Both the McLean and South Lakes High football teams showed some signs of early game jitters during the first quarter of their Liberty District meeting last Friday night.
Not surprising when considering that both up and coming Northern Region Div. 5 programs, who sported impressive 4-0 records going into the week five meeting at McLean, have experienced limited success over the past several years.
Perhaps, the big-game scenario might have been a bit overwhelming for both the Seahawks and Highlanders. Or perhaps the ball was just taking some funny bounces over the night's first few sets of downs. Whatever, following the rocky start - in which the teams combined for five fumbles (1 lost) over the contest's first six minutes - the game settled somewhat and the district rivals played solid, hard-nosed football. In the end, McLean had scored a hard-fought 14-7 win over a tough Seahawks' opponent.
"This was a good growing experience," said Andy Hill, who is in his first season as the South Lakes head coach. "What went wrong? Everything did early. But I thought our defense played well tonight. We knew this game was going to be a battle."
The present and future are looking bright for both teams. A year ago, the Seahawks began the season 5-1 before slipping off in the second half of the season and finishing under .500 following a first round playoff loss. This year's squad, under Hill, who prior to coming to South Lakes this past offseason led the Park View Patriots (Dulles District) to numerous winning seasons and postseason appearances, will almost certainly win more games than last year's Seahawks. South Lakes played a somewhat sloppy, far from crisp game against a talented Highlanders' squad playing in front of its passionate home fans. Even so, the Seahawks lost by just a touchdown.
McLean, which went winless in 2008 under current coach Jim Patrick before breaking through last year for a winning season and a trip to the playoffs, looks to be even better this year.
Both teams will be hosting winless district opponents this Friday night, Oct. 8 at 7:30. The Highlanders will meet Jefferson, while the Seahawks will play Madison.
<b>MCLEAN SCORED TOUCHDOWNS</b> in the first two quarters to take a 14-0 lead - rushing scores of 10 and three yards by senior back Jimmy Ludwick (20 carries, 62 yards). South Lakes got within 14-7 in the third quarter when sophomore quarterback Rashaan Jones, on a perfectly executed play, dropped back to pass, remained patient in the pocket, then rifled a 21-yard touchdown pass over the middle to wide receiver Darius Smith, who reached up to snatch the ball in the end zone.
Later, well into the fourth quarter, McLean appeared ready to put the game away before a lost fumble at the South Lakes 15 yard gave the Seahawks possession with five minutes to go. Senior defensive end Jacob Slover recovered the ball for South Lakes.
The Seahawks moved the ball to their 35 before an interception by McLean senior cornerback Chase Mills - his third of the night - effectively put the game away with less than four minutes remaining. The Highlanders, with Mills at quarterback on offense, ran the rest of the clock out to gain the win.
"It feels amazing," said McLean junior tightend/defensive end Scott Lafoon, who caught a pass for 17 yards. "To go 0-10 two years ago …I was on our freshmen team then but I watched all the varsity games. Now, to be 5-0 is awesome. We're pretty confident now but we also still remember that we were 0-10 two years ago."
McLean, 5-0 for the first time in 15 years, has run the ball effectively most of the year. The Highlanders had a more difficult time running against an aggressive South Lakes' defense which limited them to 135 yards on 45 carries. McLean, despite the marginal ground success, still rushed for the two scores and ate up lots of clock. Along with Ludwick's 62 ground yards, Ryan McColgan added 58 on 12 carries for the Highlanders.
"We've been able to run the football all year," said Ludwick. "Our offensive line comes off the ball and makes blocks."
Hill, the South Lakes coach, said, "I give McLean credit. The recipe to beat us is keeping our offense off the field and stopping us from making the big play."
<b>THE BIGGEST</b> disappointment to coach Hill in the Seahawks' loss was that the visiting team appeared to get discouraged at various times throughout the game when something would not go their way. He said he was not used to that kind of response from one of his teams. If it continues, he said, there will be line-up changes.
"We've got some kids hanging their heads," said Hill. "We'd make one mistake and it looked like we were at a funeral march. We'd kind of shut down."
The coach is pleased with the play of Jones, his versatile sophomore quarterback. Although the youngster threw three interceptions, Hill was only disappointed in the late fourth quarter turnover. For the night, Jones completed nine of 17 passes for 80 yards while also running 10 times for 71 yards. His biggest receiving target was Smith (7 catches).
"He had one bad throw tonight - the last one," said Hill. "He's going to be a stud, a Div. 1 scholarship football player [one day]."