By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Facing a fourth and one on their own 29-yard line with just under two minutes left in the fourth quarter while leading 21-19 at last Saturday’s home game, the T.C. Williams football team had a decision to make.
Elect to punt, and the West Springfield offense would have had time to mount a final attack and possibly snatch victory from under the Titans’ noses.
Instead, T.C. went for it on fourth down to try and stay in control of its own destiny. Quarterback Diondre Charlton took the snap and looked to sneak through a small gap up the middle. He found a hole and earned three yards for a first down, securing victory for the hosts, who ran were then able to run out the clock.
Vindicated for their decision, the Titans improved their record to 3-4 and snapped a two-game losing streak that had threatened to derail their Virginia High School League playoff hopes.
“We wanted to win and win well, and have it in our hands,” said Charlton. “We didn’t want to punt and have our defense have to hold on at the end while their offense was hot.”
Earlier in the fourth quarter, the Spartans cut the deficit on a 30-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jake Herzog to junior running back Derrick Jenkins, following a Titans turnover on a fumble four plays prior.
The visitors then scored on a two-point conversion thanks to a pass from Herzog to Andrew Susa. With just over eight minutes left in the game, West Springfield trailed by four points and had an opportunity to snatch victory.
The late-game scare came after a rousing comeback by the Titans, who trailed 9-0 before halftime. In the first quarter, Charlton scrambled from the pocket and tried to get off a throw, but the ball slipped from his grasp and was recovered by senior Spartans linebacker Michael Giordano.
From just inside T.C.’s 30-yard line, Giordano took the ball into the end zone to get his side on the scoreboard.
And while the two-point conversion failed, it put West Springfield in a strong position early. In the second quarter, the visitors converted a field goal on fourth and goal from the Titans’ two-yard line to pad their lead with 11:36 remaining in the half.
But the home team quickly came roaring back. On the next offensive series, Charlton capped a nine-play drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Daniel Davis, who got free in the back of the end zone and jumped high to grasp the ball.
After T.C. converted the extra point attempt, West Springfield took over on offense, but that lasted two plays before the hosts’ offensive unit returned to the field. Marc-Antoine Bossman recovered a fumble by Spartans running back Joshua Thorne, then Charlton led the Titans back down the field and capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Raymond McGuire.
After halftime, T.C. recovered another West Springfield fumble, and this time returned the ball to the end zone. Herzog failed to hold on to the ball amid a blitz, and after a pile of players formed to try and regain control, senior defensive back Chimaraoke Ihezue emerged with the ball and carried it all the way for a touchdown.
Titans head coach James Longerbeam said the recovery from an early deficit showed his side’s character and ability to battle back from adversity.
“I’m really impressed with the way the guys responded today to going down 9-0,” he said. “Last year, perhaps we wouldn’t have recovered, but we showed some resiliency and didn’t give up.”
The Titan had lost in consecutive weeks against Patriot Conference opponents South County and Lake Braddock. T.C. can return to a .500 winning percentage Friday at rival West Potomac, while their hunt for a playoff berth also gained a boost.
Longerbeam insisted his players and coaches will take it slowly, despite the excitement of the program already having its most wins since 2013.
“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves, we’re taking this one week at a time,” he said. “We’ve got more wins than last year, but we want to get a fourth win next week and keep this run going.”