The Oakton High football team remained unbeaten last week, but it was not easy as the Cougars had to hold off a fierce second half rally by Chantilly on way to a 17-15 win. The Concorde District meeting took place in front of a large crowd at Oakton.
The Cougars, in winning, improved their overall record to 6-0, surpassing last year’s win total when Oakton went 5-5. Chantilly, meanwhile, saw its record fall to 4-2. The Chargers’ only other previous loss had come to Westfield on Sept. 19.
Oakton appeared to be on its way to a relatively easy win after building a 17-0 halftime lead over Chantilly. A late 37-yard scoring pass strike from quarterback Ryan Harris to Trey Watts, in which the left-handed throwing senior QB rolled left before hitting the senior running back in stride at about the 17, resulted in six points and put the game’s momentum clearly in the Cougars’ favor. After Watts, who ran untouched into the left side of the end zone after making the catch, scored, kicker Ray Goins booted in the extra point conversion to make the score 17-0 with just 37 seconds remaining in the half.
<b>WITH THE HOME</b> team ahead by the same score at the intermission, it looked as if the Cougars were well on their way to a decisive win.
But it did not turn out that way as the Chargers fought their way back into the game in the second half.
"We figured that was something that could happen," said Oakton coach Mickey Thompson, on a second half charge by Chantilly. "They weren’t playing poorly and we knew they had the ability and resiliency to come back. One of the hardest things to do is close [a game]."
The second half comeback try by Chantilly started off slowly, the team’s first points of the game coming on a 30 yard field goal by Ryan Abott with six minutes, 32 seconds left in the third quarter. While it was a relief for the guests to have gotten onto the scoreboard, it was also a little disappointing for Chantilly to settle for just the three points after having gotten the ball inside the Oakton 10-yard line on the scoring drive.
But the Chargers were not done. A late third quarter interception by Brian Abatemarco gave Chantilly the ball at the Oakton 48. Nine plays later, Chantilly quarterback Roger Strittmatter connected on a 22-yard scoring pass to Aj Johnson in the left corner of the end zone. Johnson came up with the well thrown ball despite blanket coverage by the Oakton secondary. Following a failed fake kick extra point attempt, the Chargers trailed 17-9 with 8:59 left in the final quarter.
<b>CHANTILLY SCORED</b> another touchdown on its following possession. The drive started at the Chargers’ own 37. On the first play, Chantilly running pack Torrian Pace broke through for a 20-yard run off the left side. A 15-yard defensive penalty on the same play gave Chantilly a first down on the Oakton 28. Six plays later, Pace, on a crucial fourth-and-one from the five yard line, carried the ball left and into the end zone after breaking through an arm tackle. The touchdown pulled the Chargers within 17-15 with 2:59 remaining in regulation.
Naturally, Chantilly had to go for the two-point conversion following the score in hopes of tying the game and perhaps forcing overtime. But a five-yard penalty moved the ball from the three to the eight yard line for the conversion play. Chantilly tried to pass the ball, but the screen play to the right did not succeed and the Cougars still held the lead.
Chantilly got the ball again in the final minute, but could not get past midfield. Oakton, to the relief of its numerous fans, came away with the win.
The Chargers, going into the game, knew they would have a tough battle on their hands.
"They have a lot of returning starters and a lot of talent," said Pace, the Chantilly senior running back. "We just have to play as a team with discipline. If we play our game and believe in ourselves, we can win."
And the Chargers almost did just that. But in the end, the Cougars prevailed.
Thompson, the Oakton coach, said he has stressed playing fundamentally sound football all season long to his players. And overall, Oakton played a good game.
"Since day one, our goals have never been about wins and losses," said Thompson. "That’s the honest truth. W e’ve been focused since the end of last year to being a better football team. I’m real proud of the way we’re playing."
It was not an easy win, but Oakton was thrilled to still be unbeaten at 6-0.
"It was always an expectation to be where we are now," said senior QB Chris Coyer, who all season long has split time at the QB position during games with fellow team captain Ryan Harris. "Our preparation throughout last week was outstanding. Our coaches prepared us all week so well. Our offensive line was outstanding throughout the game."
Oakton will play at Centreville this Friday night in the annual Glory Days Bowl game. The Cougars are hardly content at this point of the season.
"We know we haven’t reached the top of our game and don’t plan to until we get 15 wins [and a state title]," said Coyer.
<b>Game Notes</b>: Oakton senior running back Jonathan Meadows carried the ball 20 times for 127 yards and a first quarter touchdown run. The Cougars outrushed Chantilly 200 yards to 118. …One of the game’s best defensive plays came late in the first quarter when Oakton lineman Bret Halleran hit Chantilly QB Strittmatter in the passing pocket. The jarring hit resulted in a fumble, which was recovered by linebacker Jack Tyler. As a result of the play, Oakton had the ball at the Chantilly 14 yard line and cashed in with a 23-yard field goal by Ray Goins moments later to give the Cougars a 10-0 lead.