The Cougars’ coaches called a roll-out pass to the left but when Downer scanned his options, he found no receivers open. The senior quarterback then surveyed the back of the end zone, again finding no one, leaving him with one option – run.
Downer scrambled right, turning past the Wildcats’ defense on a big block from Joe Filerman before diving into the end zone for the six-yard touchdown run as time expired, securing a 14-13 victory. The score capped a 61-yard, two-minute drive for Oakton (8-4) and its second playoff upset after ending the regular season on a four-game losing streak.
“It’s tough to stay confident after so many losses, but the coaches told us after the regular season that the playoffs were a new season and we can do with it what we wanted,” Downer said. “Since then, our level of confidence has gone up and we have a new energy.”
Oakton Coach Jason Rowley has noticed a difference, too, noting his team’s calm demeanor during the final drive.
“We practice that two-minute drill at least twice a week and the guys showed that they were ready to execute it,” Rowley said. “Even when we were down seven going into halftime, there was no panic from our guys. We’ve actually had that demeanor all year long, but things just hadn’t worked out our way.”
The Cougars will ride their recent momentum into Saturday’s Division 6 final against Westfield, a team that has seemed to only pick up steam throughout the season. The Bulldogs (12-0) won their regular season matchup with Oakton, 28-14.
Yorktown junior M.J. Stewart and senior Arturo Brown combined for 399 rushing yards on 42 carries in their team’s 48-28 win over South County in the Virginia AAA Northern Region Division 5 semifinals.
So what was the game plan for Friday night? Throw the ball. Instead, the No. 9 Patriots threw out the game plan and rode Stewart and Brown.
“When those guys came out like that, what the heck, we’re not going to throw it that much,” Yorktown Coach Bruce Hanson said. “They were on fire. That’s the best I’ve seen M.J. play all year, and he’s played great all year. And that’s the best I saw Arturo run the ball all year. I thought we’d be able to run the ball, but I didn’t think we’d have that kind of success.”
Another reason the Patriots stuck with the run is because they went up 21-0 in the first quarter thanks in part to a blocked punt return by senior Colin Johnston.
The win avenged an embarrassing 37-13 home loss to South County in last year’s region final on Yorktown’s home field and got the Patriots into the championship for the second straight year. They will play No. 2 Stone Bridge for the first time at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Ashburn.
“I really felt to validate our 10-0 season we really should get back to the finals, but I never told our kids that and I never told our coaches that,” Hanson said.
“It’s states or bust; that’s everybody’s opinion on this team,” the senior defensive lineman said. “We’ve come up short the last two years but we’re hoping to get some revenge this year.”
After Ryan Burns stole the show in the first round with six touchdown passes, the Bulldogs’ ground game led the way against the Saxons. Sterling Dailey continued his recent tear, rushing for 196 yards and two scores.