 0 24 – 36
MHS – 7 20 0 0 – 27