Manassas Park had plenty of chances to fold its football season Friday night, but the Cougars simply don't know how to lose, especially at home, where the last time the team experienced defeat none of the current players was even in high school yet.
So despite four first-half turnovers, two long third-quarter touchdowns called back, and a daunting 14-point fourth-quarter deficit, the Cougars found a way to defeat Chatham, 25-21, for the school's third consecutive Virginia A Region B Division 2 championship.
Quarterback Jay Terrell's third score of the fourth quarter and fourth touchdown overall with 1 minute 14 seconds left in the contest gave the Cougars (12-0) their 26th straight victory overall and their 29th consecutive win at home.
Manassas Park will travel Saturday to face the winner of yesterday's King William-Washington & Lee game in a Division 2 state semifinal.
On a frigid night Friday, the Manassas Park players exited the field to chants of "our house, our field," but the victory wasn't secured until Ellery Moore pounced on a Chatham fumble on the Manassas Park 34-yard-line with 26 seconds left.
"We have a championship team, and championship teams respond in crunch time and that's what we did," Moore said.
That fumble was the fourth ball lost by Chatham in the fourth quarter. The costly turnovers led to great field position for the Cougars, who had scoring drives of 18 and 30 yards to close to 21-19 midway through the quarter.
Manassas Park, however, needed a fourth-and-1 plunge by Terrell from the Cavalier 3 with 1:34 to go to keep alive its dream of a second straight state championship.
"I was hoping my line would chop them big boys from Chatham, and I was going to dive over," Terrell said. "But I just lowered my head and dug in as hard as I could."
Terrell finished with 114 yards on 27 carries.
For much of the night it looked as if Chatham (10-2) would end Manassas Park's winning streak much the same way it had ended Gretna's 38-game winning streak a week earlier. Behind a punishing ground attack, Chatham shocked the Manassas Park home crowd with 21 points in a six-minute span in the second quarter to take a 21-7 halftime lead. Manassas Park had allowed 14 or fewer points in five straight playoff games.
Four Manassas Park turnovers, including three interceptions by Terrell, aided Chatham.
"I tried to put the team on my back and carry them, and I just tried to do too much," Terrell said.
Manassas Park Coach Jeff Lloyd said his number one priority at halftime was to settle the team down, and he talked privately with Terrell before addressing the entire team. Terrell had another interception in the second half, but otherwise the Cougars protected the ball.
Penalties, however, were a problem in the second half. Two long Cougar touchdown plays, a 65-yarder to Anthony Williams and a 53-yard pitch and catch touchdown to Raphael Rigaud, were both called back in the third quarter.
"Lesser teams would have folded. I know it is a cliche but [the team] doesn't know anything other than winning," Lloyd said.
Chatham started the final quarter with a bad snap on a punt that gave the Cougars the ball at the Cavaliers' 18 and, more importantly, some momentum. Jeff Redd, who had more than 100 yards rushing in the first half for Chatham, was limited to 19 yards in the second half and accounted for three of Chatham's five fumbles.
The Manassas Park defense, led by senior linebacker Todd Smoot, shut down Chatham the entire fourth quarter.
"In a lot of ways Smoot is our most valuable player," Lloyd said. "He does everything we ask of him to the best of his ability both on offense and defense."
Smoot and his teammates were going up against a bigger Chatham line that had its way against the Manassas Park for three quarters. In the end, when it counted most, however, the Cougars came up big. At home they don't expect anything else.