Spencer Alston can’t watch those close plays. He puts his head in his hands and shields his eyes from view and waits for some kind of sound before he looks up.
So as all of the South Lakes football team and its fans craned their necks toward the south goal line midway through the third quarter Friday night in Reston, Alston crept away and sat alone on the bench.
Then a roar. The Seahawks had stopped Madison’s Nick Quinto short of the end zone on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line. The play proved to be the difference as No. 18 South Lakes knocked off No. 8 Madison, 21-13.
“That goal-line stand,” South Lakes Coach Trey Taylor said, “that’s one of the greatest I’ve ever seen.”
He called a timeout just before the snap and gathered his team to review assignments. We know what they’re coming with, he told them. They’re going to slam the ball into the right side.
Sure enough, that’s what Madison Coach Lenny Schultz called. It was only a yard, after all. Quinto, standing 6 feet tall, could pick that up if he simply fell forward. Instead, the Seahawks (7-0, 4-0 Conference 6) hit him in the backfield and he spun into the reinforced right side of the line.
Teammates grabbed Alston, the starting halfback, and told him to get back on the field. South Lakes had the ball.
“I can’t say enough about the defense,” Alston said afterward with awestruck intonation.
But Alston (87 rushing yards) was the one who gave South Lakes the lead. He scored on a one-yard run midway through the first quarter. Four plays into the second quarter, he found daylight in the Warhawks’ defense where previously there was no room to maneuver, splitting two defenders on the outside then winning a race to the corner of the end zone from 15 yards.
“Once I put my foot in the ground,” he said, “all I saw was the pylon.”
He and backfield-mate Albert Mensah, a converted offensive lineman, were the enforcers Friday night. Quarterback Devin Miles, who threw for 231 yards on 15-of-21 passing, kept the Warhawks (6-1, 3-1) on their toes. He ran for a score in the third quarter after faking a hand-off to Alston.
Madison entered the game giving up only nine points per game. When the teams met last year, the Warhawks dealt South Lakes its worst loss of the season and moved into a tie with Hayfield atop Conference 6.
Friday, quarterback Jacob Choutka paced Madison’s aerial offense with 210 yards and a touchdown on 19-for-27 passing.
But this Seahawks team is older and more composed than last year’s unit.
And this year, the division title runs through Reston, a feat indeed for a program only three years removed from a two-win campaign.
Alston started at tailback for that team. Mensah started at middle linebacker. Players said then they felt like they couldn’t wear their uniforms with pride during game days in school.
The turnaround, Alston said, “it’s no surprise to us.”