“Man, we can’t let this happen again next year!” he said.
When Brown and Fuga arrived at Freedom four years ago, the idea that the Eagles would be in one championship game and talking about the next one was laughable. Heading into that 2015 season, the Eagles had never even won more than four games in a season.
“When I first came here, people laughed at me because I said I was going to Freedom,” Brown said. “So I just worked hard because I knew what was coming.”
Under Coach Darryl Overton, who also arrived in 2015, the Eagles slowly worked their way, year after year, to the stage they took Saturday afternoon at Hampton University. They increased their win total each season and then spent this fall surprising the rest of Northern Virginia. They went undefeated against local opponents, won a region title and then defeated Westfield, which had won 37 straight games and three consecutive state titles, in last week’s semifinals.
“There’s nothing for us, as a group, to be ashamed of. We built this whole program from scratch,” Fuga said. “We made history that nobody can take away from us.”
The Eagles (13-2) never truly looked like themselves Saturday afternoon, partly because Brown, a dynamic back who had been so integral to their success this year, injured his shoulder last week in the semifinals. He appeared uncomfortable against Manchester, approaching the line with uncharacteristic hesitance on his scattered carries. He finished with 13 carries for 65 yards.
“The work that he’s put in the rest of the season means if he said he can go, he’s going to go. He’s earned that,” Overton said.
The Lancers, also making their first state championship game appearance, won by doing a lot of the same things that carried the Eagles this year. They used their speed to break big plays, finished tackles with aggression and set up shop in the opponent’s backfield. Five of their seven touchdowns came on plays of more than 25 yards.
Down 21-7, the Eagles put together a long drive out of halftime. It seemed like a possible turning point, but Freedom stalled in the red zone and missed a short field goal. Less than 90 seconds later, the Lancers scored and pushed their lead to 21. On the next possession, they ran a trick play — a running back pass that worked to perfection — and it was 35-7. At that point, it was officially a party for the team in orange.
“That didn’t turn out at all how we wanted to,” Overton said after the game. “But [today] is not a reflection of our whole body of work.”