By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Sawyer McElhatton)
Trailing by a touchdown with six seconds left, T.C. Williams quarterback Darius Holland dropped back and scanned the field, desperately searching for an open receiver on the final play of Saturday’s game.
A completion could have led to an improbable comeback against the South County Stallions. Early on, the game — which featured a pair of 4-1 teams — had all the makings of a South County blowout.
But after clawing back, the Titans watched on as Holland’s last pass sailed deep into the end zone, where South County junior defensive back Ernest Majors batted it away.
Final score: South County 44, T.C. 37.
Though the Stallions improved to 5-1, head coach Gerry Pannoni wasn’t happy with the win, citing his team’s penalties and mistakes.
“They’re a good team, one of the best teams we’ve played,” Pannoni said of the Titans. “But we should’ve played a lot better today. Our goal is to play in December, and [we] need to do a better job if we’re going to do that.”
But it was more than just South County’s penalties that let the Titans hang around and make a comeback. Running back Malik Carney racked up 233 rushing yards, a statistic bolstered by an 89-yard run in the second quarter that turned the game around and gave T.C. fans hope.
South County took a 21-0 lead with about 10 minutes left in the first half on a 32-yard pass by quarterback David Symmes to wide receiver Kevin Quigley, who ran into the end zone untouched. The Titans defensive players shook their heads as they trudged toward the sideline.
And the situation got worse before things started turning around. The Titans were pinned down inside their 20-yard line after the kickoff. Then Stallions defensive back Khave Konteh broke up a short pass attempt on first down.
But on the next play, Carney found a wide-open path cleared by the offensive line and cut for the sidelines. Once he found open field, it became a footrace between the running back and the Stallions defenders.
It wasn’t close; Carney easily sprinted into the end zone.
Again and again throughout the game, the Titans turned to Carney to keep pace with the Stallions. He scored once more in the fourth quarter on an 85-yard run. By that time, every time Carney touched the ball, South County fans screamed, “Stop him! Stop him!”
Even if the Stallions had no answer for Carney, the Titans struggled containing a South County offense that scored more than 50 points in four of its past five games.
Titans coach Dennis Randolph said the teams were clearly evenly matched, describing the game as exciting “right up until the last second.”
“They dominated pretty much the whole first half, and we came back and made it a game,” he said. “There were a couple of situations where we could’ve gotten stops, and there were times when we got the ball that we really shot ourselves in the foot and didn’t get in the end zone.”
Though it was of little consolation after the loss, the Titans scored more points against South County than any other Stallion opponent this season. Holland finished the game with one touchdown pass — a 37-yard completion to wide receiver Alexander Bledsoe — as well as a 49-yard rushing touchdown that brought the Titans to within one score.
Despite South County’s early lead, the Titans resisted the urge to panic, the quarterback said.
“We’ve practiced too hard to let that hold us down for the whole game,” Holland said. “We know there’s more game left and that we’ll make plays. We just have to execute.”
Saturday’s setback aside, T.C. remains in playoff contention. Securing a berth this season would end a playoff drought that’s 20-plus years old.
After the loss, the Titans stand 4-2 overall and 2-1 in conference. T.C. faces a 2-4 Lee squad Friday night.
“We’re still better than we were last year,” Holland said. “We just have to finish strong.”