The Langley High football team had high hopes of being a playoff team this past fall season after beginning the season 3-1. But the Saxons went 2-4 over the following six games to finish at an unfulfilling 5-5 and missing the eight-team Northern Region Div. 6 playoffs.
Injuries were certainly a factor in Langley’s struggles over the second half of the season, according to head coach John Howerton. And a relentless schedule did not help either. Three of the Saxons’ losses – at Chantilly, 21-14, in the season opener, at Oakton, 42-3, on Sept. 26, and at Liberty District rival Stone Bridge, 38-0, on Oct. 10 – came against teams that will be playing in region title games this weekend. Defending state AAA champion Stone Bridge (12-0) will play Edison (12-0) in the Div. 5 region title game on Friday night, and Oakton (12-0) and Chantilly (9-3) will hook up for the Div. 6 region championship on Saturday afternoon.
Other losses to winning teams who went on to make the region playoffs were against district opponents Madison, 18-14, at home on Oct. 3, and at W.T. Woodson, 28-14, on Oct. 24.
One of the Saxons’ best wins of the season came over Herndon, 10-7, at home on Sept. 12. The Hornets, which later in the season upset perennial region power Westfield, went on to qualify for the Div. 6 playoffs for the first time since 2003.
"I think if you go by strength of schedule, we’re right up there near the top," said Howerton, who is now Langley’s longest running football coach in school history following six seasons at the helm of the program.
Unlike Div. 5 schools (smaller enrollment schools in the Northern Region) where teams have at times snuck into the postseason with .500 or less records since the playoff field expanded to eight teams last year, teams in Div. 6 (larger schools) are not as fortunate. Last year, Langley finished with a winning record at 6-4, but barely missed out on the eighth and final Div. 6 playoff bid. This season, at 5-5, the Saxons were at least one win away from qualifying.
Langley, which has the second smallest enrollment among Div. 6 schools, is annually fighting for playoff spots against schools larger than itself. Howerton said Langley football has never had a huge roster size, and therefore has never had outstanding team depth. A few key injuries can severely hinder the team’s playoff hopes.
<b>SUCH INJURIES</b> this past season occurred when senior quarterback Danny Pritchett, the team’s third year varsity starter, was lost for four games over the middle of the season, and when talented junior linebacker Austin Pritchett suffered a season-ending injury three games into the season.
"I didn’t think our season was bad considering some things that happened [injury-wise] over the course of the season," said Howerton. "Injuries hurt us. Our two best players missed either half the season or most of the season."
Pritchett, in charge of the balanced Langley offense, threw for over 1,200 yards, despite missing the four games. Howerton said Pritchett, upon his return to the line-up for the final three weeks, never quite regained his earlier season form as a result of still not being at full strength.
"Danny was a kid we’ve been grooming for three years," said Howerton, who before the season believed Pritchett was ready to have a breakout season, which he did, as the team’s starter. "I thought he did very well. Before he was hurt he gave us someone who could throw tremendously. We threw for more yards than ever before."
Langley also ran the ball well, giving the Saxons a solid, balanced attack on offense. The team’s leading rusher was senior David Helmer, who rushed for 1,075 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was one of two running backs in the Liberty District to gain more than 1,000 yards this season, the other back being Stone Bridge’s Daniel Allen.
"It’s not easy getting 1,000 yards. He’s not what you’d call a superstar running back," said Howerton, of the 5-foot-9 inch, 170-pound Helmer. "He doesn’t possess a lot of speed and he’s not big. But he hits the hole hard and fights for extra yards and has quick feet. He’d consistently get you five to 10 yards."
The Langley skill position players certainly benefited from the outstanding offensive line play, which included All-District linemen Scott Jones at center, Garrett Moore at guard and Chris Sievers at tightend. All three Saxon players had stellar senior seasons.
Jones, along with playing center and being the team’s special teams’ long snapper, also played at a high level on the defensive side of the field at an end position. There, he led Langley in tackles.
"The kid had a fantastic year," said Howerton, of the 6-5, 240-pound Jones. "He’s a tall kid and he can run."
Sievers was a solid blocker and a receiving threat at tightend.
"I think the kid could be a good fullback or h-back (moving tightend) for somebody [in college]," said Howerton, of the 6-1, 215-pound Sievers. "We liked him at tightend. He gave us good blocking."
A lot of key players will be lost to graduation, but Howerton is confident about the future of the program.
"Our kids are good and tough and they work hard," said Howerton, the former West Potomac High coach before coming to Langley. "I want us to be competitive with anyone we play. I’d like to be able to get to the playoffs next year."