As Osbourn junior Matt Johnson stood in the rain Monday night and talked up the job his team's defense had done in a 16-10 home win over Stonewall Jackson, assistant coach Sonny Hagy happened by with a towel and paused to dab mud off the defensive end's face.
Some of the grime came off, but Hagy would have to rub a lot harder if he wanted to remove the smiles that have been planted on Osbourn faces for weeks, some wider than ever now that the Eagles (6-1, 2-0 in the Cedar Run District) have clinched their first winning season since 1994 and have conquered what would appear to be their two primary challengers for the district title.
Amid the sloppiest of playing conditions, Osbourn scored two touchdowns and recorded a safety, all in the first quarter, and made those points hold up thanks in part to its defense and seven Stonewall fumbles -- four lost -- on exchanges or snaps.
Johnson recovered a fumble on Stonewall's next-to-last possession and helped stop Raiders sophomore running back John Carter about a yard short of a first down near midfield with 2 minutes 34 seconds left to preserve the victory in a homecoming game that had been postponed Friday by rain and wet conditions. The field was even worse come game time Monday.
"This is my favorite weather," Johnson said. "I love it. Because we get dirty and we play football."
Osbourn junior quarterback Brandon Hogan got bogged down on the ground but was able to engineer a controlled passing game, connecting with six teammates for completions. The attack did not reach the end zone after the first quarter, but it did serve to keep the Stonewall offense the field.
Then again, the Stonewall offense also kept the Stonewall offense off the field, with the four lost fumbles.
On the Raiders' first series, they gave up a safety when a high punt snap was kicked through the back of the end zone. On the first play of the next two series, they fumbled away snaps. Soon thereafter, it was 9-0, and after a 40-yard Hogan punt return set up a short touchdown drive, it was 16-0 with more than a minute left in the first period.
"You don't want to say that the first five minutes of the game determined the game, but what else can you say?" said Stonewall Coach Loren Johnson, whose team managed a 67-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. "What else could have lost it for us?
"We had times where the center said he just couldn't get the ball up because it was sitting in a pile of mud. . . . The quarterback's expecting the ball at a certain time. But again, their center . . . played in the same game. He played with just as many balls as we did. Had just as many towels as we had to wipe the ball off. . . . They just executed, and we didn't."
In the second half, one Raiders possession ended on downs at the Osbourn 45, and another ended at the Osbourn 34, on a fumble, the first play after Stonewall (3-4, 1-1) had recovered a muffed punt.
For Osbourn, lost amid the shivery conditions and homecoming festivities was that it had its first winning season in more than a decade. But at this point, the goals are loftier than merely finishing above .500.
"We thought we could do it in a couple of years, but it finally happened and it's real exciting for the kids, for the community, for the school, for our program," said fourth-year coach Steve Schultze, a 1980 Osbourn graduate. "Our whole motto this year is 'Nothing but greatness.' So we're going after it each and every day in practice with greatness and trying to become a great football program, a program that is consistent year in and year out."