South Lakes High School
|South Lakes High School||35|
|Northern Region, Round 2 Madison HS||0|
By Chris Colston
RESTON, Va.—When a team leads by at least 35 points in high school football officials initiate the “Mercy Rule,” which means the clock continues to run on most plays when it would normally stop, such as incomplete passes, or going out of bounds. Heading into its Class 6 second-round matchup, South Lakes had running clocks in all but a couple of its games this season, and its average margin of victory was 45-9.
But in a second-round Class 6 playoff clash of two teams ranked in the Washington Post Top 25, most knowledgeable observers—including South Lakes coach Trey Taylor himself—expected a close game between the No. 9 Seahawks and No. 10 James Madison. Rebel Run Sports Managing Editor Rob Giampapa went so far as to predict a Madison victory.
It didn’t happen. Once again the clock again ran throughout the fourth quarter as the Seahawks advanced to the Class 6 quarterfinals with a 35-0 win over the Warhawks.
“Madison had the best defense we’ve played all year,” Coach Taylor said. “To play like that, I was very proud of them.”
While the temperature was 40 degrees at kickoff, the South Lakes offense was red hot, outgaining Madison 400 yards to 164. Senior running back Albert Mensah—fully healthy from an ankle injury for the first time in a month—carried 20 times for 84 yards and scored three touchdowns. Senior Spencer Alston had 178 total yards, and senior quarterback Devin Miles had perhaps the best game of his career, considering the stakes. He completed 19 of 23 passes (82.6 percent) for 240 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions and no sacks. He also scampered three times for 18 yards and a touchdown. Uncannily accurate all night, Miles’ 41-yard pass to Alston could not have been thrown more perfectly; for photographic evidence, check out the photo gallery on Washington Post.com.
With the Warhawks (8-4) keying on Alston and Mensah, Miles effectively used short shovel passes (when the quarterback pitches—the ball forward a short distance behind to an in-stride receiver behind the line of scrimmage) to senior Noah Seneca, who caught six for 37 yards. At that point Madison wasn’t sure where the ball would go next, and Miles found junior receiver Xavier May twice in the end zone.
“We finally had all the horses back,” Coach Taylor said. “When you focus on Albert and Spencer, you lose track of the other guys. They’re the beneficiaries of those two.”
Sophomore Joseph Dagbe also had the best all-around game of his young career. The young man nicknamed “Show Joe” got his first start of the season at wideout, and responded with two catches for 10 yards. “Because he’s a sophomore, starting him both sides of the ball earlier in the season was risky,” Coach Taylor said. “But now he’s ready, and he showed it.”
From his safety position Dagbe added four tackles, recovered a fumble, and intercepted a Madison pass in the end zone, thwarting a first-half drive.
South Lakes (11-1) scored on its first two drives, driving 61 yards in nine plays on the first one, culminating in a Mensah two-yard run. After the Seahawks forced a three-and-out, they drove 58 yards in seven plays, ending in a Miles one-yard keeper for a score.
Madison threatened to cut the lead on its next possession, chewing up clock with a 19-play drive in which it converted to fourth downs. But on fourth-and-six from the Seahawks 15, Dagbe made his key end zone-interception after junior linebacker Sage Beuchert-Irvine tipped the ball. “The last couple of weeks, (Dagbe) has been all over the place,” Coach Taylor said. “He’s been a playmaker and he’s kind of the leader of that defensive backfield now.”
South Lakes had to punt on its next drive and got a booming 51-yarder from senior Evan Matthes. A personal-foul penalty against the Seahawks moved the ball to the Madison 23, but South Lakes forced a Brandon Walker fumble, and Dagbe recovered at the 23. On the next play, Miles found May for a 23-yard touchdown, and the Seahawks led 21-0 at halftime.
South Lakes drove 49 yards in seven plays to score on its first possession of the second half, then recovered an onside kick and scored again to put the game away with 7:24 left in the third quarter. The Seahawks defense was terrific all night; senior Chris Logan led the team with 6.5 tackles and did his usual stalwart work on the offensive line. And the always-reliable Conner Madden again converted all of his extra points.
While it was a great win for the Seahawks, it was emotionally difficult night for the Warhawks. They had dedicated the season to Lenny Schultz, their beloved coach from 2011-2016 who was tragically killed in a June traffic accident on the Beltway.
Now just eight teams remain in the pursuit of the Class 6 state title. Next the Seahawks face their nemesis, Westfield, seeded No. 1 in Region D, in a quarterfinal matchup. The winner will advance to the state semifinals. The 12-0 Bulldogs—which rolled over Patriot 35-6 Friday night—have bounced South Lakes from the playoffs the past two seasons, winning 42-14 in the state semifinals last year. But is this year’s Westfield team as good as the ones that won state titles the last two years? Other than South County, Madison gave Westfield its toughest game of the year, losing 10-6.
“We have to show up and play,” Coach Taylor said. “If play like we’re capable of playing, anything’s possible. The kids are healthy and playing well. We just want to keep it going.”