As the T.C. Williams football team gathered for its post-game huddle at West Potomac High School, the Titans displayed different emotions. Some players acted angry, tossing their helmets on the ground. Some players looked disappointed, struggling to come to terms with a heartbreaking end to a missed opportunity. But through the subtle differences in appearance there was a common theme among the players and coaches dressed in red, white and blue: pain.
TC lost to West Potomac 38-31 on Oct. 22. The Titans had battled injuries, fought through frustrations with the officiating crew and rebounded from self-inflicted setbacks. When it came down to the game’s final minutes, TC recovered an onside kick and drove inside the Wolverines’ 20-yard line with a chance to tie. But after coming so close, the Titans’ night ended with tipped interception in the end zone.
The post-game huddle was more than just a time to reflect: it was a possible turning point. The loss dropped TC to 4-4, meaning the Titans would need to win their final two games to have a shot at ending a playoff drought of nearly two decades. The team had just lost a close game to rival. It would be easy for frustration to take over a group of teenagers. But after briefly addressing his team, TC head coach Dennis Randolph turned his players’ attention to a historic event that was just around the corner. While it hurt at the moment, there was still football to be played — and a unique opportunity to experience.
T.C. Williams for the first time in the school’s 46-year history will play a home game at night when the Titans host South County at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 29. While TC has a decorated past, including state championships in 1971, 1984 and 1987, no Titans player has ever been part of what is considered a standard element of the high school football experience: home games under "Friday Night Lights." That distinction ends this week, when stadium lights costing around $24,000 are driven to Alexandria from out of state, assembled at T.C. Williams High School and placed in Parker-Gray Stadium.
The Titans say they’re excited for the opportunity. Senior linebacker Damien Benton said it’s been tough only getting to experience night games on the road. Senior lineman Eric Berger talked about the hype that is likely to surround Friday’s crowd and the suspected increase in attendance. But Randolph said his players aren’t the ones who are most looking forward to Friday.
"I don’t know if they really understand the implications of it," the coach said. "Some of these kids have been here two, three years and they’ve never played [a home night game] for two or three years. But the people that are excited about it are the people that played here in the past. On the ’71 team, the ’84 team, the ’87 team, they all won state championships [but] they never played a night game at home. They’re talking about it. People in the school that have been here for years, they’re talking about it."
Focusing on Friday’s event will help TC get past the loss to West Potomac. But with so many off-field distractions accompanying Friday’s game, it won’t be easy for the Titans to stay focused on the most important part of the contest as far as the team is concerned: on-field performance.
"The chorus is involved, the band from South County is going to be here, our band [will be here], we’re inducting people into the hall of fame … it’s senior night … the superintendent, the school board [and] the city council are all going to be here," Randolph said. "We’ve invited all the neighbors and given them special seating. There’s a lot of hoopla and besides that, there’s a football game — and a very important one, I might add, for us."
Like last season, TC is 4-4 after eight games. This season, the Titans’ final two opponents sport losing records. South County is 3-5 with one win coming via forfeit by Annandale. Lee, which TC faces in the regular season finale, is 1-7. South County has been strong defensively, allowing just 16.5 points per game. But the Stallions have struggled to score points, averaging 19 per contest. Three times South County has been held to six points or fewer.
Despite South County’s sturdy defense, TC figures to put points on the board. Since sophomore Alec Grosser took over as the team’s starting quarterback, the Titans are averaging 33.4 points in five games, and nearly 39 points in the last four. Against West Potomac, Grosser completed 22 of 46 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns but was intercepted four times.
"It was pretty tough," Grosser said of the loss. "It took the weekend [to get over]. I’m good now. You’ve got to have a short memory in the game of football."
Randolph said he’s pleased with No. 13’s play at the quarterback position.
"With him quarterbacking, we’ve averaged over 35 points [during the last four games]," Randolph said. "That’s a tribute to Alec, that he’s been able to get us down the field. He’s made mistakes, but every time he makes a mistake he doesn’t repeat the mistake."
Randolph said he expects running back Zaquan Summers to play against South County. The junior had rushed for more than 100 yards in three straight games before sitting out the West Potomac game with an injury. Mohamed Sesay filled in against the Wolverines, rushing for 137 yards and a touchdown.
Will Rossi, Tyrell Sitton and Isreal Richardson each caught a touchdown pass from Grosser.
TC will break a 45-year home night-game drought on Friday. If the Titans stay focused, the atmosphere could help propel them to a win and the potential to break a 19-year playoff drought.
"We feel like we’re [missing out on] the normal, ‘Friday Night Lights,’ atmosphere," Rossi said, "so we’re definitely really excited for this."