For the first time all football season, T.C. Williams looked very, very vulnerable in its Virginia AAA state semifinal game. Nevertheless, it will be in the final.
Unable to do much offensively against an aggressive, physical Pulaski County defense, Williams had to turn to its own defensive unit to defeat the determined Cougars, 13-0, before approximately 8,000 yesterday at W.T. Woodson.
Williams (13-0) will meet Hampton (11-2) for the state championship at 3:30 next Saturday in the University of Virginia's Scott Stadium. Hampton beat Hermitage, 21-7, in its semifinal.
Williams, again playing without tailback Rodney McNeil (fractured shinbone), went away from what it does best -- running the option -- and allowed the Cougars (10-3) to stay dangerously close throughout. The score was 7-0 inside the last two minutes.
Even quarterback Glenn Williams (seven of 13 passing for 66 yards) and tailback Bren Lowery (94 yards on 24 carries) were at a loss to explain why their big-play offense (averaging more than 300 yards and just under 30 points per game) turned conservative.
"Our strategy was to go outside because they were so big inside," said Williams, who was sacked four times for losses totaling 28 yards. "We couldn't get much in there and it was tough to throw over them because they were so big. We didn't call enough pitches."
Lowery broke for 25 and 31 yards on two option plays around end -- one on a key third-and-10 call from Williams' seven -- but otherwise averaged less than two yards a try. He said Coach Glenn Furman "moves in mysterious ways and I couldn't understand why we kept trying to run inside those two 270-pound tackles (Brian Golden and Richie Hasson)."
Furman admitted surprise at the way Pulaski controlled the Titans' offense but defended his conservative approach.
"Pulaski took away the pitch early and when we got up, 7-0, we wanted to be a little careful," Furman said. "Most of the time I'm a run-and-shoot man, but sometimes you have to slow down. The thing we didn't do was beat ourselves. If we had Rodney (McNeil), we would have gone outside more. But we did get our eighth shutout; our defense definitely won this one for us."
Williams gained 161 total yards, Pulaski County 110.
With the offense on hold, Williams' defense had to play well. Hard hitting by Titan defenders forced two fumbles in the first half, the second one turning out to be the game's crucial play. On second and six from the Pulaski 46, Cougars quarterback Shane St. Clair was wrapped up by end Doug Matthews on an attempted sprint-out. Matthews jarred the ball loose and the defensive end's cousin, cornerback Lamont Windsor, scooped up the bouncing ball and ran 35 yards for a touchdown.
Pete Blumberg's kick made it 7-0, with 3:23 to play in the half.
"We were working slants to take their outside runs away," Matthews said. "When I grabbed him (St. Clair), I tried to push the ball out of his hand." Windsor said he was in the right place because a blitz had been called.
The Titans' best offensive drive of the day began with Lowery's 31-yard run in the second half. It stalled at the Cougars' 14 and Blumberg missed a field goal.
With less than three minutes remaining, St. Clair (three of 15 for 53 yards) was rushed hard inside his 10 and threw a wobbly pass that all-Met defensive back Larry Bryant intercepted and returned 29 yards to the one. Two handoffs up the middle netted nothing before Lowery ran outside for a touchdown with 1:25 left.