Osbourn, the team that was not supposed to be in the playoffs, and Hylton, the team that was supposed to play somebody else in the playoffs, got together Monday night in the Virginia AAA Northwest Region Division 6 semifinals, restoring some sort of order to the postseason.
Hylton won at home, 54-26, but the lead-up to the game was a lot more interesting than what took place on the field.
A recap: After turning in gear Nov. 14 following a first-round playoff loss to Gar-Field, Osbourn learned Friday afternoon that it was back in the playoffs because Gar-Field had to forfeit three regular season wins for using an ineligible player.
Hylton, preparing all week to face Gar-Field, learned about 51 / 2 hours before the scheduled game time on Friday that not only would it not face the Indians on Friday night, it would not be playing Friday night at all and would instead be playing on Monday against Osbourn, a team the Bulldogs had not encountered since 2005.
That made for a potentially interesting pairing: The nothing-to-lose team with a single-wing offense that can be a bear to prepare for vs. the undefeated team that was emotionally prepared to play an arch rival Friday only to have to regroup in a hurry.
It was a tie game after one quarter Monday, and a four-point game late in the first half before Hylton tacked on two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes 16 seconds of the second quarter.
Hylton moves on to the final, propelled by a dominant effort and a sigh of relief.
“We were in a tough situation having prepared for one team,” Hylton Coach Tony Lilly said after the game. “You try to time your week out in preparation emotionally to where you walk out here on Friday night your emotional level coming to that peak point. As a coaching staff, we had to sit down pretty quickly and figure it out. The kids really answered the call.
“If I could choose any team not to prepare for, it would be Osbourn and the single wing. It’s complicated and you have to be very assignment-specific because there’s just so much multiple misdirection.”
It was also a head-spinning scenario for Osbourn. Six Eagles play basketball, and many of those players were in the gym warming up for practice Friday when Principal John Werner announced over the school loudspeaker that the football team was back in the playoffs.
“We all kind of laughed thinking maybe he was doing some kind of April Fools joke or something,” Osbourn boys’ basketball Coach Mike Dufrene said. “We were just laughing and shaking our heads like, ‘Yeah, right.’ ”
It was true, but it took some convincing. Osbourn senior Ibrahim Kargbo tried to tell senior lineman Zach Bailey that the Eagles were still alive, but Bailey did not fully believe it until assistant Jimmy Ward called him with the same news.
Bailey offered Ward the same response that the eight teammates he notified had for him: “Are you serious?”
“Nobody could believe it,” Bailey said. “Everybody thought we were basically dreaming.”
Osbourn Coach Steve Schultze, who had to arrange a hasty tape exchange with Lilly, played along with the playing-with-house-money theme. One player said the team quote for the impromptu couple days of practice was: “Destiny. Why not?” There was even talk of not only reissuing mouthpieces and helmets and gear for the game but also lockers, to underscore that even though they had slipped back into the postseason, the Eagles were there to win, not just to provide an opponent.
As if it were early August and not mid-November, Osbourn coaches handed out gear Saturday afternoon — days after putting it away — lugging it down from the storage space atop Schultze’s office and practiced Saturday afternoon.
“At first it gave me a funny feeling,” Eagles senior running back Cedrick Delaney said over the weekend. “It’s still crazy to me when I think about it that now we have a chance to have a second chance.”
The Virginia High School League allowed Osbourn and Hylton to conduct a walk-through practice Sunday, given the unusual circumstances of one team not knowing it was going to play and the other team having little time to prepare for a replacement opponent.
“Nobody’s ever been in this situation,” Bailey said over the weekend, “so we don’t really know how to act.”
Varsity Letter is a column about high school sports in the Washington area.