By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Jim McElhatton)
The T.C. Williams Titans 44-16 loss to Centreville early last month was the sort of thrashing that can rob a team of its confidence and send a season into a tailspin.
But the Titans rebounded after a bye week. T.C. shut down Langley 13-7 on September 21 and quickly followed the win with a 21-14 victory over W.T. Woodson on Saturday.
Teams usually don’t win turning the ball over as much as T.C. did Saturday, but their stifling defense made up for the mistakes. Though turnovers gave defenders a chance to shine, it’s not a situation head coach Dennis Randolph wants repeated.
“We put the defense in harm’s way several times, and we’ve got to get that corrected immediately,” said Randolph, who counted five fumbles and an interception.
But even he was impressed by his team’s progress — defensively, at least.
“Over the last few weeks, our defense has played extremely well,” he said. “They forced turnovers. They made big plays at key times. If you’re going to have a good football team, you have to have a great defense. And we do. We’ve been playing very, very well.”
While it’s the same squad that got shredded by powerhouse Centreville merely a month ago, Randolph said his defensive players emerged with their confidence intact after the drubbing. The result leaves T.C. with a 3-1 record and 1-0 in conference play.
“Since Centreville, our defense has really stepped it up,” Randolph said. “They’re very aggressive. They come at you. They hit you. They force you to throw the ball before you’re ready.”
That was true enough during Saturday’s matchup. Midway through the third quarter, for example, Woodson had the ball on T.C.’s 46-yard-line. It was third down and the Cavaliers had just two yards to go.
But a handoff proved futile. The rushing play ended in a jumble of red-and-blue T.C. uniforms near the line of scrimmage.
Emerging from the pile, linebacker Dorian Chandler bent down for a few seconds rubbing his right knee. But if there was any doubt about whether Chandler was at full strength, he answered on the next play — when the Cavaliers decided to go for it on fourth down.
After the snap, Chandler burst between two offensive linemen nearly untouched and sacked Woodson quarterback Patrick Riley.
“I just came off the edge and shed a block, and he was right there,” Chandler said. “We played fast, physical and with aggression. We did what we were supposed to do. We executed our calls.”
The winning touchdown for T.C. came that same quarter on a nine-yard run by Lamont Whiteside, whose path was cleared by tremendous blocking by the offensive line. T.C.’s Jeremiah Clarke — who plays both sides of the ball — pushed a Woodson defensive lineman several steps off the line of scrimmage and right into the path of a linebacker trying to tackle Whiteside.
The Titans scored twice earlier on a touchdown pass from quarterback Darius Holland to Terry Jordan and a big punt return from Phil Tyler.
But it was the defense, fittingly, that saved the day late in the game.
With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, victory seemed assured. The Titans had possession and a first down around midfield. But after a handoff to Whiteside, Woodson defensive back Tim Dempsey and linebacker Jonathan Knight converged to strip the ball, which bounced right into the arms of defensive back Jimmy McLaughlin.
The turnover gave the Cavaliers an unexpected chance to steal the game.
Down by a touchdown, Woodson took over the ball at T.C.’s 40-yard-line with less than two minutes left and three timeouts. Riley began the drive with a perfect pass to China Moon for a quick first down.
But attempts at a quick strike proved unsuccessful. Riley overthrew on consecutive long balls, setting up a third-down situation with 81 seconds on the clock. With opportunities running short, the Woodson quarterback tossed a deep pass to McLaughlin, but the wide receiver was well covered.
Tyler, who already had made a big play, stood between McLaughlin and the ball. The maneuver gave defensive back Tim Rattanaphone just enough space to twist his body around and snag the pigskin for the interception.