By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Early in the fourth quarter Saturday, the Annandale football team lined up at the T.C. Williams 12-yard line with a chance to wreck the Titans’ dual Homecoming and Senior Day celebrations.
Ahead 14-13 and deep in T.C. territory, Atoms kicker Gerson Cruz Saravia lined up to kick a field goal that would have extended his side’s lead and put the home team’s winning streak in jeopardy.
But the visitors botched the snap, and the slight delay was enough to give the Titans’ linemen time to get to the kicker, block the attempt and recover the loose ball with no damage done on the scoreboard.
Just three plays later, it was the T.C. players who were celebrating. Having started deep inside their own territory, runs from Jaren Hillian and Benton Lewis pushed the Titans into Annandale’s half of the field. Hillian then broke through the line of scrimmage and powered into the end zone for a 49-yard touchdown, giving the home team the lead.
“That made us very ex- cited,” Hillian said. “It put a spark into the game, and after that it was our offensive line doing what they do.”
Hillian’s touchdown and a missed extra point attempt put the Titans up 19-14 with less than eight minutes remaining in the game. Quarterback Diondre Charlton would shut the door with just over a minute left on a five-yard rushing touchdown as T.C. won 26-14 for its third straight win.
The victory improves the Titans’ record to 5-3, and guarantees the team a berth in the Virginia High School League 6A North region playoffs. It will be the team’s second postseason appearance in 26 years.
“I’m really proud and happy for the kids, because it’s been a long dry spell around here,” said T.C. head coach James Longer- beam. “Our kids are starting to change the attitude, change the culture of what people think about us.”
It was another run-heavy day for the Titans offense, led by Hillian with 186 yards on 33 carries. The senior opened the scoring for T.C. midway through the second quarter with a one-yard rushing touchdown, then added another with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter from seven yards out.
“He’s got good vision and he’s tough, and the longer the day goes, the better he gets,” said Longerbeam. “What normally happens is, as other teams get tired and he stays fresh, you see a little change of speed when he gets into the secondary.”
But T.C. did not see everything go its way in front of a boisterous Homecoming crowd at Parker-Gray Stadium. It took just 20 seconds at the start of the game for the Atoms to take the lead, and they scored again just before halftime.
From the hosts’ opening kickoff, Annandale’s Malik Mo- ten caught the ball at his own 11- yard line and took advantage of some stellar blocking to run all the way to the T.C. 7-yard line. On the next play, Jalen Jackson ran in his first touchdown of the afternoon to put the visitors up 7-0.
After Hillian’s first touch- down tied the game, Jackson found running room from his own 35-yard line and found the end zone for a 65-yard score that put the Atoms ahead 14-7 at halftime. Jackson finished the day with 122 yards on 22 carries.
But after Hillian’s two forays into the end zone in the second half and Charlton’s late touchdown, the Titans were victorious. Charlton tallied 55 yards on the ground on 12 carries, and went 9-15 for 52 yards and one interception through the air.
The victory guarantees T.C. a playoff berth and has the team on a three-game winning streak that includes a last-gasp 22-21 victory over rival West Potomac away from home on October 21. With one game left in the regular season, at W.T. Woodson this Friday, the Titans can start to look forward to their first play- off appearance since 2013.
“Our confidence is very high,” said Hillian. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been to the playoffs, and that’s what we’re trying to do: get to the playoffs and make a change.”
“Like I told them, ‘Enjoy this one tonight and we’ll go back to work on Monday. We’ve got one more,’” said Longerbeam. “[It] would be real big if we got in the playoffs, only the second time in 26 years. It would be big for these kids, the school and the community.