By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Susan Hale Thomas)
The biggest play in the history of T.C. Williams boys soccer began with 28 minutes and 59 seconds to go in the second half against Washington-Lee on Sunday.
The two teams, which split their previous two contests this year, had gone scoreless in the first half of the 6A state championship held at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax. But that was poised to change.
Titans midfielder Abdurazak Abdulla intercepted a slow, bounding kick from a Generals player about 20 yards out from T.C.’s net. And he took off.
By midfield, he had blown past three of his opponents. A few seconds later, he found his target: teammate Eryk Williamson.
As the hard-sprinting Williamson took off — unopposed — hundreds of Titans fans stood up and cheered. A week earlier, the Titans star junior scored four times to beat the Generals in the regional tournament championship matchup.
Five yards in front of the Washington-Lee net, Williamson slid to the ground and nailed a shot off his right foot all in one motion. The ball, traveling through the air only a few inches off the ground, flew just low enough to skip under the outstretched arms of the Generals keeper.
The Titans were up 1-0.
Williamson plays with a quiet forcefulness. He isn’t one for big scoring celebrations, but he allowed himself at least a little smile and a few high-fives as T.C. sophomore Ashenafi Desta, who would go on to score the only other goal of the match, hoisted him up.
The 2-0 state championship win happened on Father’s Day. And head coach Martin Nickley, whose family has been a constant presence in T.C.’s program over the years, called the school’s first state championship win in the sport “a great gift.”
“My family’s been a part of this for years, but these boys came together as a family, too,” Nickley said after the game. “After every practice, they get together and they have a little cheer that includes the word ‘family.’ Words can’t express how happy I am for them because they worked really hard for this.”
But at halftime, the only thing clear about the outcome of the state championship was that it wouldn’t be like either of the teams’ two previous contests.
During the regular season, Washington-Lee beat T.C. 4-0. Last week, the Titans won 5-2 to claim the regional championship. This time around, a blowout seemed unlikely.
“They’re a great team, an absolutely amazing team,” Williamson said. “Going into the game, they knew us like the back of their hand because it’s our third time seeing them. So, to win against a team like that, it’s just an amazing feeling. We’ve been working so hard all season and it’s absolutely amazing how it’s paid off.”
Minutes after Williamson’s goal, the Generals nearly struck back, but the Titans defense and keeper Edgar Martinez kept Washington-Lee star Maycol Nunez off the board. It was a bitter pill for the Generals, who had gone scoreless just twice during the regular season. Even then, though, Washington-Lee’s squad walked off the pitch with a tie.
At halftime, Nickley and his assistant coaches gathered the team near the net. There was no talk about anything that had gone wrong — no discussion of missed shots.
“At halftime, we just told them how great they were playing,” Nickley said. “We thought that when you get to the state championship and you’re playing against a team that’s as great as they are, for us to be able to attack and create some opportunities, we thought it was a great half and just wanted to keep it going.”
“The whole group here bonded together,” Nickley added. “None of them are selfish players.”
As if to prove the point, Desta had no interest in talking about his own breakaway score that all but ended the game later in the second half.
“It wasn’t me — it was all the team’s work,” he said. “I just did my job.”