Ninety seconds remained when anticipation formed on Northview High’s sideline.
The celebration that ensued revealed how much the Chiefs’ gritty 13-10 victory against Vancleave (Miss.) Friday night meant to this team.
In defining performance by Northview’s defense, the Chiefs (1-3) made a late third-quarter touchdown hold into their first win of the season at Tommy Weaver Memorial Stadium.
“Huge, huge,” said Northview coach Sid Wheatley, repeating with emphasis. “It’s huge for the mindset of the kids right now. We needed that.
“We knew (Vancleave) had a big offensive line and they were going to come out and try and pound down our throats … and they did … and I thought our defense responded very well.
“Limited big plays, made stops when we needed to.”
This game against Vancleave (2-4), which started its season with a pair of wins, was part of Northview’s scramble to find opponents to fill a schedule.
The Chiefs play only two district games (Baker, Jay) and outside opposition among 1-A teams in the Panhandle region hasn’t been real eager to agree to play Northview.
Vancleave, located near Pascagoula, is a Class 4A team in Mississippi. The Bulldogs were looking for an opponent and put an ad on the classified section of the Mississippi high school site. Wheatley saw it in July and called to arrange the team making a 116 mile trek.
“We kinda stumbled on it,” he said. “We were sitting there with eight games and in a panic mode. Obviously our schedule was so loaded anyway and (Vancleave) was kind of desperate too to fill their schedule so it worked out.
“I’m from Mississippi, not the coast area, but I know some of the teams there and (Bulldogs) are a tough team. It was a dogfight.”
Northview’s first three games were against Crestview, Gulf Breeze and Chipley. It led to a winless start.
“And we’re not used to this,” Wheatley said. “It was big for our morale, first of all. Like I told them, hey, guys, I don’t think I’ve ever been 0-and-3 so this is new for me too … But we have to continue to work and fight and believe in ourselves.”
The first series of the game gave Northview reason to believe.
The Chiefs drove 61-yards on 10 plays, all through running plays until the final one. Quarterback Gavin Grant rolled out on a 4th-and-goal situation and found Luke Ward breaking open in the far corner of the end zone.
The good throw-and-catch gave the Chiefs a 6-0 lead midway through the quarter. Wheatley thought the Bulldogs formation on extra points offered an opening for a two-point conversion run.
But it failed and so Northview’s offense until the final minute of the third quarter. After Vancleave’s kicker Taylor Crabtree, last year’s Biloxi Sun-Herald Kicker of the Year, easily booted a 36-yard field goal, Northview answered in three plays.
Dezmine Moorer, who had not touched the ball previously, took a handoff, burst outside, then down the Vancleave sidelines for a 62 yard gain. Ward scored on the next play, an 18-yard run with 26 seconds left in the quarter.
“First of all, he needs more touches,” said Wheatley, laughing. “Dezmine is a small guy (5-7) but man he has strength and quickness and the lane was there and he exploded through it. Until then yards were hard to come by.”
In the fourth quarter, linebacker Jacob Weaver made an interception and returned to the Vancleave 35. Chiefs then ran out the clock.