By HARRISON HAMLET
(BASSETT, Va.) – It’s that time of year. Trophies are on the line. Seasons are winding down. For Bassett and Magna Vista, that means football teams facing each other in the Smith River Classic.
On Friday night, in front of a near-sell-out crowd in Bassett, the Bengals and Warriors faced off and added to the legacy of the most intense local football rivalry with Bassett winning 16-12.
“A lot of emotions are running through my head right now,” Bassett head coach Brandon Johnson said on the field after the game. “We drive our own bus. We’re going to put our energy into us and not anybody else…We knew what kind of game this was going to be and I am so proud we pulled that win out with the grit and the energy we showed. It just means a lot.”
Magna Vista head coach Joe Favero summed it up best, saying simply “toughness matters.”
“It was a tough football game, a physical football game and toughness matters,” Favero said. “We talk about that all the time. It was a cold night and toughness matters and I thought they were just a little bit tougher than us tonight.”
After taking a 10-0 lead courtesy of a first-half field goal from Freddi Lopez and a juke-filled, third-quarter touchdown run from sophomore Simeon Walker-Muse, Bassett looked like they could control the clock and secure the Smith River Classic trophy for the second-straight season.
“I thought we played tight for more than a half. When we play loose, we play well,” Favero said. “When we play tight, we just don’t play very well. We have to find a way to play relaxed and play hard.”
Magna Vista’s hibernating offense emerged in the final minute of the third quarter. Junior quarterback Dryus Hairston found senior receiver Drew Santoemma for two consecutive touchdowns to give the Warriors a 12-10 lead.
That was a key moment in the game, according to Johnson.
“We went down right there and in the past, 12-10 against Magna Vista, that late in the game. heads would have dropped and the game would’ve been over,” Johnson said. “That never happened, never did they quit.”
Bassett took over, down two, and was forced to punt after just three downs.
Magna Vista took control of the ball with 6:10 to play and momentum on their side. Uncharacteristically, star Warrior running back Louis Taylor fumbled the ball near midfield, Bassett senior Dominic Gill came up with the ball, and the Bengals were in business late in the game.
“A lack of ability to make plays when we needed to tonight. Kind of opposite of the way we’ve been most of the year, but that was up to them (Bassett),” Favero said. “I thought they played great and we played OK. Some of that was them, some of that was us.”
Bassett freshman quarterback Jaricous Hairston then engineered the best drive of his young career, handing off to Kevon Smith and Walker-Muse five times to set up a 36-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Gill with 3:07 to play.
The Bengals defense stood strong over the final three minutes, forcing a turnover on downs and knocking down a Hail-Mary attempt on the final play of the game to secure the 16-12 win, and retain the Smith River Classic trophy.
“We had a freshman (Hairston) and a sophomore (Walker-Muse) that made huge plays. I tell them all the time that they are young in age, but in football games played they aren’t young anymore,” Johnson said. “I’m just super happy and emotional for my guys and the people who have been around this program the last three years…This game means a lot on both sides.”
Bassett’s win saw them finish the regular season with a 6-4 record and secure a Virginia High School League (VHSL) Class 3 playoff bid, their first trip to the playoffs since 2012.
The loss dropped Magna Vista to 7-3 for the regular season, but they had already mathematically secured a VHSL Class 3 playoff bid, as well.
Now, Henry County residents will be treated to the rarest of rivalry games: A playoff rivalry game.
Magna Vista, the third seed in Class 3 Region D, will host Bassett, the sixth seed in Class 3 Region D, on Friday night in ‘The Hole’ with a season on the line. The loser will hang up their helmets for eight months. The winner will go on to face the winner of Northside (7-3)-Abingdon (5-5) in the second round of the playoffs.
When asked if the Warriors would be looser in a rematch on their home field, Favero was unsure.
“I don’t know, I hope so, we’ll see,” Favero said. “It’s a great atmosphere. I’m glad we got to play in a big game. This is awesome for Henry County to have a great crowd to come out and see a good football game and a clean football game. The kids came out and handled the big game and the emotions very well.”
Johnson said some time with the Smith River Classic trophy was in order before preparations for the playoffs began on Monday.
“All this excitement is going to last until Monday. The playoffs is something we’ve never had a chance at. We’ve never played past game 10. Next week, records are erased, let’s go out and play football,” Johnson said. “We’re going to prepare for whoever is next, but we’re going to enjoy this first. It is nice to keep that (trophy) for another year.”
Bassett High School 16, Magna Vista High School 12
MVHS – 0 0 6 6 – 12
BHS – 3 0 7 6 – 16
3:57 – BHS – Freddi Lopez 24 field goal
8:51 – BHS – Simeon Walker-Muse 36 rush (Freddi Lopez PAT good)
0:49 – MVHS – Drew Santoemma 14 pass from Dryus Hairston (PAT fail)
7:55 – MVHS – Drew Santoemma 41 pass from Dryus Hairston (2 pt. conversion fail)
3:07 – BHS – Demetrius Gill 36 pass from Jaricous Hairston (2 pt. conversion fail)
MAGNA VISTA HIGH SCHOOL
Louis Taylor 18 for 69, 2 fumbles; Tyler Johnson 1 for -2; Dryus Hairston 6 for -17, 2 fumbles. TOTAL: 25 for 50, 4 fumbles.
Dryus Hairston 13-23 for 124, 2TD, INT.
Drew Santoemma 6 for 67, 2TD; Louis Taylor 2 for 32; Tyler Johnson 3 for 17; Isaac Ellison 1 for 5; Ty Grant 1 for 3.
BASSETT HIGH SCHOOL
Simeon Walker-Muse 11 for 60, TD, fumble; Kevon Smith 23 for 58; Jaricous Hairston 3 for 27; Ty Cline 2 for 9; Jalyn Turner 1 for 0. TOTAL: 40 for 154.
Jaricous Hairston 5-9 for 82, TD.
Demetrius Gill 2 for 39, TD; Simeon Walker-Muse 1 for 19; Kevon Smith 1 for 19; Jalyn Turner 1 for 5.