As the clock trickled down on Centreville’s most important victory in two years, players and coaches embraced with all the usual glee that comes with winning a championship. There was song; there was dance; there was laughter; there was a palpable feeling of invincibility in the wake of a school-record 14th consecutive win.
Yet there was also a sense of more road ahead in a journey far from complete. The Wildcats have accomplished a great deal during their undefeated run to the 6A North region title, but the real weight of their legacy lies at the end of a two-hour drive south through the rolling hills of Route 29, where 6A South champion Oscar Smith awaits them at Scott Stadium this Saturday.
Centreville’s 35-14 triumph in last Saturday’s region final tasted especially sweet coming at the expense of Westfield, its bitter crosstown rival making a third straight region championship appearance. But after all the hoopla died down near midfield, coach Chris Haddock conducted interviews with cheeks that remained tear-free and a voice that held resolute, his left hand clutching the trophy as casually as a man holding a bag of groceries. Senior quarterback Scott Walter had the same look on his face, a determined scowl that hinted at unfulfilled expectations.
“Our goal was the state championship,” said Walter, who finished Saturday’s game with 200 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. “We didn’t want anything less than that. Everything else would be underachieving. We expected to be here, so it’s time to go prove everybody wrong from two years ago and beat them.”
Here, Walter is referring to Oscar Smith, the Chesapeake juggernaut that whipped Centreville, 42-14, in the 2011 state championship. According to Walter, the wounds from that beatdown in Charlottesville remain fresh. Everyone on the Centreville sideline knows that healing those wounds with a win will be by far their most difficult challenge to date.
“We’re all really excited and just really pumped up, but we know that in a few hours it’s going to wear off,” said junior AJ Turner, who racked up 148 total yards, two touchdowns and an interception on Saturday. “We definitely have to get our minds right for next week. There’s zero tolerance for messing around in practice.”
Ranked No. 1 in the state according to MaxPreps, Oscar Smith boasts a squad looking just as dominant as the ones that claimed state championships in 2008 and 2011. The Tigers (14-0) haven’t played a close game all year, their average margin of victory sitting at 40.5 points. While their offense has been impressive this season (45.4 points per game), the Tigers pride themselves on a frightening defensive unit that gave up just 14 points through its four playoff games. Oscar Smith surrendered one yard of total offense in the first half of Saturday’s 17-0 state semifinal win over Colonial Forge.
The state’s stingiest defensive line is anchored by Andrew Brown, a hulking 6-foot-4, 290-pound senior who was recently named the 2013-14 Gatorade Virginia Football Player of the Year. Considered the country’s best defensive tackle in the Class of 2014, Brown can clog running lanes up the middle and chase speedy tailbacks on the edges. Heading into the Colonial Forge game, the University of Virginia commit had produced 86 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, eight forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries.
On defense, Centreville will be tasked with slowing junior running back Deshawn McClease, a Virginia Tech recruit who rumbled to 206 yards and a touchdown on 46 carries in Saturday’s 6A South region final. The Tigers have another dangerous runner in dual-threat freshman quarterback Shon Mitchell.
Haddock admitted his team has its hands full this week, but he also pointed out that both sides are far different from the ones that met in Charlottesville two years ago.
“We’re a different team,” he said. “We’re a much, much better team now than we were then, so we feel like it’s a completely different deal. They’ve got a different group of guys, and so do we. We feel like we’re significantly better this go-around.”
Indeed, Centreville carries the mantle of the region’s most dominant football team since the 2007 Westfield Bulldogs, the last Northern Region champion to win a state title. Like Oscar Smith, the Wildcats have yet to experience a nail-biter in the fourth quarter, their average margin of victory this season being 34.3. A litany of speedsters in its Wing-T offense has baffled opponents all season, just as a cohesive defensive unit has remained the backbone of their success.
But all that success sits behind them now, receding in the rearview mirror as they plunge steadily down the road to revenge.
“The number one motivator this week is payback,” Walter said.