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Falcons fight hard but fall late, 14-8

On a bitterly cold, rainy night in late February, high school football made its long-awaited return to the Farmville area as Fuqua School’s varsity team hosted Halifax Academy.

After being held scoreless in the first half Friday, Feb. 26, the Falcons took an 8-6 lead early in the third quarter and maintained it until the final minute of the game when the Vikings were able to score and ultimately hold on for a 14-8 victory.

“The kids laid it out on the field,” Fuqua Head Coach Ben Manis said of his players.

The rain had a notable impact on the game, with both teams fumbling the ball multiple times, in some cases leading to turnovers.

“The biggest difference is the turnovers in the game,” Manis said, estimating his team had six or seven fumbles. “We lost four of them at least, maybe five, I can’t remember now. (The Vikings) had fumbles, but they recovered them. It’s hard to bounce back from a fumble.”

He gave credit to Halifax.

“That was a good team,” he said. “That team last (season) won the state championship in North Carolina, one of the highest-scoring teams in North Carolina last (season). We had our chances to take care of it, and we just didn’t.”

He highlighted how well the Fuqua defense performed overall, though, in the face of so many turnovers by the offense.

“Hats off to our defense for playing as well as they did,” Manis said. “We’ve just got to clean up some things on offense.”

Halifax was able to get on the scoreboard first via a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 5:55 remaining in the first quarter. A two-point conversion run failed, and the Vikings ended up taking a 6-0 lead into halftime.

Fuqua received the ball to start the second half. Falcons junior quarterback Nate Reed, who transferred from Prince Edward County High School, ran for a 29-yard touchdown during the short drive. Then he completed a pass to sophomore wide receiver Matthew Pembelton for a two-point conversion to give Fuqua an 8-6 lead with 9:57 left in the third quarter.

The Falcons’ best opportunity to build on that lead came near the end of the third quarter after their defense had forced the Vikings to punt. Sophomore wide receiver/quarterback Aaron Orange made a big return, advancing the ball to the Halifax 41-yard line.

Facing a fourth down later in the drive, Fuqua drew a pass interference penalty by the Vikings to reach their 30-yard line, but the Falcons were unable to turn the drive into points.

Reed was injured early in the fourth quarter and ended up leaving missing the remainder of the game. Manis said it was simply cramps, though, and he will be back for the Falcons’ next game.

Fuqua struggled on offense but was still holding on to its 8-6 lead when Halifax regained possession of the ball on the Falcons’ 34-yard line with 3:14 to play.

The Vikings faced strong resistance but were able to work their way to the 1-yard line with their run game. They scored on a 1-yard run and then on a two-point conversion run to make the score 14-8 with 39.4 seconds remaining.

The Falcons ended up receiving the ball at their own 49-yard line with 38.5 seconds left on the clock. Orange, who had taken over at quarterback for the injured Reed, kept Fuqua’s final drive alive with his legs, but he was not able to connect with any of his receivers on multiple pass attempts, and the Vikings held on for the win.

This game marked the Fuqua varsity squad’s first-ever 8-man football game. Halifax won the NCISAA Division II 8-man football championship in 2019.

Next, the Falcons (0-1) will play Saturday, March 6, when they visit Greenbrier Christian Academy. The game has a 2 p.m. kickoff time.