The Chantilly football team ran option on the first play from scrimmage during Saturday’s Division 6 Northern Region championship game. The Chargers botched the pitch, putting the ball on the ground and Lake Braddock recovered on the Chantilly 7-yard line.
On the ensuing play, Lake Braddock quarterback Michael Nebrich scored on the ground to give the Bruins a 7-0 lead.
Chantilly’s fumble on the first play not only represented a bad start, it sealed the Chargers’ fate within the game’s first 10 seconds. Lake Braddock rode the momentum surge to a 56-18 blowout victory and a second consecutive region title on its home field. The Bruins will host Battlefield of the Northwest Region in the Group AAA Division 6 state semifinals on Saturday, Dec. 4, at 3:30 p.m.
"It’s a new team, it’s a new feeling," said Nebrich, who quarterbacked the Bruins to a state runner-up finish last season. "Last year was real special because it was our first [region title]. Coming out and winning back-to-back with this specific group of guys, it makes it that much more fun for us."
Nebrich completed 15 of 16 pass attempts for 235 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed 19 times for 99 yards and four touchdowns and led the Bruins to the end zone on each of their four first-half possessions.
Chantilly punted on its second possession and quickly fell behind 14-0 on Nebrich’s second rushing touchdown run of the day. A 15-play, 77-yard drive resulted in a field goal on the Chargers’ third possession but Lake Braddock reached the end zone twice more in the second quarter and led 28-3 at halftime.
Chantilly’s ground-oriented offense didn’t have the firepower to overcome the deficit it created by turning the ball over on the game’s first play.
"They outplayed us," Chantilly head coach Michael Lalli said. "They played really well. We just wanted to come and complete and play well. We did some good things but we did, unfortunately, some bad things, too. We fell behind too fast."
When asked how tough it was to come back from the early fumble and touchdown, Lalli looked at the scoreboard and said, "56-18."
"It wasn’t so much that" play, Lalli said. "You can overcome the one mistake. We let them score so many [times] before we made our adjustments. We started moving the ball on them, but we weren’t getting the stops. Once we got the stops, we stopped moving the ball."
Lake Braddock led 35-3 entering the fourth quarter. The Bruins seemingly moved the ball at will through the air or on the ground.
"A lot of these games end up [coming down to] matchups: who matches up against who," Lake Braddock head coach Jim Poythress said. "I thought it was a favorable matchup for us as opposed to, say, Robinson, who might have had a little more speed in the defensive secondary. Even though Chantilly beat them in the regular season, I felt pretty good about our chances coming in."
Chantilly defeated Robinson during the regular season, but the Rams handed Lake Braddock its only regular season defeat and lost to Lake Braddock by one point in the regional semifinals.
Nebrich’s top target Saturday — and throughout the season — was Matt Zanellato, who the day before the game verbally committed to Penn State. The senior transfer from Robinson caught 10 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns, including a 27-yard reception that put the Bruins ahead by 25 in the second quarter.
"All season, all of [my teammates] have their yellow hats and their region championships last year and they’d give me crap," Zanellato said. "‘Hey, you don’t have one of these.’ It made me a little more motivated to get my own regional title."
Greg Jones returned an interception 88 yards for a Lake Braddock touchdown in the third quarter, giving the Bruins a 35-3 lead. Kyle Shanahan put the finishing touches on the day’s scoring with an 11-yard touchdown run.
Chantilly’s Jimmy Hicks rushed 13 times for 64 yards and a touchdown. His 5-yard scoring run cut the Chargers’ deficit to 35-10 early in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Carson Romine completed 14 of 24 passes for 163 yards and was intercepted twice. Tight end Trey Huelskamp caught four passes for 66 yards.
Chantilly’s second touchdown came via special teams. William Hill-Pensamiento fielded a kickoff at his own 1-yard line and brought it out to the 30 before fumbling. Teammate Ross Simms scooped up the loose ball and raced the remaining 70 yards for a touchdown. Hicks completed a pass to Hill-Pensamiento for the two-point conversion, making the score 42-18.
While Lake Braddock advanced to states, Chantilly’s season ended with a 10 wins and a region runner-up finish.
"Every week, someone stepped up," Lalli said. "Every week they played together as a team. They didn’t quit. We were down 14 to Langley in the second half and we were down 17 to Westfield in the fourth quarter and they came back and stayed together. They never pointed fingers or accused anybody else. It was always a team."