After Jim Poythress settled into his house Saturday evening, still stung by Lake Braddock’s stunning, 19-16 loss to Westfield just hours earlier in the Virginia 6A North region semifinals, the Bruins coach turned on the television to watch the final minutes of the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn.
As Auburn rallied for a fantastic finish, when Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 100 yards for the game-winning touchdown, Poythress couldn’t help but think of the missed field goal attempt in the Bruins’ loss that was returned for a score and kick-started Westfield’s comeback.
“I guess we weren’t the only ones who had some tough breaks on Saturday,” Poythress quipped in a Sunday phone interview.
Most signs pointed to the 2013 campaign being a special one for Lake Braddock and the season featured plenty of highlights. After finding his bearings as a junior following a transfer from West Potomac, quarterback and North Carolina recruit Caleb Henderson put together an impressive senior season in tandem with junior wide receiver A.J. Alexander and tight end Ryan Antonellis. The Bruins also possessed an imposing defense that strung together five consecutive shutouts during the team’s 12-0 start.
After reaching the state title game in 2009, the Bruins had fallen to either the state finalist or Northern Region champion in each of the last three years, demonstrating just how close Lake Braddock was to a breakthrough. The first 42 minutes of Saturday’s game brought more reason for optimism, with Lake Braddock up 16-0 and Westfield playing without star running back Tyler Thrasher-Walker (left knee injury).
But a blocked field goal and 89-yard touchdown return by James Gibson followed by a 78-yard Westfield scoring drive in the final minute reversed the game’s course, leaving Lake Braddock just short of its championship aspirations.
“We had an 8-2 team make it to the state championship and now here we are, 12-0, and we thought we had the game won,” Poythress said. “Who’s going to predict that they would block a field goal and run it back for a touchdown? They hadn’t scored on offense until the last minute and their best player is injured on the sideline, so who’s going to think they would drive 78 yards and score? All these uncharacteristic things happened. But you can’t make excuses.”
With Henderson, Antonellis and 30 other seniors graduating, the Bruins will enter next season with a slew of new starters. But between the valuable experience drawn from this year’s success and the potential for others to step in just as seniors Trevor O’Brien, Vincent Sica, Lance Hammond and others elevated their play in 2013, the Bruins are confident they can draw wisdom and character lessons even in the wake of Saturday’s loss.
“We had a great season; there’s no doubt about that,” Alexander said. “Of course it didn’t end the way we wanted, and there’s no true satisfaction unless you win it all. It’s a mix of emotions, where you’re sad that you won’t play with these guys anymore, but as a junior, I realize there’s another year of football left, so I’ve got to keep my head up and start focusing on what’s ahead.”