Oscar Smith vs. Massaponax (Photo: Joe Barnes/recruit757)
Oscar Smith and South County meet again
by Andy Hilton, recruit757
South County (9-0) at Oscar Smith (8-0), 2:00 p.m. Saturday
Online TV: NFHS Network (subscription required)
So we meet again.
The last time these two teams met was in the 2019 VHSL Class 6 state championship game at Hampton University. The game was an instant classic.
Gerry Pannoni was at the helm for South County last season, and he led the team to an undefeated season. It was the Stallions’ first Football state title win in school history. Pannoni subsequently left for a warmer clime and family time in New Mexico. He’s still a head football coach. Tynan Rolander has taken over the South County football program and they obviously haven’t missed a beat.
Oscar Smith head coach Chris Scott came into the program in 2019, and the intent was to continue the winning traditions established by Richard Morgan and maintained by Bill Dee and Scott Johnson. Coach Scott successfully carried the torch, taking the program back to the state championship game, where they hadn’t won it all since 2011. This year’s trip is the sixth out of the past eight seasons. The goal of winning it all hasn’t been achieved, yet.
In the 2019 title game, Oscar Smith struck first. South County answered quickly, scoring twice to take a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. Oscar Smith managed a second quarter score, but missed the PAT. The halftime score was 14-13 and that score held for the rest of the game.
Oscar Smith quarterback Ethan Vasko was in his first season as the starter for the Tigers, and the South County defense found a way to limit his contributions. Vasko was 14 of 32 for 160 yards, a touchdown and a pair of interceptions. That’s not the typical day for Vasko and he hasn’t seen an outing like that since.
“After a while, it was just defenses beating up on offenses,” Pannoni said at the time. “By far this was the most physical game we have had all year, but our defense came up in critical situations.”
Stallion quarterback Matt Dzierski was less productive than Vasko, completing 11 passes on 20 attempts for 84 yard, a touchdown, and a pick. No player for South County eclipsed the 100 yard mark, rushing, passing, or receiving. The Tigers won the yardage battle 302 to 156. They also committed fewer penalties. Smith forced 8 punts compared to their one. Turnovers created opportunities for South County as the Stallions won that battle 4 to 1.
At the end of the day, as in every other game, the scoreboard tally was what mattered most.
South County’s title defense
Except for playing under a new head coach, this season has been more of the same for South County.
The Stallions have outscored their opponents 376-133 and have only had three games where the game finished with their opponent within two scores of them. At the end of the regular season, they outdueled Lake Braddock 29-14. Two weeks ago, Robinson got a second chance at the Stallions and lost by a score of 34-27 after losing by 17 in an earlier contest. Last week, Madison pushed them to the brink, scoring to take a 22-21 lead with 3:40 remaining, only to have South County score a touchdown with 1:21 left to notch a 29-22 win.
So compared to Oscar Smith, South County will give up points and has played a few close games in the last few weeks.
Charlie Miska, who saw time at QB and running back on the 2019 state championship team, is under center after the graduation of Matt Dzierski (CNU). Star fullback Zion Dayne has moved on to college ball at Yale. Junior Wide receiver Brock Spalding will get a lot of touches, and he’s also reeling in a lot of scholarship offers. There’s been a lot of turnover in the roster, but the team has been quoted as attributing their success to “championship DNA”.
South County received clearance to bring the team down Friday and stay overnight in a hotel prior to Saturday’s game. Due to COVID, the team is limited to two people per hotel room, so Coach Rolander is bringing six coaches and fifty players down early, with the rest of the staff and players coming down on Saturday.
Oscar Smith’s determination
A hungry Tiger is a sight to behold.
Oscar Smith has been in sniffing distance of the state championship five times in the last decade with no state titles since 2011. This year’s squad is determined to break that streak.
“We just had a senior Tiger die. He wouldn’t want (this season) to finish no other way than to finish on his field. We have to finish and get his ring for him,” said senior defensive back and utility man Tae’ron Richardson after last Saturday’s win over Massaponax.
Claude Stafford (Class of 1967) was a long-time Tiger Football supporter who died just steps away from the Tigers’ Victory Bell just minutes before the Tigers’ playoff opener against Grassfield. His spirit lives on with this Tiger Football team.
On the field, the defense has been the story for Oscar Smith this season. That’s no slight to the Tiger offense. Oscar Smith gave up 14 points to Massaponax, more than the nine they had given up across the seven prior games. Junior defensive back Sherrod Covil leads the team on both sides of the ball. The aforementioned Ethan Vasko has come into his own as a quarterback. It’s easy to see how this should be Oscar Smith’s year to win it all.
Kickoff for the championship game is at 2:00 p.m. Saturday. Tickets were sold out as of Noon Friday. We’ll have video highlights and scoring updates from the game available as they happen at recruit757 on Twitter.
– Andy Hilton