The celebration was slow to develop for Heritage after its 35-10 victory against rival Loudoun County last night in Leesburg. The emotions were too mixed.
Heritage's win did earn the Pride a share of its first AA Dulles District title, and its 7-3 overall record marked its first winning season in the school's four years. The Pride finished the year as the only Dulles District team above .500.
Yet they are not advancing to the Virginia AA Region II Division 4 playoffs.
That honor instead goes to Park View, something all of the Pride players knew as soon as word of the Patriots' 33-21 victory at Broad Run began circulating down the sideline in the game's final minutes.
"It's emotional, for starters, because we were 3-7 a year ago," said senior running back Matt Lucas, whose team was a combined 8-22 in its first three years. "So this year has been a complete turnaround. We showed our heart, and we made history for our school. We're the first senior class to go all four years through Heritage, and we were determined to get it right before we moved on.
"But it's tough, too, not getting a shot at the playoffs. But at least we've got that district championship trophy to say 'This is who we are.' "
It was precisely that realization that started to bring smiles to the players' faces. And after a few minutes had passed -- and reality had set in -- the high-fiving and chest-bumping and picture-taking went into full swing.
"You made history tonight," Coach Wes Driskill told his team. "And you proved it convincingly. You deserve every bit of this success. This night is going to be something to remember later on in life."
The game will be memorable also because the Pride didn't just live off its finesse passing attack that has been successful behind senior quarterback Bryan Brosnan (1,454 yards passing, 17 touchdowns). Instead, Heritage was determined to run the ball against a Raiders team (4-6, 2-3) that held three Pride running backs to a combined 86 yards rushing in a 27-19 nondistrict loss in September.
"We had to prove we're a balanced team and that we're a tough team," Lucas said. "Every year people have been questioning our toughness. This was our statement game."
Lucas set the game's tempo, rushing 24 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Chris Smith added 60 yards and another score and also caught two passes for 34 yards and a touchdown.
The Pride also benefited from harassing the Raiders into five turnovers.
"Loudoun County is the team, really, that knocked us out of the playoffs by beating us early on," said Smith, whose team also slipped against Handley and Park View. "And we came back, against them, to win our fourth in a row and make school history. Playoffs or not, I'm proud to be a part of that."