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Players, Community Enjoy TC’s ‘Friday Night Lights’

Titans’ postseason hopes still alive after win over South County.

Herman Boone stood on the track near the home sideline at Parker-Gray Stadium on a cold, clear Friday night and reflected on his surroundings. The 75-year-old former T.C. Williams head coach wore a red, white and blue jacket with an original 1971 state championship patch stitched on the left chest. He also had on his championship ring and a Titans hat.

Boone looked toward the home bleachers: TC fans packed together, cheering on the Titans under bright lights. Boone talked about the fans being on their best behavior. Then he turned to the field and encouraged the TC football team, fighting for its playoff life against South County.

Forty-five years after T.C. Williams High School opened, and nearly four decades since the program’s first state championship, the Titans hosted the first night football game in school history on Oct. 29. Boone, leader of the 1971 state championship team made famous by the 2000 movie "Remember the Titans" for overcoming race-driven adversity, expressed joy for an event he thought would never happen. An event won by TC, 28-7.

"I truly hope that this is a wake-up for the wonderful fans of Alexandria who have made great sacrifices over the past 38 years to see this night," Boone said. "I believe this night is as truly historical as ‘Friday Night Lights.’ It’s something that we in Alexandria thought we would never see. …

"I have made great sacrifices and traveled great distances because I wanted to see with my own eyes history — history that I thought would never happen in this city. There were many aspects of this city who did not want races together at night. Let’s tell it like it is. Thank God, these mentalities are no longer with us. People are not color conscious out here tonight. They seem to be color neutral. Color consciousness was the mentality that kept lights out of this stadium for 38 years."

BOONE’S PRESENCE at the game was part of the Alexandria community’s celebration of Friday night football. Glenn Furman, head coach of TC’s 1984 and 1987 state championship teams, was in attendance. So was 92-year-old Ferdinand Day, a key member in integrating Alexandria schools in the 1960s. Former Titan players watched from throughout the stadium. Mayor Bill Euille, Donnie Simpson and Jack Taylor were inducted into the school’s hall of fame, the bleachers were packed and both school bands played at halftime.

"The environment is absolutely incredible," said 2004 TC graduate and former Titan football player Dean Muhtadi, who spent the last two NFL training camps with the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals, respectively. "It’s almost like the whole city shut down for this game. It’s probably like how ball used to be back in the day. You’ve got all the ’71 Titans here. … I think it’s just a real big step for the city and the program as a whole, being able to not only find the funding to pull off an event like this, but having everyone that lives around here kind of give it the OK to get this whole thing going. It’s almost like the whole city came together for this one."

The portable lights used for Friday’s game were rented from Musco Lighting and cost $24,000 to transport from Iowa to Alexandria. TC athletic director Steve Colantuoni, a 1974 TC graduate, said the five light poles took two men six hours to assemble. They arrived on Wednesday and were in place for Thursday’s practice.

PLENTY OF HOOPLA surrounded the event, but there was still a game to be played. And while members of the community enjoyed themselves, the 2010 Titans battled on-field adversity, entering the fourth quarter locked in a scoreless tie. TC faced a fourth-and-goal from inside the South County 1-yard line early in the final period when head coach Dennis Randolph sent out the field goal team. When South County jumped offside on the ensuing attempt, inching the ball closer to the goal line, Randolph sent his offense back onto the field. Sophomore Alec Grosser then scored the first of four fourth-quarter touchdowns for the Titans on a quarterback sneak. It wasn’t clear if Grosser got in the end zone at first, but the officials signaled touchdown shortly after.

"It was close," Grosser said. "I had to squirm."

Grosser connected with receiver Will Rossi for a 20-yard touchdown with 6:06 remaining, giving the Titans a 14-0 advantage. South County cut the lead in half a minute later, but TC pulled away with two late scores: a 72-yard interception return by Davon Cooper and a 75-yard run by Zaquan Summers.

The win improved TC’s record to 5-4 overall, 4-2 in the Patriot District, keeping the Titans’ playoff hopes alive. They conclude the regular season at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 5 at Lee.

Prior to the game, Randolph, also the school’s assistant athletic director, said the amount of distractions surrounding the event could make focus an issue for the Titans. How did the team handle the situation?

"Based on the score, they handled it very well," Randolph said with a laugh. "There was all kinds of stuff going on. I was being pulled in 20 different directions. I’ve got to thank my staff for handling it because half the time I wasn’t with the team. I was off doing other things because I wear a couple different hats around here and they did a great job of just keeping the kids focused.

"We were a little out of sync, but I think our kids were focused. We didn’t click, but the biggest thing is, of everything that happened, they just didn’t give up."

Rossi expected more people to attend a Friday night game compared to a Saturday afternoon contest, but he was still surprised at the turnout.

"It exceeded my expectations," the senior receiver said. "It was crazier than I thought it could ever be. I thought it would only be people in the stands, but they were all around the sideline. It was just hectic and awesome. People were definitely nervous, but once we got on the field everybody was ready to play."

One of those fans on the sideline was former coach Furman, who said adding lights permanently would help TC toward returning to its glory days of the 1970s and 1980s.

"Look at the stands: full bleachers," Furman said. "I’m talking to kids that I coached 25 or 30 years ago that are here and excited to be a part of it. This is a fun night for all of us."

Dr. Morton Sherman, ACPS superintendent, voiced a desire for more home football games at TC.

"I hope that we can talk about, as a community, doing more of this in the future," Sherman said. "We’ll work with our neighbors, we’ll work with our city officials, and we’ll see where it goes. My hope would be that we get to do this again. I’ve grown up for a long time as an administrator, as an athlete enjoying Friday night football and enjoying what it does for a community, so I’m hoping we can move ahead and do something more permanent."

LONG AFTER the game had ended and fans had left the TC campus, Colantuoni looked back on a memorable evening.

"It was a success," the athletic director said. "The community came out, we won the game, there were no problems — it’s the way it’s supposed to be."