The return Monday night of junior Osbourn quarterback Brandon Hogan, suspended for the previous two games for unspecified reasons, buzzed through the Eagles' huddle almost from the moment Hogan stepped into it.
"You're back, 'B,' you're back," Hogan recalled someone saying early in the 23-21 win over Osbourn Park. "Let's go. Show 'em you're back, man."
Hogan showed the Yellow Jackets his back all right, running away from them for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the teams' Cedar Run District opener. He flaunted his arm as well, throwing for 168 yards to kick-start the most important five-day stretch in years for the Osbourn football program.
After a close call against Osbourn Park in a game postponed from Friday by wet field conditions, the Eagles must quickly prepare for their homecoming game tomorrow night against defending district champion Stonewall Jackson.
The victory Monday assured Osbourn (5-1, 1-0) of finishing at least .500 for the first time since 1997. A victory over Stonewall would clinch a winning record and march the team one step closer to its first playoff berth since 1992.
"We've been talking about it, this week right here," senior receiver Justin Turner said. "If we take care of business this week, we're in the driver's seat. We can control our own destiny and take this program to a place it hasn't been in a long time."
The Yellow Jackets (4-2, 0-1) could point to Hogan as the difference in the game, or they could point to themselves. An interception late in the first quarter set up a field goal for the Eagles. A fumbled snap on fourth and one at the Osbourn 10 thwarted a drive. And there was another fumbled snap, at the Osbourn 2, late in the fourth quarter.
"It was frustrating, but that's the growing pains that we've got to go through and learn how to compete in big games," Osbourn Park Coach Brian Beaty said. "We've had a couple of big games and haven't really answered," he added, alluding to a 55-0 loss to No. 2 Hylton. "From now on, they're all big games."
With Hogan back at quarterback for the first time since a Sept. 23 win over Potomac, the Eagles needed one series -- a three-and-out with a penalty -- to collect themselves. But on the second possession, Hogan had a keeper up the middle for 15 yards, hit senior Julian Hooks in stride down the right sideline on a 64-yard pickup and then scored on a one-yard run.
Eighty yards in three plays. Osbourn did not have that capability during Hogan's absence the previous two weeks.
Six Osbourn players, including Hogan, were suspended for the Freedom game on Sept. 30, and Hogan and two of the others sat out the Woodbridge game a week later. The suspensions were related, but Coach Steve Schultze declined Monday to say what led to the disciplinary action.
In Hogan's absence, senior Ryan Anderson went 1-1 as the starter, highlighted by a four-touchdown performance in the victory over Freedom.
"Ryan did a great job filling in for him, but when Brandon's on the field, you just know that when something breaks down, he can just turn something out of nothing," Turner said. "It doesn't matter what the situation is. He can just make a play. And there's just more confidence in our huddle."
"Twenty-one," senior guard Tyler Ervin said with a grin, referring to Hogan's uniform number. "When we block, he makes plays."
Osbourn Park amassed 205 yards offensively but relied heavily on its special teams. The Yellow Jackets blocked an extra point in the first quarter. Senior Anthony Bratton returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown in the third. Senior Maurice Polk recovered an Osbourn fumble on a kickoff, also in the third. And in the final minute, junior Leigh Bradley blocked a punt that senior Justin Sears covered in the end zone for a touchdown. Thanks to a penalty, Osbourn Park had two tries at a subsequent onside kick but could not gain possession.
Osbourn beat the Yellow Jackets for the second time in a row after losing nine straight in the series. Perhaps no game during that streak was more significant to the Eagles than the one Monday night.
"It definitely felt bigger than a district opener," Ervin said. "It felt like the championship."