Loudoun Valley 12
The Loudoun Valley football team trudged off its home field Friday night fighting the sting of a 14-12 loss to Edison in the Virginia AAA Northern Region Division 5 semifinals. Some players refused to go into the locker room and instead sat on the curb in the parking lot in full uniform. Others exchanged hugs and shed tears.
But amid the disappointment of a playoff loss was undiminished pride resulting from a season full of impressive accomplishments.
"I think we really came together," Vikings senior running back Tommy Schonder said. "This has been one of the best experiences of my life."
Loudoun Valley made the transition this season from the AA Dulles District to the AAA National District look easy. The Vikings (9-2) won the district title with a 7-0 record. Schonder was named co-district player of the year by rushing for 1,146 yards and 18 touchdowns in 10 regular-season games.
"I'm proud of the kids, proud of their season," Coach Bruce Sheppard said. "This shouldn't diminish what they've accomplished. To come out here in the first year of AAA and be district champs, our kids had set as a goal to do big things this year."
The game turned in Edison's favor at the beginning of the second half, when the Vikings failed to field a short kickoff. The Eagles recovered at the Vikings 20-yard line and took a 14-6 lead with a touchdown five plays later.
"As a team, we've got to overcome those things," Sheppard said. "It's kind of tough to hand them the ball and say, 'Here's a touchdown.' "
From that point, Edison's defense keyed on Schonder. He rushed for 14 yards on 11 carries in the second half. Loudoun Valley had to shift its offensive focus to the passing game.
"We knew they were going to come and try to stop Tommy," quarterback Sam Clay said. "We knew at some point we were going to have to put the ball in the air. We hit a couple but we missed a few."
Loudoun Valley began three of its four drives in the second half at its 44-yard line or better. Still, the offense struggled without a potent running game.
"We had to come out and shut [Schonder] down because, you know, he's a great runner," Edison linebacker Keone Kyle said.
The Vikings finally broke through trailing by eight with less than three minutes to play. Clay connected with wideout Bryan Oden on a pump-and-go route that gained 28 yards down to the Eagles 3-yard line. Clay scored on a quarterback sneak two plays later, setting up a two-point conversion attempt to tie the game.
On the two-point try, Clay faked a handoff to Schonder and rolled to his left on a bootleg. He appeared to have enough open space in front of him to reach the end zone, but Eagles cornerback Buddy Finley saw through the fake and chased down Clay in the backfield. Clay lobbed a wobbly pass into end zone in desperation, but it was intercepted. Loudoun Valley's fate was sealed when Kyle recovered the ensuing onside kick for Edison.
While the loss was particularly painful in the immediate aftermath, the Vikings agreed they will eventually look back on the season with happy memories.
"Winning the National District in [our first year] in AAA, defying what everyone thought we could do, that's definitely a positive," Schonder said. "We have nothing to keep our heads down about."