An Instant Classic

Dissecting Battlefield Basketball’s stunning upset over Patriot


Over an hour after Battlefield High School’s stunning upset over the previously undefeated Patriot Pioneers in the VHSL Class 6 state semifinal, a small group of college-age friends remained in the now-empty gym, shooting a ball they had likely found during the mayhem that overtook the court after a game-winning Battlefield three-pointer and subsequent defensive stop sealed its trip to the state finals. The group seemed not to have a worry in the world at that moment, simply joking with each other and shooting into the same net the Bobcats and Pioneers had just fought over for 48 grueling minutes. The quiet scene was a stark contrast
from the thousand-plus screams filling Patriot’s gym just 60 minutes before, in a game that produced and already contained a multitude of storylines around the Haymarket and Nokesville communities. Just as this group of friends were most likely doing, the players, coaches, and spectators involved in the instant classic of a game will reminisce for years to come.


The context of the matchup is just as important as the aftermath. The March 7 meeting between the two archrivals was the FIFTH of the season, with ALL four of the previous matchups having been in Patriot’s favor. The first game of the series was the smallest margin of victory for the Pioneers, who, despite getting outrebounded and outshot, won 53-52. Game two, the only game to be hosted by the Bobcats, brought in an almost capacity crowd that would easily be surpassed in each successive bout. This time, Patriot tallied just one more rebound than their foes, also winning the shooting game to overcome a gritty yet somewhat overly tight performance by the Bobcats.

The next two matchups would only inflate Nokesville’s confidence even more, with wins of 19 and 13 points over Battlefield in the District and Regional Finals, respectively, in their home gym. Whatever they tried, the Bobcats seemed helpless and outmatched against Patriot’s full court defense and duo of playmakers in future All-MET honorees Nasir Coleman and Jay Randall. With a team mentality and approach, BHS would play hard throughout the game, only for white and red jerseys to fly by them, running up the scoreboard as “the Den” watched helplessly.

Nevertheless, Battlefield endured through each of those losses, keeping up with the undefeated Pioneers by losing only one other district game, along with one more inter-district game, to bring their regular season record to 15-4.

“When the season first started, I didn’t know how good we could actually be. We had a lot of information that we needed to put the guys in position to succeed. Between injuries and Covid we had a lot of adversity early on in the season that allowed us to learn about team [and] the mental toughness they have,” head Coach Randall Bills explains, referring to the Covid outbreak the team faced over winter break that pulled them out of a tournament. That mental toughness only got stronger with each win and propelled the team through its second place Cedar Run and then Region 6B finishes. Those finishes qualified them for the region and then state tournaments, giving them another chance each time to prove themselves as a potentially dangerous upset bid.


Over the course of each playoff tournament, the Bobcats seemed to be on a collision course with the school just a couple miles away. After defeating John Champe in the District Semifinal. After defeating Colonial Forge and Woodbridge (Sr.) in the Region Quarter- and Semifinal, respectively. Then, after defeating Manchester in the State Quarterfinal. With each of those wins convincing in Battlefield’s favor, they hinted that they might be able to finally break the threshold, defeating the Pioneers and exorcising the demons of the past losses. It was only a matter of time before the improbable happened.



Taking up a large portion of the sellout crowd on March 7 were the student sections of each school. Patriot’s fanbase, comprised of students, players’ families, and other local fans, became well-known as one of the best traveling crowds in the state. The fandom, fueled by a zero in the loss column at home and on the road, was constantly overtaking opposing gyms and cheering their team on as they picked their adversaries apart. This time, however, they did not have to travel, filling the home bleachers (and even some of the visitor side) with red and blue. Matching the black away jerseys their team was wearing, the Battlefield bleachers were
filled with sable shirts, punctuated by the ‘blacked out’ Den screaming their lungs out when Patriot attempted free throws and going silent, their arms high in the air when their team was at the line. Of course, those actions were mirrored by the home fans, just as energetic and twice as confident. The two student sections exchanged cheers and chants, most of them directed at their rival, each of them a representation of the dissension between two schools separated by just 10 minutes.

To the players on the court, they were distractions, unable to avoid, but/yet offering a reminder of what this game meant to two communities:

To Hasan Hammad, it meant responding to the “Problem Child” jeers from the Patriot side that mocked a social media post from earlier in the season. As ‘Has’ stood at the free throw line, the Pioneers’ student section ridiculed his harmless caption made a month before the meeting, just to watch Hammad drain both free throws and, on his next trip to the line, hear the Den use the same “Problem Child” chant in support of their player as the team drew closer to the shrinking Patriot lead.

To Ty Gordon, who had just received an offer to play football for Old Dominion University and had swept the Pioneers during Battlefield’s state semifinal run in the fall, it meant proving his vigor at his second sport after hearing “Stick to Football” chants throughout the season, not just at this state semifinal basketball game. He would double his points average to reach 7, adding 6 rebounds (5 of those offensive) while providing stability on the defensive end as the Bobcats attempted to stall Patriot’s high-powered offense.

To Kyle Zambrana, it meant answering the distasteful chants made towards his sister, a sophomore on the cheerleading squad, while he was shooting a free throw. In his only score of the game, he would ignite a Battlefield run early in the second half by hitting a three on the wing directly in front of the Patriot bench, quickly shooting an imaginary arrow towards the silent Patriot student section behind the bench as he skipped back to his defensive position.

To Bryce Hammersley, it meant assuring the “Hammer Time” chants coming from his own friends and supporters in the Den, as he fought his way through the grueling game and ended up in the corner in front of his teammates, catching Hammad’s pass and letting loose a perfectly shot three pointer that would alter the emotional makeup of two communities…

Players lucky enough to avoid being the subject of the crowd were uninterrupted as they contributed their specific skills to the team. Maddux Tennant, aptly nicknamed the “Headband Bandit” for his signature headband, went 2 for 5 from three, contributing to his 38% three-point percentage on the season. Chase Nelson, usually a three-point shooter interchangeable with Tennant, scored all of his team-leading 12 points either inside the arc or at the free throw line.

Ryan Derderian, the team’s ever-consistent big man, added 8 points and 5 rebounds. Cameron Lee, whose elusiveness gave him an increased number of minutes in this game to counteract Patriot’s defense, helped the Bobcats through two separate runs, while Jonathan Warren, whose trademark aggressiveness got him into foul trouble early, dished out a personal-best 5 assists to go with 5 rebounds. Battlefield, like it had for all but 4 of their games, outrebounded their opponents, and it would tally more assists than their foes, reaching twice as many before Hasan Hammad, looking up to the waning clock as black and white blurs raced around him, would drive towards the basket and see one lone black jersey in the corner, tossing the ball to number 24 without hesitation…

“Right when [the ball] left my hands I knew it was going in,” Hammersley would diffidently say in an interview the next day. The rest of the overflowing gym did not. The building went quiet as it watched his shot slowly fall towards the net, and for half a second, there was no sound. The next moment was filled with the roar of the visitors, enthralled by the notion that it could finally happen, that they could beat the Pioneers, that mighty Patriot could fall, that a state championship just got one step closer. Nasir Coleman immediately got the inbound and dashed up the court, determined to fix the narrative, and Battlefield fans suddenly realized that the game wasn’t over, that Patriot was still Patriot, that this had happened before, with Coleman hitting a stunning shot at the first-half buzzer earlier that night. As if by fate, Bryce was the one to follow Nasir down the court and past the free throw line until he leaped into the air, the ball leaving his hands not towards the basket, but straight up and back down into Hammersley’s hands.


All 10 players on the court immediately looked to the clock, seeing 54 for the Pioneers and 55 for the Visitors, and as the buzzer was heard, one side of the gym erupted, the other frozen in shock. Battlefield’s players collided at half court with their bench, immediately engulfed by the swarm of students charging the floor, having blown by the handful of administrators tasked with holding them back. “Seeing all my teammates and friends [flood] the center of the court was just a rush,” junior shooting guard Carter Cramp said as he described the moments right after the game ended. “I could not stop smiling.” Hammad, who jumped into Tennant’s arms as the buzzer sounded, believes that “it was as if Battlefield had sucked all [the] energy out of Patriot and their fans.” In the pile, Tennant was seen embracing football coach and teacher Greg Hatfield, who he had promised in his homeroom class at school that they would reach this moment. Gordon was seen waving to the Patriot student section, and other players and students followed suit, finally being able to counter the jeers they had faced for an entire season.

Those Patriot players, unable to take their hands off their heads in the midst of their disbelief, stood still, watching the celebration. A few were visibly frustrated; a video of the final moments showed Courtney Davis tearing his jersey as the background molded into a black mob of smiling faces. The red bleachers also showed little movement, wondering how their undefeated season had suddenly come to an end, while on the opposite side black shirts were alive with excitement and cheers and claps.

It took several minutes to move the mass of ecstatic teenagers off the court. “The unpredictability of the crowd had me worried for our guys and I wanted to get them out of there as quickly as possible. Our coaching staff can be seen running around frantically trying to round up the guys,” Coach Bills noted. “Emotions were high as they have ever been” as the teams briskly walked through postgame handshakes. Zambrana, still not done with the Patriot fans that had heckled him, his sister, and his teammates, was shoved from behind as he chirped towards the bleachers. He quickly got out of the confrontation with an upset Patriot supporter, and several officers had to remove the student as tensions grew among the small group still at center court, even involving parents of the archrivals’ players.

Coach Bills was seen taking a moment to hug family members, friends, and anyone else who wanted to congratulate him, including Battlefield’s trainer, Christy Nelson, as well as athletic director Jason Koch. His players celebrated in the classroom-turned locker room, and he entered into a shower of water, hands high in the air as his team, which at the start of the season, as Tennant remembers, was predicted to miss the region tournament, celebrated with not a worry in the world.

After the celebration had concluded, Battlefield would go on to lose to the undefeated Hayfield Hawks in the state final, despite another spirited team effort from the Bobcats, their coaching staff, and supporters, who travelled well and tried to combat the overwhelming Hawk faithful. However, the final game of a season does not reflect a season of game’s worth. That could be
said for both Patriot and Battlefield: for the Pioneers, a season cut short by one game does not reflect the remarkable season they forged. And for the Bobcats, a loss against an unnecessarily superior team does not condescend the feeling they experienced after the classic matchup between the two schools, and the towns they represent, that will now be the standard for the rivalry’s meaning to the area.

Bills sums up the emotion by proclaiming: “Picture yourself walking downstairs Christmas morning… looking around for that one present that you have been asking for all year long… and there it is.”