Long in playo≠ mode, Stallions keep rolling
Team takes fourth in row to close regular season
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.