Local fans were treated to an early season high school football treat when cross-town rivals Herndon and South Lakes met for the annual Baron Cameron Bowl last Friday night in Reston. Both teams, in an exciting scoring bonanza, played their hearts out from the opening kickoff – in which South Lakes’ Darius Smith stunned the buzzing crowd with a 94-yard touchdown return – on until the final whistle. In the end, visiting Herndon, which has dominated the rivalry over recent years, went on to a 29-25 win.
“We’ve had our names on the trophy for so many years,” said Herndon senior Austin Moore, of the sparkling piece of hardware presented to the game’s winning team. “As seniors, we had to uphold the high standards of [past Herndon teams] in this game. That’s what motivated us.”
Following the end of the game, both teams gathered at midfield for postgame ceremonies where South Lakes Principal Bruce Butler and both teams’ head coaches addressed the players.
“I want to congratulate Herndon and South Lakes for an outstanding high school football game,” said Butler. “This is the best rival [game] for both schools and exciting. You always conduct yourselves with class.”
Herndon coach Joe Sheaffer, whose team improved to 3-0 with the victory, encouraged the South Lakes team during his postgame words.
“You guys did a great job tonight and worked hard,” Sheaffer told the Seahawks. “It’s hard to lose a game like this.”
And South Lakes coach John Ellenberger, whose team slipped to 2-1 with the loss, wished Herndon the best.
“Good luck in the Concorde [District],” said Ellenberger to the Hornet players. “I hope you guys win it.”
Later, during an interview, Ellenberger, whose team has already matched last year’s win total of two wins, said his Seahawks played one of its best games ever in the rivalry.
“The last time we beat them was 2002,” said Ellenberger, who was a South Lakes assistant coach before becoming head coach of the program a few years ago. “I’ve been [at South Lakes] since 1996 and been through a lot of Herndon games. Other than 2002, I think this is the best we’ve played them.”
<b>SOUTH LAKES</b> scored both the game’s first and final touchdowns. But in between, Herndon got the better of the action. The Seahawks’ lone lead of the night came following Smith’s stunning touchdown on the game’s opening kickoff. The junior initially misplayed the ball, which bounced away from him before he ran it down. Upon fielding it at the six-yard line, Smith started running left but found little room to maneuver. So he cut across the field into open space. He was soon coasting down the right sideline before ultimately going back towards the middle of the field and into the end zone. The only downer for the Seahawks on the touchdown was that they could not convert the extra point.
Even so, they led 6-0 and had early momentum.
Later, Herndon capped a 55-yard drive with a brilliant, 20-yard scoring run from quarterback Zack Ozycz, who had originally dropped back to pass before South Lakes pressure forced him out of the pocket. On the play, he was flushed right, but then cut back and began running towards the left. He indicated to a teammate he needed a block with an arm wave, than bolted towards the end zone. He dove towards the left hash mark and landed in the end zone with 5 minutes, 13 seconds left in the opening quarter.
It was the first of three opening half touchdowns by Herndon, which later got second quarter scoring runs from running backs Sam Groter and Randoll Anane. In between those scores, South Lakes running back Ja’Juan Jones found the end zone from four yards out. By halftime, the guest Hornets held a 21-12 lead.
The Seahawks’ Smith gave his team a huge lift early in the second half when, from his defensive back position, he intercepted a long pass down the left sideline. He then returned the ball 30 yards to set his team’s offense up at its own 38. Eight plays later, Smith came up big again when, from his running back position on offense, he capped a 62-yard South Lakes scoring drive with a 10-yard touchdown run off the right side. Erich Belt knocked in the point-after kick and the Seahawks were within 21-19.
But moments later, Herndon punter Alex Stopa made one of the biggest plays of the night when, on a fourth-and-seven from his team’s 40, he booted a booming punt that took a nice bounce and ultimately went out of bounds at the one-yard line.
Two plays later, South Lakes quarterback Shawn Rana, with his team still pinned back at the one, was sacked by Herndon’s Moore for a two-point safety, making the score 23-19 Herndon.
On top of that, South Lakes, according to rules following a safety, had to punt the ball to the Hornets. As a result, the Hornets began their next possession at midfield. Nine plays later, Herndon, on the second play of the fourth quarter, found the end zone on a three-yard run by Moore. One play earlier, Herndon running back Devon Thompson had set up the touchdown with a 15-yard run to the three.
Herndon, following Moore’s TD run, failed on a two-point conversion try but led 29-19. But South Lakes, less than three minutes later, got within 29-25 as a result of a 25-yard touchdown run by running back Bobby Lewis, who appeared to be stopped at the line of scrimmage before breaking free down the left side of the field and barely getting inside the left hash and into the end zone with just over 10 minutes left.
Neither team would score again, although the Seahawks did threaten in the final minute when they moved the ball from their own 36 to the Herndon 34 yard line. But there, on a first down play with 18 seconds left, Herndon’s Moore intercepted a medium range pass over the middle of the field at the 20. That clinched the win for the Hornets.
“They just never quit,” said Ellenberger, of his team. “It’s a great football rivalry. Like [Herndon coach] Joe [Sheaffer] said in his speech, it’s a shame one team had to lose.”
Sheaffer was impressed with South Lakes’ play.
“They fought hard,” he said. “You can see they’ve gotten better. Their program is gaining confidence.”
<b>BOTH TEAMS</b> had enormous success running the ball in the game. Herndon rushed the ball 49 times for 283 yards. Moore finished with 93 yards on 19 carries while other big contributors included Thompson (67 yards), Anane (45) and Groter (32). Ozycz, Herndon’s senior QB, completed eight-of-12 passes for 73 yards and also rushed for 38 yards.
“We didn’t tackle well tonight,” said Ellenberger. “We have to improve on that.”
South Lakes, meanwhile, totaled 237 yards on the ground on 37 attempts. Big rushing nights came from Lewis (79 yards) and Smith (49), as well as Jones and Stephon Sanford (both with 46).
This Friday night at 7:30, South Lakes will travel to Marshall for a Liberty District game. Herndon, meanwhile, will host Concorde District foe Robinson.