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Sports: Year the Bruins Almost Stopped a Dynasty

In 1988, Lake Braddock football nearly upset powerful West Potomac.

The Lake Braddock High football team experienced its best-ever season last year when the Bruins, under head coach Jim Poythress, captured the Northern Region Division 6 title and ultimately went all the way to the state finals before finally losing to Thomas Dale of Chester.

Over its football history, Lake Braddock, while not ever reaching the success that the 2009 Bruins did, has put together some formidable teams that came close to breaking through to greatness. One of those teams was the 1989 Bruins’ edition which nearly nipped West Potomac’s late ‘80s, early 90s football dynasty before it even began.

West Potomac, the route 1 Alexandria area school which opened its doors in 1985 when former schools Groveton and Fort Hunt merged, quickly turned into a region football power under head coach Dan Meier, the current head principal at Robinson Secondary.

By 1989, the Wolverines were a legitimate state force. They had reached the region finals the year before and loss to Robinson. But going into the 1989 season, West Potomac was considered the team to beat.

Indeed, Meier’s squad lived up to those vast expectations by going 10-0 during the regular season. The Wolverines then won their first playoff game, a semifinals victory over Annandale, to set up a meeting with an underdog Bruins’ team for the Division 6 region title.

Lake Braddock, making its first-ever region championship game appearance, had stormed back from a 21-0 halftime deficit the week before to defeat the T.C. Williams Titans, 22-21, in a semifinals triumph.

THE BRUINS, under head coach Francis Dall, were not about to back down from the powerful Wolverines. In the first half of the region finals tilt, played on a Saturday afternoon in late November, they built an 8-0-halftime lead and had West Potomac on the ropes.

But just as T.C. could not hold onto its large lead in its semifinals loss to Lake Braddock, the Bruins, in the finals, could not hold off West Potomac in the latter half on way to a 14-8 setback to the Wolverines.

In the region championship game story as recorded in the Nov. 30, 1989 edition of the Mount Vernon Gazette, Dall, who currently serves as the director of student activities at Westfield High School, said his team experienced the other side of things in the loss to the Wolverines.

“It goes both ways,” said Dall. “[Against West Potomac], they made the plays. In the T.C. game, we made the plays. I thought we played tremendously against West Potomac. They’re tough all over with four good [running] backs and their all-region linemen. We weren’t gonna lose it. They had to do something to win it and they did.”

Lake Braddock, in the game’s first half, had stopped West Potomac scoring opportunities by forcing fumbles at the Bruins’ 28 and 15 yard lines. Meanwhile, Lake Braddock quarterback Pat Echard had hooked up with Jeff Almstedt on a 23-yard touchdown pass play on the final play of the first quarter to break a scoreless tie. The Bruins converted a two-point conversion and led 8-0.

Meier, the West Potomac coach, told his team at halftime that “Champions come back,” just as Robinson had done a year ago when it overcame a 14-7 halftime deficit to defeat the Wolverines in the region title game.

A Lake Braddock fumble on its first possession of the third quarter turned the game’s momentum the Wolverines’ way. West Potomac then marched 53 yards on seven plays for a touchdown, the score coming on a 10-yard run by Wolverine running back Tommy Horne. West Potomac failed on its two-point conversion play so Lake Braddock still led 8-6.

Lake Braddock came right back on its ensuing possession, moving the ball all the way to the West Potomac 31-yard line. But the Bruins lost possession when they picked up just two yards on a fourth-and-three play.

West Potomac then drove 71 yards on eight plays, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a one-yard sneak from quarterback Matt Lambert, who then passed for two points on the conversion to give West Potomac a 14-8 lead it would not relinquish.

The key play of the West Potomac drive came when Wolverine back Corey Gay, on a fourth-and-one at the Bruins’ 47 yard line with nine minutes remaining in the final quarter, burst off the right side for 45 yards down to the Lake Braddock two yard line to set up the touchdown.

“We really made the play,” said Gay, of the huge run, afterwards. “It was the 22 counter. I got the ball and went through the line. Every time I get the ball I want to make something happen.”

Meier said he never hesitated to go for it on the game-defining fourth-and-one.

“I felt like, in that situation, we needed to score on that drive to win the ball game,” he said. “We’d been running an awful lot of sweeps. But then we had Corey go to the inside. I said on the sideline, ‘If luck is with us, Corey goes.’ He’s the closest thing we have to a breakaway threat.”

With the loss, Lake Braddock finished the 1988 season with an 8-4 record. West Potomac, meanwhile, went on to the state playoffs and ultimately won the state title with a perfect 14-0 record. The Wolverines would also go on to win another state crown — that one in Division 5 — the following year as well.