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Fast Start Lifts Chargers Past Wildcats in Playoffs

Chantilly next set to play in football region title game; Centreville concludes successful first season under coach Haddock.

There were none of the late-game heroics and drama for the second meeting of the season last Friday night between high school football rivals Centreville and Chantilly when the two Concorde District powers met in a Northern Region Div. 6 semifinals playoff game.

The two had probably used up most of their final minute thrills five weeks earlier in their regular season showdown at the annual Sully Bowl — a game in which both stalwarts had entered with perfect 6-0 records before the host team Wildcats, in a double overtime classic that fans in attendance will likely never forget, came away with a breath-taking victory.

This time, the issue was decided relatively early as Chantilly, once again the guest team, took control of the game pretty much from the start on way to a 30-13 postseason game triumph.

"We played our game and didn't make mistakes," said Chantilly head coach Mike Lalli, summing up the game. "We felt like we could win."

The Chargers (10-2), by winning, earned the right to play in this week's Div. 6 region championship game where it will meet defending region champion and home team Lake Braddock on Saturday afternoon at 1:30. The winner will move on to the following week's state playoffs.

Centreville (9-3), with the loss, saw what has been an outstanding season come to an end. The Wildcats, under their new head coach Chris Haddock this season, began the fall campaign 7-0 and were one of the region's biggest success stories following several disappointing seasons for the program. Centreville defeated Fairfax, Haddock's former team, in a quarterfinals round playoff game two weeks ago to set up the semifinals meeting with the Chargers. While Centreville lost that game and three of its final four contests, it was still a banner, stunningly successful season for Centreville.

Centreville star running back Manny Smith, in the locker room following his team's season-ending loss, recalled the moment earlier this fall when he realized good things were in store for the Wildcats in 2010.

"The thing I'll remember most was being dead tired in a two-a-day practice [at training camp]," said Smith. "We were running, 30, 40-yard sprints. We pushed through it and then all grabbed each others' hands and yelled, `Wildcats.' That's when we came together. We just fought all season as brothers."

Haddock, who had built the Fairfax High program back into a winner during his three years at the helm there, demanded all-out effort and a winning demeanor from his Centreville players, whether in practice or on the game field.

"’Exhilarating’ is the word I would use to describe it," said Smith, of coach Haddock's presence. "He was tough but it was fun playing football. The only time it wasn't fun was today."

CHANTILLY, to a man, wanted badly to avenge the 27-26 Sully Bowl setback it had endured in week seven, a game that had enough twists and turns to fill a season. The Chargers had been sorely hoping since that regular season loss that they would have another chance to play Centreville again. When they defeated Westfield in their first round playoff game, the stage was set for a second meeting against the Wildcats. Motivation was not a problem for Chantilly.

"That loss was huge," recalled Chantilly junior running back Jimmy Hicks, of the regular season defeat at the hands of Centreville. "Going into that game both teams were 6-0. We knew in that double overtime loss we hadn't played as well as we could have. We really wanted another shot. We had a lot of confidence coming into this [playoff] game that if we played well we could do good things and win."

The Chargers grabbed the early game momentum. Their defense forced a punt on Centreville's first possession. Then, on their third offensive play of the game, the Chargers scored a touchdown when Hicks, after taking a handoff from quarterback Carson Romine (6-of-13, 95 yards passing), burst through an opening in the line before breaking left into the open field for a 56-yard touchdown run. Just like that, less than three minutes into the game, Chantilly held the lead.

"That touchdown set the tone for us and gave us confidence and momentum," said Lalli.

The Chargers followed that up with another scoring drive on their next possession that resulted in a 33-yard field goal by Billy Germain, making the score 10-0.

Late in the half, Chantilly's Nolan Strittmatter, a senior defensive end, intercepted a pass and made a long return to set the Chargers up with a first down at the Centreville 22 yard line. Seven plays later, junior running back William Hill-Pensamiento carried the ball left, broke through some arm tackles and went into the end zone for a 13-yard Chantilly touchdown with just 32 seconds remaining in the half. The Chargers, at the half, held what felt to be an insurmountable 17-0 lead.

Neither team scored in the third quarter but Centreville got its first touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter when Smith crossed the goal line standing from five yards out. The score capped an impressive 91-yard, 21-play drive that was aided by a roughing the punter penalty call that kept the nearly eight minute march alive.

TRAILING 17-7, Centreville was still very much alive. But the Wildcats' hopes of a comeback pretty much vanished just moments following their touchdown when Chantilly, on the first play of its next possession, all but put the game away when Hill-Pensamiento, on a handoff left, found a huge opening before turning the corner and running down the sideline untouched for a 65-yard touchdown run. The point-after kick by Germain made the score 24-7 Chantilly.

"Our offensive line played very well," said Hill-Pensamiento. "Our fullback Cory Donovan made a big opening for me [on the touchdown]. I just took off."

A few minutes later, Chantilly junior linebacker Ben Cobb recovered a fumble at the Wildcats' 40-yard line. That led, nine plays later, to another Hill-Pensamiento touchdown run, from 16 yards out, off the left side.

Centreville, trailing 30-7, kept playing hard and answered the Chantilly score with an eight play, 71-yard scoring march that concluded with a 20-yard touchdown run by Brett Martin.

Hill-Pensamiento finished the night with 110 yards and three touchdowns on 10 carries. Hicks, meanwhile, contributed 94 yards and a score on 17 attempts.

"Our offensive line played great," said Hicks.

Smith, Centreville's outstanding back, finished the night with 95 yards on 19 carries. Most of his yards came in the final quarter after the game was out of reach. Smith was limited to 23 yards on 10 first half carries when the Chargers built a 17-0 lead. Centreville's Connor Coward added 61 rushing yards for the Wildcats.

"That's what they were doing — aiming for me," said Smith, crediting the Chantilly defense. "This time they were successful. Everything went wrong for us in the first half but we were never going to stop fighting."

"We knew Manny Smith was going to run hard and we had to concentrate hard on him," said Chantilly defensive lineman Nicholas Eccleston. "We basically knew he was their key weapon. We clogged the middle and made him bounce outside."

"We shut down Centreville, which has a great offense," added Hicks.

In the regular season meeting between the two teams, Chantilly had held Smith in check with 65 yards.

"Our defense played well against him last time so we were comfortable in what we had to do to stop him [again]," said Lalli.

When asked about turning the tables on a Centreville squad his team had lost to during the season, Lalli said, "Any time you win a game in the Concorde District it's a big thing, and winning a playoff game is a big thing. Coming here and playing [again] on their field — we were pretty excited about that opportunity."

Hill-Pensamiento said the atmosphere for the playoff game, with the large, exhilarated crowd on hand and the natural rival between the two clubs, was great to be a part of.

"It was amazing," he said. "The fans from both schools were good and the teams were good. Chantilly and Centreville played their hearts out. It feels amazing to be in the region finals."