On the first day of the 2011-12 school year, Caleb Henderson aimlessly searched the Lake Braddock cafeteria for a place to sit. The then-junior had transferred from West Potomac and while Henderson was known in football circles for his capabilities as a quarterback, he was a stranger to most everyone in the halls at Lake Braddock.
From the lonely stare on Henderson’s face, Ryan Antonellis figured it couldn’t hurt to invite him to sit at his table of friends. Eventually, the two agreed to throw and run routes together after school that day, marking the first of what’s become many connections on the field during the past two years for Henderson and Antonellis, a senior tight end for the Bruins.
Their chemistry was on full display during Friday’s dramatic 28-24 win against then-No. 10 Westfield, as Henderson found Antonellis on five passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. During the game-winning drive in the final two minutes, Henderson found Antonellis across the middle for gains of 22 and 26 yards.
“Caleb trusts me a lot and knows where I like the ball on the field,” Antonellis said. “We train a lot together.”
“I’ve never seen an athlete like Ryan and he’s a nice target to have,” Henderson said.
During the offseason, the No. 4 Bruins quickened the pace of their history, using Henderson’s IQ and the team’s wealth of athletes to control the game’s tempo. Though there were some growing pains during 7-on-7 competitions in the spring and summer, by August, the Bruins showed so much proficiency that Henderson says their own defense struggles to stop it during practice.
Once Westfield took the lead with 3 minutes 4 seconds remaining in back-and-forth contest, the message among players and coaches was for the Bruins to “do what we do,” which is quickly move the ball downfield behind the trust and foreknowledge built through their offense and chemistry.
“You don’t hope for those moments but once we saw there were still two or three minutes left after they scored we knew that was more than enough time to score,” Antonellis said. “Caleb ran the offense well and we all worked together to make plays when we needed them.” . . .
Three games don’t make a season but West Potomac Coach Jeremiah Davis knew that three straight losses could doom the Wolverines’ season. So with his team trailing W.T. Woodson 7-3 at halftime and struggling to find any offensive success, Davis exhorted his players to forget the past and turn up their passion.
“They played us tough the whole way and at some points it was like, ‘Man, we can’t get anything,’ ” Davis said. “So we started to go up tempo a little bit to get something going.”
The result was 21 points in the final six minutes of a 24-7 win against the Cavaliers that left most surprised — with the exception of Demornay Pierson-El.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” said Pierson-El, who rushed for 225 yards and two touchdowns. “Once everyone is on the same page and has the same level of desire to go all out, we’re pretty tough.”
The Wolverines began to display this chemistry midway through the fourth quarter on a drive downfield that ended with a three-yard touchdown run by Pierson-El.
After forcing a Woodson punt, Davis elected to run down the clock by keeping the ball in the hands of Pierson-El, who was finding an unusual amount of time and space at the quarterback position. But as the Wolverines kept moving downfield, Pierson-El eventually found room on the right side for a 20-yard touchdown. West Potomac sealed its first win on the next drive on a Glen Rushing interception that the junior returned 27 yards for the final score.
After starter Preston Jones went down with a broken arm in the season opener, Davis moved Pierson-El from running back/receiver to under center. With Pierson-El’s strong arm and scrambling ability, the transition has been quite an adjustment of both and West Potomac’s opponents.
“It’s funny because I’m so used to people running at me, but now I look and nobody really rushes because everybody plays zone waiting for me to scramble or force a pass,” said Pierson-El, who has thrown for 247 yards and rushed for 455. “In practice, I’m still getting used to making reads and using the whole field to make quicker decisions. With the way the coaches trust me, it’s good having the ball in my hands from the snap.”