Each Brentsville Tiger had his own low point from a 39-game losing streak dating back to 2010. In senior linebacker Billy Cornwell’s mind, the worst was a 62-7 loss to Clarke County last season.
“They were a smaller school than we were, and we went into it thinking it would be like a buildup game to build up your confidence,” Cornwell recalled. “And we just got hammered. That really killed my confidence a lot.”
For senior tight end David Roberts, the nightmares are from a close-call, three-point loss against Skyline a week earlier. In that game, the Tigers held a lead in the late going before yielding a big play and losing yet another contest.
Against Manassas Park on Friday, Roberts watched the clock wind down after a big play inside the final two minutes. But this time, for the first time in his high school career, the Tigers took a knee to seal a 12-7 win.
“Things were running through my head,” Roberts said. “I had been waiting for four years to finally come out and win a game and make our fans happy.”
The losing streak sapped the program in less obvious ways than win-loss records and playoff droughts. Fewer prospective players were willing to come out for a team that got embarrassed each week. Most starters have played both ways for the past few seasons, including Cornwell, who also starts at right guard.
“It was difficult because we have people at our school who are definitely able to play football, but they don’t want to come out for the team since we haven’t won a game,” Roberts said.
In the middle of the losing streak, there was a coaching change. Ryan Smith took the reins to the western Prince William County program in 2013 after serving as an assistant at Woodbridge. Smith held an 8 a.m. practice on Labor Day, one the players said was brief and focused on takeaways — positive and negative — from the program’s first win in four seasons.
While emotions poured out from players and coaches immediately after the win, Cornwell says the magnitude of the accomplishment didn’t totally register until he was sitting at Carini’s, a Nokesville pizzeria, enjoying a celebratory twilight dinner with some teammates and their families.
“I just remember the end, and the feeling is kind of surreal,” he said. “It didn’t hit me until [later] that night. In the last couple minutes when it was sure we were going to win, I finally felt pretty good.”
Roberts caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Richard Harryman in the waning moments of the second quarter to put Brentsville up 6-0. From the left side of the formation, he keyed on a corner blitz and immediately raised his hand to call for the ball. He found himself wide open in the corner of the end zone and hauled in the lofted pass. It’s one of the few moments that came easy during his Brentsville career. Now, the streak stands at one win, and the Tigers aren’t trying to duck it any longer as they prepare to host Warren County on Friday night.
“When you go through it, and you do all the hard work and you finally see it pay off, it’s definitely worth it, man,” Cornwell said. “It definitely builds a bond.”