For Hayfield lineman Shawn Blake, the seriousness of the Hawks' Patriot District opener last Friday night against Lake Braddock could not be overstated.
"If we lost that game," Blake said, "it would have been like death for our season."
Backtracking perhaps only slightly, Blake then said: "The game was like the Super Bowl to us."
Whichever comparison fits, no one could accuse Blake, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior, of not appreciating the game's importance. In the third overtime, he made three straight tackles and then blocked the Bruins' field goal attempt on fourth down. Hayfield then converted a field goal on its possession to win the game, 28-25.
The victory gave the Hawks a chance to make something of a season that started with consecutive blowout losses to Concorde District powers No. 17 Westfield, No. 7 Centreville and No. 1 Robinson.
But there were other losses as well. Because of new school South County, which siphoned off part of Hayfield's student population, the Hawks are now competing at the smaller Division 5 classification, instead of Division 6. Because the new school also attracted some of the football team's depth, Hayfield and its many two-way players -- the team has only 28 names on its varsity roster -- didn't relish the prospect of a fourth overtime against Lake Braddock.
"I did not want to have to go into another overtime," Blake said. "I just got extremely mad and went off on them."
With strong early-season results from other Division 5 schools such as Edison, Yorktown, Stone Bridge and Marshall, the Hawks (1-3, 1-0) will have to rally to make the playoffs, which is likely to happen only if the team wins its district. Hayfield would do well to follow Blake's example of how to play underdog.
After sitting on the freshman team bench as a ninth-grader and sitting out football altogether as a sophomore, a determined Blake returned to the sport before his junior year and spent the summer lifting weights. He did the same thing this past summer, and when starting lineman Brandon Russell was forced to have surgery on a finger injured during the Westfield game, Blake was ready.
"Shawn plays his heart out," Hayfield Coach Billy Pugh said. "He's not real big, he's not real fleet of foot, but you know you can count on him when the going gets tough. He's going to be there for you."
Aside from football, Blake spends much of his free time singing in Hayfield's choir. His highlight came last year when along with the rest of the 16-member Men's Choir he sang at the Kennedy Center with the Washington Men's Camerata.
Blake describes himself as a different person when he's singing than when he's playing football, but he did admit to stringing together a few bars, as well as whooping and hollering along with the rest of the team, on the bus ride back to Hayfield on Friday.
"We were all really hyped up," said senior quarterback Evan Eyo, who finished with nearly 200 yards of total offense and was involved in three touchdowns. "We were laughing the whole way home."