“Seniors, do you want us to give you a trash bag tonight when you go back to the locker and be done?”
Although not eloquent, that was the message Coach Jason Hescock delivered to his team trailing 23-14 at halftime. The response was emphatic as South Lakes overcame a 16 point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat Chantilly 43-40 in the second overtime period of Round 1 of the VHSL 6A Playoffs.
The Chargers were understandably confident heading into the game with an 8-2 record and a first-half performance that saw their star running back Pierre Johnson run virtually untouched. In fact, Chantilly scored points on all of their first-half possessions – all points, that is, except for one.
In any game, it is sometimes the smallest plays that can make the difference – on this night that play came at 8:23 of the second quarter. After scoring their third touchdown of the night, Chantilly lined up for the extra point but linebacker Ty Rankin was able to slide around the center and get a hand on the attempt. The ball, still determined to hit its mark, continued on its path but bounced off the bottom of the upright and back into the end zone. That missed point set the stage for one of the more amazing wins in program history.
“The game plan was to contain number 1 [Johnson] and keep him in-between the tackles – he wasn’t as good running between the tackles but when he got on the edge was when he was dangerous. We made some adjustments to get more width and force him to go where he was not comfortable.”
On offense, the Seahawk air attack was able to gain yards in chunks based on what was seen during film study. “We liked the mismatches against Chantilly – our screens were going for 10-15 yards each time and once they over-adjusted it opened up other parts of the game plan just as we thought. It was a great effort on the part of the offensive staff to build that game plan.”
Still, with all the adjustments on defense holding, the Seahawks trailed 30-14 going in the fourth quarter. A 44-yard reception by Andrew Benedetto keyed a touchdown catch by Joseph Dagbe and the ensuing 2-point conversion drew the visitors within a possession. A shoestring tackle by Dagbe on fourth down forced Chantilly to turn the ball over in Seahawk territory and quarterback Marcus Miles was able to utilize multiple receivers on the ensuing 65-yard drive before finding Dagbe in the back corner of the end zone with a diving catch. The 2-point conversion by Nicholas Haitz tied the score at 30 with 1:06 left in regulation.
After trading touchdowns in the first overtime, South Lakes was able to hold Chantilly to a field goal in the second overtime period due in part to the play of reserve lineman Elijah Billings. Two-way starter Gabe Gibson had been limited all week due to illness and with the game extending into overtime was beginning to falter. Billings stepped in and was able to disrupt the timing of the Charger offense just enough to give his offense the opportunity they needed. With South Lakes in position to win, the offense looked again to Dagbe and the one play that had worked all night. “He [Dagbe] came to me and said, “Coach, give me that jet sweep and I'll score.”” True to his word, Dagbe crossed the goal line for the fifth time of the evening and punched South Lakes’ ticket to the next round in front of a stunned Chantilly team. After the game, Hescock called it his “most favorite football memory” and one that nobody in attendance will soon forget.
In addition to the performance of Dagbe, Miles accounted for 266 yards of offense and completed passes to four other receivers while the team collected over 100 yards rushing. The defense caused two turnovers and Special Teams not only blocked a PAT but also alertly recovered a fourth quarter punt that went off the foot of a Chantilly player; it was truly a team effort.
Next up is a second-round contest against Westfield in what has become an annual tradition. This is the fifth straight year South Lakes will travel to the home of the Bulldogs in the postseason and attempt to knock out one of the most powerful team in the region. South Lakes was able to take advantage of Chantilly's lack of playoff experience but that will not be the case against their opponent this week.
Tonight, South Lakes will travel to Westfield in Round 2 of the VHSL 6A Playoffs. Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.