Gerry Pannoni knew his Stallion defense faced a tall order in containing Yorktown running backs M.J. Stewart and Arturo Brown. Heading into Friday’s Northern Region Division 5 semifinal, the two combined for more than 2,000 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns on the season.
Yorktown’s talented duo proved too much for a young South County defense. Both backs combined for 395 yards and five touchdowns on the ground to lift the Patriots to a 48-28 victory over South County Friday night at Yorktown High School in Arlington. The loss ended South County’s season.
“We knew what they were about,” said Pannoni of Stewart and Brown. “They just beat us doing what they do. That’s the bottom line. They’re obviously two great backs, two great players. ”
South County’s (6-6, 5-2 District) defense entered Friday allowing just 12 points per game in its last five contests. But a pair of first-quarter rushing touchdowns by Stewart, and a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown, put the Stallions behind 21-0 in the opening quarter.
Six penalties and four turnovers did not help.
“We thought that we could do the things we wanted to do,” said Pannoni. “But we were shooting ourselves in the foot with the penalties and turnovers, and that kind of killed us.”
The Stallions defeated Yorktown 37-13 in the Northern Region finals last season, en route to a berth in the state championship game. The deflating loss left a sour taste in the mouths of Yorktown (12-0, 7-0 District) players.
“We lost to them last year. It was painful to look at the scoreboard and see 37-13. It hurt,” said Yorktown’s Stewart, who finished the evening with 243 yards rushing, 316 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. “We used that as motivation to come out this game and play harder, faster and more intense.”
South County fell behind early and struggled to gain ground. A pair of Stallion scores by Warner Hunter (1-yard run) and Oren Burks (14-yard pass from David Symmes) shaved Yorktown’s lead to 13. But a costly, fourth-quarter fumble in Yorktown territory gave the Patriots the ball with just under four minutes remaining in the game.
Two plays later, Stewart took a handoff up the middle, shot through the South County defensive line and dashed 78 yards for Yorktown’s final score. The touchdown ended any chance of a Stallion comeback.
“We really thought that we were going to have to throw the ball to beat them,” said Yorktown head coach Bruce Hanson. “Oren Burks is a good player and they have a tough defensive line. I don’t know what M.J. [Stewart] had for breakfast, but he was ready to play. He was unbelievable tonight.”
Despite the lopsided final score, South County’s offense gashed Yorktown for 492 total yards. Stallion quarterback David Symmes threw for 264 yards and rushed for a team-high 72. Gerald Hulett led the Stallions in receiving with 131 yards and a touchdown.
While South County fell short of playing in its second consecutive state championship game, its young players earned valuable playoff experience. Out of the 16 underclassmen who saw playing time as starters this season, 12 are sophomores.
“I told the team that they’re going to be back here and for them to learn from the experience,” said Panonni. “I told them to take what they need to away from this loss and come back even stronger next year. [The coaches] are going to work their tails off for these kids. With as young as we are, we’re going to see success in the future.”