Oakton's Keith Payne sprinted the length of the field -- outrunning everyone once again -- after the final play Saturday, collapsing in the end zone and followed by teammates who piled on the senior standout.
After he had propelled the fifth-ranked Cougars to a stunning 28-7 victory over Landstown in the Virginia AAA Division 6 championship, there was no question that Payne was going to be the first to celebrate.
Payne played every down at a packed Darling Stadium, rushing for a career-high 250 yards and four touchdowns on offense. Defensively, Payne shadowed Landstown senior wide receiver Percy Harvin, one of four finalists for Parade magazine's national player of year award, holding him to 49 total yards.
The win gave the Cougars (12-2) their first state championship. Despite his efforts, Payne admitted no exhaustion.
"Not tired at all," he said. "I'm just feeling great right now. You can't be tired after a state championship. It's overwhelming."
Payne had a right to be overcome with Oakton beating a team many thought was untouchable. The Cougars snapped the nationally ranked and defending champion Eagles' 27-game winning streak, stopping not only Harvin but also senior quarterback Donnie Kirby, the leading single-season passer in Virginia High School League history. They also stopped senior wide receiver Damon McDaniel, who ranks second in the state in single-season receiving yards and catches. Landstown (13-1) had averaged 46.6 points per contest this season.
The Cougars set the tone early, forcing a Landstown fumble on the game's opening drive and embarking on a 12-play, 74-yard scoring drive -- all runs -- capped by Payne's three-yard touchdown.
On the third play after halftime, Payne broke free for a 53-yard touchdown run, building the lead to 14-0. Landstown moved the ball on its next possession, but Oakton stopped the Eagles on fourth down from the Cougars 16.
Payne took the ball 77 yards for a score on the next drive, and Taylor Naleppa followed Landstown's three-and-out series with a 50-yard run, setting up Payne's final touchdown at the start of the fourth.
"We knew we had them coming into the game," Naleppa said. "We could tell we were more hyped up than them. . . . After we drove down the field for our first touchdown we had already stabbed them in the heart. They were done."
Harvin did not look like the player who torched Robinson in last year's state final with 382 total yards and four touchdowns. A large part of the reason was Payne, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Virginia recruit who was in Harvin's face and jabbering throughout.
The rest of Oakton's defense did its part by pressuring Kirby. Defensive lineman Jared Ruppert had two of Oakton's five sacks and seniors Sean Purcell and Mark Davis each had an interception.
"I really can't say what they were doing to stop us," Harvin said. "They were all just flying around. They were the better team today."
Oakton did not always get credit as the better team this season. The Cougars played with powerhouses Centreville, Robinson and Westfield in the Concorde District and lost two consecutive games in midseason. But they bounced back, earning the top seed in the Northern Region playoffs by playing five games against region playoff teams.
The Cougars also faced an end-of-season investigation into a player's eligibility that could have cost them a playoff berth. And just this week, the VHSL moved the site of the title game from Richmond to Hampton, just 30 miles from Landstown, and a day later changed the game time from 4 p.m. to 12:30 p.m.
"I told them it's only natural we'd be here after all we've been through this year," Oakton Coach Joe Thompson said, with tears running down his face. "There's only one team that could be playing this game."
"I want to say, 'Who is next?' " Naleppa said with smile. "What's the next team we're going to play? Maybe we'll play Maryland's state champs."