It seemed like the right time for a spike. Freedom-Woodbridge had just advanced the ball to the 4-yard line with about 10 seconds remaining in a monumental early-season matchup with Colonial Forge, and it was out of timeouts. But in the chaos of a loud home crowd, and with every coach on the sideline screaming to be heard, the Eagles skipped the spike and went straight for the win.
Senior kicker Markell Johnson and the field goal unit sprinted onto the field, the ball got snapped with two seconds left, and a successful kick delivered the Eagles a 30-27 victory.
“I didn’t hit the panic button, our coaches didn’t hit the panic button tonight,” Coach Darryl Overton said. “We stayed steady and weathered the storm until we got some momentum.”
The No. 10 Eagles (3-0) surprised plenty of Virginians last season when they clawed their way through the postseason to reach the Class 6 title game. Not only was it their first championship appearance, but it was also the first time any team from the 15-year-old Prince William County school had captured even a regional title. Despite losing to Manchester in the state title game, the playoff run altered the trajectory of the program.
“In Virginia, the same schools are good every year,” Overton said. “Those coaches have built a great foundation. But when you play five more games after the regular season, that’s a whole half of a season. . . .You’re talking about kids getting 20 more practices. That’s why it’s always [the same schools] because they’re stealing half a season every year.”
On Friday night, the Eagles looked like a team used to dealing with pressure as they climbed back from ac 21-0 first-half deficit to tie the game at 27 early in the fourth quarter. A defensive stop, a blocked punt and a quick drive ensued, setting up Johnson’s game-winner.
“We had to come out and show people that we were the best,” said senior wide receiver Jason Hawkins, who caught two touchdowns. “Tonight that took everything in us.”
Freedom had circled Colonial Forge on the schedule as an early measuring stick. Colonial Forge has been one of the most successful teams in Virginia over the past decade, losing four or fewer games in each of the past 10 seasons. Overton knows that winning culture well, having served as a defensive coordinator there for six years before taking over at Freedom in 2015.
“You don’t want to find out what you have in November,” Overton said. “It’s two really good programs. They’ve built that program to where it’s at, and I’m getting our program there. When you get two good football teams on the field, that’s the type of game you get.”