Long in playo≠ mode, Stal­lions keep rolling

Team takes fourth in row to close reg­u­lar sea­son

The Washington Post Sunday - - NFL WEEK 9 - PA­TRIOT DIS­TRICT FOOT­BALL BY MICHAEL ER­RIGO michael.er­rigo@wash­post.com

The post­sea­son of­fi­cially starts next week in Virginia, but the South County Stal­lions say they’ve been play­ing play­off foot­ball for weeks.

The scene fol­low­ing Satur­day night’s 16-14 vic­tory over Lake Brad­dock cer­tainly felt like a play­off at­mos­phere. In frigid con­di­tions, play­ers hugged and danced as their op­po­nents filed off the field. But in re­al­ity, this was just the reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale and a cru­cial vic­tory over a well­matched ri­val.

South County was sit­ting at 2-4 af­ter an 18-7 loss to Wood­son on Oct. 5 when Coach Gerry Pan­noni told his team the play­offs were start­ing. If the Stal­lions lost again, their sea­son was over. So they didn’t, win­ning three straight be­fore hang­ing on to de­feat the Bru­ins on Satur­day night in Lor­ton.

“We wanted to em­brace the emo­tion of tonight. We had to em­brace that,” Pan­noni said. “We were 2-4, so ev­ery game from that point on was win or be done. That’s the way we’ve han­dled it.”

The win earned South County (6-4, 4-1) a share of the Pa­triot Dis­trict ti­tle with the Bru­ins and means the Stal­lions will host a re­match in the first round of the play­offs next week. If they had lost, they still would have squeaked into the post­sea­son, but they would have had to travel to Lake Brad­dock for the game.

The Stal­lions will en­ter that game with a de­fense that Pan­noni de­scribed as “pretty damn good the last three or four weeks.” The unit forced five three-and-outs and three in­ter­cep­tions Satur­day, giv­ing the South County of­fense op­por­tu­nity af­ter op­por­tu­nity to fig­ure out Lake Brad­dock’s own for­mi­da­ble front.

“This group has been dif­fer­ent from any other group at South County since I’ve been here. No mat­ter what po­si­tion we’re in, we just go for it,” se­nior linebacker Khadim Wane said. Wane had an in­ter­cep­tion and two sacks.

A gru­el­ing de­fen­sive bat­tle was bro­ken open early in the fourth quar­ter with the game tied at seven. Stal­lions quar­ter­back Matthew Dzier­ski evaded pres­sure and threw it deep down the mid­dle of his field where two of his re­ceivers and their two de­fend­ers were con­verg­ing. Run­ning back Tyler John­son went up for the ball, but his man got a hand on it. It de­flected high in the air and then into the arms of fresh­man wide re­ceiver Brock Spald­ing, who ran it the rest of the way for an 84-yard score as his team­mates re­strained them­selves from storm­ing the field.

“I saw it get tipped and just thought, ‘That’s a touch­down,’ ” Spald­ing said.

A field goal by Ed­uardo Castillo one pos­ses­sion later made it a nine-point game. Lake Brad­dock (8-2, 4-1) got a late score but even­tu­ally ran out of time. Fit­tingly, the game ended on an in­ter­cep­tion by the Stal­lions’ de­fense.

Af­ter the game, the team formed a green and gray mob, strug­gling to get its “Dis­trict Cham­pi­ons” ban­ner un­furled as par­ents snapped pic­tures. The play­ers laughed and they chanted and they posed. Not far away, just over the 50-yard line, Lake Brad­dock looked on, now one week from game day.

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