The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tightknit Madison’s first trip to football state title game ends in loss to Oscar Smith

Tigers 42, Warhawks 17

Madison's Jake Green, right, and Ethan Lanier reach to sack : Oscar Smith quarterback Ethan Vasko in the second half of the Class 6 state championship game Saturday in Norfolk. (Amber Searls/For The Washington Post)

NORFOLK — The four friends walked to midfield with their arms linked, a chorus of cheers at their backs.

Quarterback Connor Barry, running back Alex Jreige, defensive back John Hurley and linebacker Ryan Salvosa have known one another since elementary school. They grew up together, playing a different sport every season. They excelled in football, working their way to this picture-perfect moment: senior captains of the No. 4 Madison football team, approaching the coin toss of the program’s first Class 6 championship appearance.

“We’ve been friends for so long, and playing as friends makes football so much more fun,” Jreige said.

The captains’ bond set the tone for a tightknit Warhawks team this fall, one that stormed its way through Northern Virginia with a physical defense and punishing ground game. But on Saturday, their formula for success met a better one from Oscar Smith, and the Tigers earned a 42-17 victory.

“We would’ve liked to have given them a little better game, but I couldn’t be more proud of the way we fought,” Warhawks Coach Justin Counts said. “We talk about playing for 48 minutes all the time, and I think our guys did that today. They did that every game this year … and they took us further than our program has ever been before.”

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The Class 6 title game, being played for the first time at Old Dominion’s S.B. Ballard Stadium, is a familiar and expected destination for the Tigers (13-1), a perennial powerhouse out of Chesapeake. Saturday was their third straight appearance in a state championship game and ninth overall. This title is their fourth.

They overpowered the Warhawks with big plays, scoring their first 35 points without entering the red zone. When No. 4 Madison (13-2) cut the Tigers’ lead to four points early in the third quarter, they responded with a 56-yard touchdown run followed by a 96-yard touchdown run. Both came from senior running back Kevon King, who finished with 290 yards.

“They didn’t try to trick us,” Salvosa said. “I tip my hat to them because they ran it right down our throat, which no one had ever done to us before.”

The No. 4 Warhawks (13-2) didn’t appear overwhelmed or deferential — as first-time finalists often do. Instead they looked like a team with nothing to lose, taking a 7-0 lead on a fake field goal and keeping their foot on the gas. Barry led the team with 84 yards rushing, and Jreige added 63. Madison’s 17 points were the second most conceded by the Tigers this fall.

At the final whistle, Oscar Smith players streamed onto the field, and a few did backflips in celebration. The four Madison seniors watched as their coach accepted the runner-up trophy, and then they headed inside for a news conference. By the time it had finished, the field at Old Dominion was mostly empty, with a few fans streaming in for the second part of the afternoon’s championship doubleheader. Top 40 music played from the stadium speakers, but otherwise it was fairly quiet. Behind their coach, they walked side-by-side to the exit.

“I really wouldn’t rather walk next to three other guys,” Barry said. “It was a good ride.”

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