Around this time last year, Bullis senior offensive lineman Justin Herron had a pit in his stomach. His team had just lost to rival Landon in a 12-7 heartbreaker that all but ended the Bulldogs’ chances at an outright Interstate Athletic Conference title. They’d lose to Georgetown Prep in the regular season finale two weeks later.
“Remembering last year and not winning an IAC title, seeing how those seniors felt, I don’t want that feeling of not winning it and not finishing through,” Herron said. “When we lost to Landon, I felt terrible. I really felt like I let my seniors down. It wasn’t my fault, it was a whole team’s effort fault, but I felt like I should’ve done more.”
This year, in a league that features just two teams with winning records, Herron and his teammates face fellow conference unbeaten Episcopal (5-2, 3-0) in a battle for the IAC title Saturday in Alexandria. A win would complete the Bulldogs’ 2013 redemption of that 2012 heartbreak, particularly after avenging last year’s loss to Landon (2-5, 3-0) in a shutout win last week.
That the Bulldogs (7-1, 3-0) would find themselves in championship position in 2013 wasn’t immediately obvious. Bullis took an unexpectedly lopsided 42-0 loss to St. John’s in the season’s opener, a game in which they were missing star running back Devonte Williams and breakout defensive end Jonathan Holland to injury. Seven healthy weeks later, Bullis is 7-1 and well-positioned to give Herron, who will play at Rutgers next year, and his fellow seniors a fitting sendoff.
Standing in the way is an Episcopal team that hasn’t missed a beat since losing running back Nigel Beckford — who led the area in rushing touchdowns through two weeks — to a leg injury in the team’s third game. The Maroon have scored 30 points in all but one game this year, buoyed by Beckford’s replacement in the backfield, Eric Smith, who’s rushed for over 100 yards in each of three conference starts. Smith, who didn’t have a varsity carry prior to taking over for Beckford, isn’t the only threat in the Maroon backfield. Quarterback Will Hollister is averaging just under three touchdown passes in each of Episcopal’s wins, and has deep threats on the outside in senior Blake Barefoot and junior Brian Chase.
“Our main focus is just playing our game and making sure we do the little things against Episcopal,” Herron said. “The fundamentals. Blocking the right man, running the right route, making the right read. They have a really good offense, so we have to focus on stopping that."