Manassas Park Coach Jeff Lloyd knew his football team could finally compete athletically with the likes of perennial Virginia A power Strasburg, but he still didn't know whether the Cougars had what it took to win big football games.
Lloyd got his answer last night as junior defensive back Nick Bertrand returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown with 1 minute 33 seconds to play to secure the Cougars' 22-14 victory over the Rams, a 1998 Virginia A state semifinalist, in a Bull Run District game.
"Physically, we knew we could match up with them," said Lloyd, in his second year as head coach at Manassas Park. "But we had to overcome their tradition."
After Bertrand's interception, Strasburg didn't quit.
Strasburg's Jesse Miller returned the kickoff 55 yards to the Manassas Park 33-yard line. After a first down, the Manassas Park defense forced three consecutive incomplete passes. On fourth-and-10, the Rams tried to fool the Cougars with a trap, but Nathan Martoncik was tackled two yards shy of a first down, and Lloyd and the Cougars had their long-awaited victory.
Entering the game, Strasburg (3-2, 0-1) had beaten Manassas Park (4-1, 1-0) nine straight seasons, including 27-0 and 60-0 in 1998 and 1997, respectively.
But when Bertrand scampered 26 yards for a touchdown two minutes into the game, it was a different Cougar team than the one Strasburg had faced in recent years.
"You can always look for excuses," said Glenn Proctor, Strasburg's head coach for 36 years. "But they just outplayed us. The game probably meant a lot more to them than it did to us."
Cougar quarterback B.J. Treuting threw for 241 yards, completing 11 of 15 passes, including a 68-yarder to Walter Newman to set up a field goal and a 40-yarder to Newman on third-and-5 midway through the fourth quarter with the Cougars trying to protect a 15-14 lead.
"We saw tonight the kind of senior quarterback I've been waiting for for four years," Lloyd said. "He played excellent."
But the game's biggest play was almost an opportunity missed for Bertrand and the Cougars as Strasburg quarterback Charlie Drummond's floater bounced off Bertrand's face mask before he gathered it in.
"[Cougar lineman] Johnny Parks made a big hit on [Drummond]," Bertrand said of the interception. "I wanted to make a quick play, but then I was just trying to hold onto the ball."
Lloyd saw it differently.
"When I saw it hit [Bertrand's] face mask, I thought, 'We never do anything easy,' " Lloyd said. "But when he got it . . . I knew he was in" the end zone.
MP--Bertrand 26 run (kick failed)
MP--Treuting FG 23
S--Drummond 4 run (kick failed)
S--Drummond 1 run (Drummond run)
MP--Bertrand 20 interception return (Treuting kick)
RUSHING--Strasburg: Martoncik 16-106, Lutman 9-17, Drummond 8-5; Manassas Park: Bertrand 20-66, Treuting 6-9 .
PASSING--Strasburg: Drummond 8-18-1 114; Manassas Park: Treuting 11-16-0 241.
RECEIVING--Strasburg: Miller 5-67, Wilson 3-47; Manassas Park: Jenkins 5-66, Newman 3-127, Bertrand 1-20, Good 1-15, Thornton 1-13.