This year’s meeting between Bassett and Magna Vista, for the first time in more than a decade, means much more to both sides than the traditional tussle for the Smith River Classic trophy.
The Bengals, who host this season’s matchup at 7 p.m. Friday, enter at 5-4 overall with a 3-2 mark in the Piedmont District and as the current trophy-holders in the storied rivalry. The Warriors come into the game at 7-2 overall and a 4-1 record in the district. With a win, Magna Vista secures the Piedmont District championship along with the No. 2 seed in Region 3D.
Friday’s contest marks the first time since 2008 that both teams enter the game with winning records. In that 10-year gap, Bassett had 10 losing seasons while Magna Vista had just one. Both teams having quality seasons in 2019 adds to the intrigue of the game.
“They’ve definitely gotten better. They’re a better football team this year than they were last year for sure,” Magna Vista head coach Joe Favero said of Bassett’s resurgence. “I think they’ve got a good group of seniors that play hard and have had some underclassmen step up and play well.”
Bassett head coach Brandon Johnson, in his third year, chalked up a lot of his team’s turnaround to the play of his offensive linemen: juniors Nate Hankins, Ricky Penn and Will Belongia and sophomores Gabe Divers and Malachi Hairston.
“Those five O-linemen have been great, and when you throw in a tight end who’s a sophomore, Ty Cline, that group right there has paved the way for our offense,” Johnson said. “They’ve made it easier to call plays when you have an O-line that you trust.”
The Bengals, currently ranked fifth in the Region 3D standings, are slated to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
“Those guys have been through three seasons with me,” Johnson said. “It’s a family now and they’re trusting in what we’re preaching. Just making the playoffs is pretty big.”
Magna Vista enters this week coming off a 28-14 win against George Washington-Danville that placed the Warriors atop the district.
Favero attributed much of his team’s success this year to strong quarterback play from junior Dryus Hairston and impressive performances from the team’s four senior linebackers—Trimon Holland, Dorian Green, Logan George and Tavion Gravely.
“Last week against GW, all four of them were very, very physical at the point of attack,” Favero said. “I thought they did a great job of reading their keys and understood where the defensive coaches wanted them. That’s what you hope to have out of a senior-led group.”
Although there is more at stake for both sides during this year’s meeting with Bassett, Favero has tried to maintain a sense of normalcy for his players.
“You’ve got to just go out and play well,” he said. “All the things you’re playing for, once the game starts, those things don’t matter and you’re just playing a football game.”
Still, with playoff positioning and Smith River Classic bragging rights on the line, Johnson—a coach at Magna Vista the last time the Warriors lost the trophy in 2012—expects a hyper-competitive game.
“I remember how those kids felt losing to Bassett. I remember the next year how hungry they were because they didn’t know what the trophy really meant because they had never lost it,” Johnson recalled. “I’m able to tell my guys, ‘Look, that’s a hungry team coming here Friday night. They want the two seed in the playoffs, they want to be Piedmont District champions. They want the Smith River Classic trophy back. We have to match that.’”
Parker Cotton is a sports reporter at the Martinsville Bulletin and Danville Register & Bee. You can reach him at (276) 638-8801 ext. 215. Follow @ByParkerCotton.