Malik Carney has heard it from his coaches and the media before, but the fact that T.C. Williams hasn’t made the playoffs in 22 years isn’t something he chooses to focus on much. The senior running back/linebacker knows the only thing he and his teammates can control is the season at hand, which currently sees the Titans sitting at 4-1.
“It’s special that we could be the class that changes that if we get to the playoffs, but we’re staying humble,” Carney said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re 4-1 now; it’s how we finish.”
A strong finish to last season with four straight wins, along with a roster that featured North Carolina recruits Carney and lineman Jeremiah Clarke and the majority of their returning defensive starters provided the ingredients for the Titans’ quick start.
Following a strong season-opening win against Oakton, the Titans were blown out by No. 3 Centreville, 44-16. The loss created an early crossroads for the Titans, who were determined not to let the defeat snowball into another futile campaign.
“We’ve had a history of losing our first or second game and then it all goes downhill from there,” Carney said. “When we beat Oakton, we were excited, but we weren’t too big-headed because it was just one game. After the Centreville loss, when we weren’t clicking, we had a bye week and used that time to renew our commitment and come out swinging.”
In their next game, the Titans forced six turnovers in a hard-fought win against Langley. Then this past Friday, with starting quarterback Darius Holland out with an injury, junior Samuel Deen stepped in to help lead the Titans to a 20-14 win against Annandale.
The second half of the season features contests against a potent South County offense on Saturday and game against No. 4 Lake Braddock in two weeks. Though both opponents will be tall orders, they also will serve as primers for a team that’s focused on the postseason – and more.
“If we make the playoffs, that would be great, but we’re not going to be satisfied with just that,” Carney said. “At this point, we’re striving for the best and looking to go 9-1 and then make a run in the playoffs. We’ve still got some guys growing into their positions and staying humble, but we also know our goals and know how special this team can be.”
Oakton Coach Jason Rowley tried to warn Alek Schultz that learning the read option offense was no piece of cake, but the senior running back, who transferred from DeMatha and its pro-style attack this past offseason, figured it couldn’t be that hard.
Just how right Rowley was became clear in preseason practice, as Schultz struggled for three months to adapt to the speed and foresight required to power the Cougars’ attack.
“It’s a lot faster because you’re running play after play, whereas the pro style, you have time to let sink in what the play will be before setting up and running it,” Schultz said. “It was a struggle at first.”
It wasn’t until the first Friday of September, when the Cougars took on Madison, that Schultz felt comfortable, resulting in a 238-yard, one-touchdown performance.
Positive development from Oakton’s wealth of new faces have been critical in helping the Cougars bounce back from a season-opening loss to T.C. Williams with four straight wins.
“We weren’t blocking very well, and we weren’t defending very well up front,” Rowley said. “We made some adjustments and get back to doing some things, like being more physical in practice. That first game made us gain a lot of experience, where the players realized, if they’re not prepared, they’re going to get beat.”
The lesson didn’t take long to sink in, as the Cougars realized that aggressive preparation and play would be necessary to maintain Oakton’s typical success despite losing 98 percent of its offense from a year ago.
Along with Schultz, who has rushed for 462 yards and scored seven touchdowns, the Cougars have benefitted from the play of first-year starting quarterback Michael Ficarra. As the leader of the read-option attack, Ficarra is relied upon to make snap decisions, a task that Rowley said his senior quarterback has performed well. Giving Ficarra time and space to make those decisions has been Connor Fagan, who stepped in at left tackle for graduated All-Met Chris Durant.
Defensively, lineman Miles Lindsey has given the Cougars a force coming off the edges while Bobby Lam has continued his strong play at linebacker from a year ago. During their four-game win streak, the Cougars have allowed an average of 13.8 points.
“We have some things to work on because, honestly, even though we win, if we play Chantilly like we did Woodson, we’re not going to be in good shape,” Schultz said. “But since that first loss, we’ve been getting after it and we know we’re capable of playing at a high level.”
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