The thrill had vanished by the fourth quarter. It was sapped by a humidity that sent cramping players on and off the field and extinguished the adrenaline pumped into the atmosphere by the ESPN cameras and more than 7,000 fans present for Friday’s matchup between No. 1 Centreville and No. 2 Gonzaga.
As Reggie Corbin gingerly jogged back onto the field late in Gonzaga’s 31-14 win, he felt the same shooting pain in his legs that had sent Eagles teammate Marcus Lewis to the sideline, resulting in Corbin lining up in the flats instead of at his usual post in the backfield. Drawing back on the intense conditioning he and the Eagles had endured under first-year Coach Randy Trivers, Corbin mustered one more burst of speed, racing to the left before pulling in a pass that he took 48 yards to the end zone.
The play served to re-invigorate an Eagles team ripe to prove itself on the national stage and deflated host Centreville during the victory for the Eagles in Clifton, broadcast to a national television audience on ESPNU.
“All week, we had run that play for Marcus, but he was out with an injury, so the coaches told me to go run,” Corbin said. “At that point I was just numb to the situation and all the pain and focused on winning. I just ran the wheel route, made the catch and pushed down the field.”
Whatever jitters presided from playing in front of a capacity crowd and, according to The Post’s rankings, their stiffest competition in the area were addressed square on by both teams during their opening drives. Corbin bounced his first two rushes outside for big gains before diving into the end zone for a two-yard run, capping a drive that lasted less than two minutes.
Deliberate in both its pace and play-calling, Centreville, the defending Virginia 6A state champion, worked first-year quarterback Joe Ferrick into an early rhythm. The senior completed his first six throws, including an eight-yard touchdown to a wide-open David Liddle that tied the score at 7 late in the first quarter.
Gonzaga’s offense kept churning behind Corbin, who gained 110 of his 211 yards in the first half. He zoomed past Centreville’s defenders, the ball high and tight in his clutch, to set up another short touchdown run by Gonzaga quarterback Nick Johns. The Eagles (2-0) soon shifted their hurried pace to the defensive end. A steady dose of blitzes prevented Ferrick from getting set in the pocket, leading to an interception and a 17-7 halftime lead.
The Wildcats (0-1) tried to keep Gonzaga off balance with shifts at the line and option runs behind Taylor Boose and several others but produced just 59 first-half rushing yards as their fastest runner, A.J. Turner, looked on helplessly from the sideline because of a wrist fracture suffered in the offseason.
As fatigue and cramps began to set in during a scoreless third quarter, Gonzaga’s defense saw several of its players go down, threatening to cripple a unit that had already lost standout junior linebacker Kyle Taylor to a knee injury earlier in the game. But with Centreville threatening just outside the Eagles’ red zone, DeAndre Easterling and Jack Carroll came up with two big sacks to stymie the Wildcats and set up Corbin’s decisive touchdown catch.
“That’s a really good team that we went up against tonight on a big stage, so I think we earned some respect,” said Johns, who finished with 150 total yards and three touchdowns. “But now it’s on to the next challenge.”