Hayfield comes back to beat Falls Church after inspiring halftime speech

Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from the weekend of football in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

While Hayfield found itself in a 20-0 hole during the first half of Friday’s game against Falls Church, the large deficit wasn’t the margin on which its players were focused. With just .25 points separating the Hawks from holding on to the 16th and final spot in the Class 6A playoffs or missing out on the postseason in two weeks, quarterback Ellis Knudson and running back Osman Kargbo delivered an ultimatum to their teammates at halftime.

“We got everyone in a huddle and encouraged and reminded everyone at this point it’s win or go home,” Knudson said. “This is our senior season, so we’re not trying to go out without making the playoffs.”

The message resonated, as the Hawks stormed back for a 28-26 win against Falls Church to maintain their place in the playoffs entering Friday’s regular-season finale at Edison.

After Knudson got the Hawks (4-5) going with an 88-yard touchdown pass to Michael Cobb just before halftime, the momentum swung totally in Hayfield’s favor when Tyler Hodge snagged an interception on the second half’s first play and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown.

Two more Knudson touchdown throws pushed the Hawks ahead 28-20, leaving it up to the defense to secure their third straight win. When Falls Church surged back to score a touchdown with about 30 seconds remaining, Knudson’s thoughts immediately shifted back five weeks, when the Hawks saw Washington-Lee deliver a heartbreaking loss in the final seconds.

The difference was the Hawks had learned from the growing pains experienced during a tough early schedule. After facing four teams that have been ranked in The Post Top 20 at some point this season, Hayfield incorporated several adjustments to cater toward the strengths of its players.

With Falls Church attempting to tie the game on the ensuing two-point try, the Hawks defense clamped down and stuffed the run. With the win, Hayfield moved up to the 15th spot in the power rankings.

“We came into the season with high expectations, but unfortunately, sometimes it takes adversity to build character,” Hawks Coach Roy Hill said. “We’ve learned from our arduous schedule, and on Friday it was nice to see our guys turn things around and finish on top.”

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