Justice Coach Greg Weisbecker watched the last few plays of the game without a headset on. With his team on the verge of a 35-14 win over McLean that would push it to 4-0, Weisbecker had what every football coach wants late on a Friday night in the fall: a little bit of comfort.
But for a long time that is not how Friday nights went for the Justice Wolves. Known as J.E.B. Stuart until a name change before this school year, the program does not often win by three touchdowns. The Wolves don’t control games on the road. They don’t have two running backs who combine for more than 250 yards. And they certainly don’t start seasons 4-0.
This will be just the fifth time since 1999 the program has won at least four games in a season. The Wolves have had just one winning record in that time, and they can add another in 2018 with two more victories. As for the last time Stuart started a season 4-0? No one seems to know. The online records don’t go back far enough. Weisbecker’s best guess is sometime in the 1980s.
The Wolves’ undefeated start has caused a growing excitement at the Falls Church school, with each game building on a snowball of renewed interest.
“They go on the announcements and say, ‘We won another game,’ and you can hear the thunder of excitement throughout the school,” Justice Principal Maria Eck said from the sideline of Friday’s game. “It has brought about a lot of pride.”
This change isn’t as sudden as it seems. Last year’s 5-5 season contained flashes of improvement but was the picture of inconsistency: Every win was followed by a loss, and every loss was followed by a win. To fix that, Weisbecker said he has focused on a week-by-week approach, something that helped the Wolves not look past McLean, which has won two games since 2014.
“The culture is way different now,” senior running back Elijah Jeffries said. “It’s like a complete switch.”
Even in the first half Friday, it was clear why the Wolves had been putting points on the board this year. Jeffries and junior Devin Matthews make up one of the most exciting running back tandems in the area.
Against McLean, Jeffries started things off with a 46-yard touchdown run, and Matthews added a shifty 62-yarder in the second quarter and another score late in the fourth. Jeffries finished with 130 yards on the ground, and Matthews had 124.
“Everyone’s been doubting us,” Matthews said. “Everyone is surprised by this but us.”
After the game, Weisbecker gathered his players and told them to keep surprising people. Keep sending fans and journalists back through the archives, searching for a precedent.
“Every week it seems like we’re saying we can’t remember the last time we went 1-0 or 2-0 or 3-0 or 4-0,” he told his team. “I really, really want to say that again next week.”