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September 17, 2011
Bayside Bounces Back: Only a couple weeks ago, the Bayside Marlins suffered as humbling a loss as a team could have. Ranked #1 in the state before the season, they fell fast in the rankings and did so with a thud, losing 31-6 to rival Salem. Football fans all across Tidewater began to chirp about their demise, handing the regional crown they won last year to other teams and crossing the Marlins off the list as potential contenders.
Needing a marquee win to erase any doubt and silence some of the critics, Bayside came through in the matinee of a double-header Friday night at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex, defeating the Ocean Lakes Dolphins 26-21 in front a packed crowd.
Crisp and efficient was the offense in piling up 287 total yards, effectively methodical at times, too. Defensively, the Marlins delivered some big hits and came up with three takeaways, including a pivotal strip-sack by Daquan Lee of quarterback Corwin Cutler in the closing minutes of the second quarter that led to a touchdown sneak by Marlins junior signal caller Deion Stitt to give his team a 19-7 lead.
"We came out the first week and I guess we let being ranked #1 in the state go to our heads. We just had to find the inner strength as a team, come out here and work, and that's what we're doing for the rest of the season," said Bayside senior WR/DB Anthony Cooper, a University of Virginia commit who finished with five receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown, plus recorded three tackles on defense.
"We know Ocean Lakes is going to come hard every year. They've got some good players, and tonight we were able to execute when we needed. We're not even all the way back yet. We've still got people roughed up and injured, so once we get all the way back, we should be back and rolling."
Cooper wasn't the lone ACC and soon-to-be UVA player on the field as he went up against future teammate Eli Harold, a wideout and defensive end for the Dolphins that did a little bit of everything in an effort that came up just short. Harold caught seven balls for 76 yards, ran four times for five yards out of the Wildcat formation, threw his first career touchdown on an eight-yard strike to A.J. Reynoso, and on defense had seven tackles, two for loss, a sack and a quarterback pressure.
Junior signal caller and Indian River transfer Corwin Cutler showed some poise, accuracy and a live arm in the pocket for the Dolphins, completing 18 of 32 passes and a touchdown to Reynoso. However, the Bayside defense came up with the timely takeaways, including an interception by freshman Devin Broadnax on a tipped ball in the back of the end zone by Quin Blanding, who picked off Cutler on the game's first pass.
Bayside Head Coach Darnell Moore wasn't one to allow some of the comments by outsiders to bring his football team down further. Instead, they faced the adversity head on, and appear to be making progress in their two wins since the blowout loss in the opener.
"I don't know the negative things. I'm sure some things have been said," remarked Moore. "I tell them at the beginning of the year when we start the season out that their friends are the ones who are going through the same things that they're going through. That's the guys on the football field, and their family, and the heck with everybody else."
Following a sophomore campaign where he rushed for 1475 yards and 20 touchdowns, Mizzell opened his junior year with 274 yards and four touchdowns in two games. Smoke went on to rush for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 32 carries against an Ocean Lakes defense that made him have to earn it, especially in the second half in this physical matchup.
"We knew we weren't going to be able to break off the long ones every time he touched the ball. It was going to be a grind-it-out thing, and it was going to be tough," Moore pointed out.
Mizzell gained 96 of his yards on 16 attempts during the first half of play. In the fourth quarter, Mizzell went out during a key series to heal an injury. Bayside faced a fourth-and-goal, trying to extend their lead to two possessions, when Coach Moore called for a time-out. That gave Smoke a little extra time to be able to get back on the field and punch in another touchdown.
"I just tried to stay in the game, get yard by yard, and knew it would eventually open up for me some time," said Mizzell. "I ended up twisting my ankle a little bit, and didn't want to show them I was hurt, but I'm good now and glad we were able to pull this one out. Just like last year, this was a real big game for us and a battle."
Cooper hauled in three passes on third down alone, two of which moved the chains.
"Those were huge," admitted Stitt. "Without those, we would've turned the ball over to them and you never know what they would've done with the ball, maybe scored and took the lead. Those third and fourth down plays were definitely huge, and you've got to have trust."
Compounding problems was an injury to starting sophomore center Raphael Shields, who got hurt in the first half of the loss to Salem. That made the entire o-line have to adjust, and the protection wasn't too sharp as Stitt got sacked upwards of 12 times through the season's first two games.
Taitano's play on the defensive line was felt greatly early in the game, and he went on to post eight tackles, two sacks and constantly pushed the pocket on an Ocean Lakes line that is more than serviceable blocking up front. His teammates were glad to see him back.
"He's a big part of this team and a captain coming in, so we missed him," Mizzell noted.
One of the questions that swirled throughout the off-season regarding Bayside how they would replace 2010 Gatorade State Player of the Year Demetrious Nicholson, who's now a starting cornerback as a true freshman for UVA. It wasn't as much how they'd replace his playmaking, but rather the leadership he provided. Big men in the trenches like Taitano and Michael Phillips, a senior who holds offers from Navy and Hampton University, are two of the players they have turned to in Nicholson's absence to now show the way in big games.
"We needed that. Leaders are supposed to lead. That's what they're supposed to do," said Moore. "They were already motivated for it, going up against Eli, who's an excellent ball-player, and they were really pumped."
The Bayside o-line featuring Phillips, Taitano, guards Jordan Rubama and Rhyheem Norfleet, and freshman Elijah Alford appears to have better chemistry and continuity, something that'll definitely help the Marlins offense light up the scoreboard as the season goes on.
"Elijah Alford, that's a 14-year-old freshman, and the other guys are growing in their confidence," commented Moore. "They're working really hard, and concentrating on things we're trying to get them to do, so they can't help but get better."
Headlining the Class of 2014 for Bayside is Blanding, a player that started as a freshman and was a significant factor in the game with six tackles, a pass breakup, interception and then a couple of catches on offense. His potential is limitless, Moore believes.
"We have to increase our depth a little bit more. I want to get Quin off the field some on offense. I really want to play him at split-end, but he's so valuable at tight end. If anybody's looking at film, when Eli was on his side he did a heck of a job blocking, and anybody else they put over there," said Moore. "He's such a good blocker that it's hard to take him out. We've devised some ways to get him the ball from the tight end spot."
Another key ingredient to the success was Broadnax, someone that got thrown into the fire game one as a ninth grader. Broadnax (5-foot-9) had the task of covering Harold (6-foot-3) much of the night, and for the most part, held his own against a prospect ranked in the Top 100 in the country.
"Like we tell him every week we're going to put him on the best receiver they've got, and he's got to be the man to step up and do his thing. They're going to come at him every week, and he's got to prove a point that he can check," noted Cooper.
"We had Tra (Nicholson) last year," said Stitt, "and his biggest motivator is just making a name for himself."
Ocean Lakes 21:
Matthew Hatfield has covered Eastern Region Football & Basketball since 2004 for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related info and updates. To contact Matthew, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and don't forget to listen to him on the VirginiaPreps.com Hour every Saturday at 11AM on ESPN Radio 94.1 and watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.