By Ryan Hopper
Another regular season of Friday night lights has come to a close in Alexandria, with varying results for the city’s four high schools. From historically good to bad seasons, here is how high school football played out this year.
Bishop Ireton Cardinals
Bishop Ireton had a successful season under third-year head coach Gary Wortham Sr., going 7-3 overall and 2-2 in the tough Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. This is the Cardinals’ best record and first winning season since 2015 when it went 8-3.
Ireton, led by senior dual-threat quarterback Omar Diallo, beat five schools by 20 points or more, including rival Bishop O’Connell 30-6. Diallo rushed for 1,037 yards and accounted for 23 total touchdowns.
The Cardinals closely prevailed in a consequential pair of rivalry games, beating conference rival Paul VI, 26-14, at home and city rival St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, 27-18, on the road. Both schools had extensive win streaks against Ireton, having not lost to the Cardinals since 2016 and 2015, respectively.
This is a quick turnaround from last season’s 1-9 campaign, in which Ireton was shut out three times. In fact, the Cardinals had only one conference win since entering the WCAC – an athletic powerhouse that often includes nationally ranked schools such as DeMatha, Gonzaga, St. John’s and Good Counsel – for football in 2018.
On Saturday, Ireton will play its most anticipated game in years: a playoff tilt with Archbishop Carroll in the WCAC Metro Division semifinal. The Cardinals will return to Carroll’s campus, where the Lions narrowly prevailed 18-16 over Ireton early last month. An Ireton win wouldn’t just avenge the school’s loss to Carroll – which went 3-1 in WCAC play – but give the Cardinals its first playoff win since 2007, a lifetime ago for many on the field.
The winner will most likely go on to play St. Mary’s Ryken for the division crown. The Knights have been the dominant team in the WCAC Metro division this year, beating division opponents by an average of 25 points per game.
Ranked No. 17 in the Washington Post’s pre-season top 20 and coming off a conference title, expectations were high for Episcopal entering the 2023 season. After a solid 2-1 start in out-of-conference play, the Maroon squared off against city rival St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes looking to preserve its 14-game winning streak against the Saints, dating all the way back to 2007. Episcopal took care of business at the Hummel Bowl, handily beating the Saints 34-9 to notch its first Interstate Athletic Conference win.
The following week, the Maroon struggled in a 21-14 loss to Landon at home, turning the ball over three times with one interception being returned for a touchdown. Episcopal would right the ship, shutting out St. Albans the following week and punctuating its conference slate with close road wins over Georgetown Prep and Bullis, prevailing over the latter 20-17 with an overtime touchdown pass.
With a 4-1 conference record, the Maroon are guaranteed at least a share of the IAC title. If both Georgetown Prep and Landon were to lose this week, Episcopal would clinch back-to-back IAC titles.
Results from across the Potomac presumably are not the main thing on the team’s mind as the Maroon prepares for the 122nd edition of “the game.” Dating back to 1901, Episcopal’s storied rivalry with Woodberry Forest – an all-male boarding school in Orange, Virginia – is one of the oldest high school football rivalries in the nation. Virginia Living called it “the South’s oldest continuous high school football rivalry.”
“The game” is so meaningful to students and alumni of both schools that former presidential candidate and Episcopal alum John McCain called the Episcopal team on the day of the 2007 game during his campaign to spur them to victory.
The Maroon will be looking to end its season with a fourth straight win and bragging rights over Woodberry Forest, whom Episcopal beat 24-8 last season. The Tigers, hosts of this year’s clash at 1 p.m. on Saturday, are 4-4 and looking to finish with a winning season.
The Tigers lead the all-time series with 59 wins, 53 losses and 9 ties.
Alexandria City High School Titans
It was a season to forget for the Titans as Alexandria City High School had its first winless season since 2001 and only its second in its 57-year history. This year was also the first time ACHS has gone winless in district play since 2014.
The Titans were not competitive in many games, allowing 39 points per game and losing by an average of 27.3 per game. This was a sharp drop-off compared to head coach Rodney Hughey’s first three years at the helm, with the Titans going 14-14 with two playoff appearances during that span.
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes Saints
Similar to ACHS, the Saints did not have the season they hoped for. Initially, there were optimistic signs as SSSAS went 2-2 in its first four games, including a 31-14 win over Bishop O’Connell and a 25-0 shutout of the Potomac School.
Unfortunately, the Saints could not carry any momentum into IAC play, with the aforementioned lopsided loss against arch-rival Episcopal sending its season into a tailspin with five straight conference losses to end the year. This season marked the first time the Saints haven’t won a conference game since 2016.