By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
At the start of the fourth quarter last Friday, it appeared that Episcopal had missed its chance to take the lead at Georgetown Prep in the deciding game of the Interstate Athletic Conference football season.
Down 7-3 but on Prep’s one-yard line, Maroon quarterback Seth Agwunobi tried twice to sneak into the end zone, but both times was stopped by the hosts’ defense, and Episcopal turned the ball over on downs.
But the next play brought redemption. Little Hoyas running back T.J. Dozier took the handoff but found a barrage of Episcopal defenders in his way. Maroon linebacker Vincent Notzon’s tackle forced Dozier to drop the ball, with defensive lineman Luiji Vilain on hand to recover the fumble for a touchdown.
Episcopal would go on to win 17-7, and with the victory secure its first outright IAC title since 2006.
“I’ve got to give credit to my defensive line and my linebackers for forcing the play,” said Vilain. “I just saw the ball and I grabbed it. I did the last thing.”
Both teams began the game undefeated in conference play, with this game to decide the destination of the league title. Last year, the pair found themselves in the same position, but George-town Prep prevailed, 12-7, on Episcopal’s home field.
And at halftime, it looked as though history might repeat itself. Late in the first quarter, Prep running back Owen Wright capped an eight-play, 79-yard drive with a rushing touchdown to give the hosts a 7-0 lead.
Maroon kicker Duncan Trau responded with a 22-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, and the score stayed at 7-3 at halftime as both defenses held firm.
“We went in at the half and basically said, ‘We know what’s coming at us, we know what we have to do. There isn’t a whole lot to talk about here, it’s just about going out, executing and playing hard,’” said Episcopal head coach Panos Voulgaris.
After the break, Vilain’s intervention put the Maroon ahead and then running back Perris Jones secured the win with a 17-yard rushing touchdown with just over three minutes remaining. Jones finished with 201 yards on the ground on 29 carries.
Throughout the contest, defense and the running game dominated, as quarterbacks Agwunobi for Episcopal and Thomas Ridgway for the Little Hoyas attempted just 27 passes between them all game. Instead, Wright led the way for the home side with 63 rushing yards on 25 carries, while Dozier added 25 yards on two carries. It made for a bruising game for both sides.
“Physically, it was really tough,” said Vilain. “My shoulder’s hurting right now, my legs are hurting. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Vilain’s fumble recovery made the difference for the Maroon, and gave them the jolt of energy they needed to go on to take the win.
“It lifted our spirits, it gave us something to know that we could go on and win this game,” said Jones. “That gave
us the confidence and the momentum boost.”
“Two excellent defenses, two excellent running games battling with one another,” said Voulgaris. “Big plays made the
difference, and resiliency, persistence and never giving up were really the difference.”
For the Maroon, the victory caps a successful season in conference play and keeps them unbeaten at 8-0. Episcopal finishes its season Saturday at rival Woodberry Forest, in a clash referred to as The Game.
The players were ecstatic to win the IAC title outright, having shared it with Prep and Bullis last season.
“Last year, we lost to this team, which ruined our chances,” said Jones. “This year, it was on the forefront of our minds. We wanted to come out and prove we can get the job done and win the IAC.”
Voulgaris said his focus goes far beyond the win-loss column, and instead on molding his team and making it the best it can be.
“I don’t want to put the emphasis on an end result,” he said. “I try to focus on the day to day, that’s where our emphasis is. We get two hours a day together as a football team, 120 minutes, and we want to make each one of those minutes meaningful. That’s our goal.”