Highlanders hang on to homecoming win

McLean sees first home victory in three years

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Highlanders hang on to homecoming win

Jack Shields and Katie Romhilt

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Half a minute left on the clock, McLean holds a 5 point lead over Wakefield, poised for a historic win. Fans pour out of the student section, filling the space between the bleachers and the fence preparing to storm the field. Finally the clock hits zero and the sea of red rages onto the field in a chaotic mess of celebration.

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Yes Highlanders, it’s real. For the first time since 2016, McLean varsity football has won a home game. Two years in the making, Friday night featured a long awaited triumph for the players and fans alike. Now, with a 3-1 record, it looks like the long two years of painful losses is finally paying off. 

Often times when coaching staffs change, players can still be tied to a different kind of coaching or program philosophy compared to the one you’re selling. We saw a lot of that during the last two seasons,” head coach John Scholla said. “[The juniors and seniors] have been together for a couple of years now, and have built that chemistry and trust within themselves and the coaching staff and it’s obviously starting to pay off.”

The pregame to this year’s homecoming game was confidently based on the expectation of winning, entering the game with a 2-1 record; the first wins for varsity football since the infamous 2016 homecoming game. The student section was filled roughly 40 minutes before kickoff, and additional students were forced to pack into the band section. 

Despite the hype, the early progressions of the game started to chip away at the Highlanders hope of ending their home losing streak. The red hot Wakefield offense claimed a quick 19-7 lead, but fortunately for McLean, kicking woes slightly slowed Wakefield’s scoring. 

The Highlanders based their first half offense on a ground and pound run game, utilizing junior running back Ryan Jessar as their main scoring threat. Wakefield blitzes were unable to slow down the McLean rush attack, and a two possession comeback left McLean with a 29-25 lead at halftime.

The second half featured a much slower showing from both offenses, and displayed a variety of strategic changes from both teams. 

Most notably, McLean made a bold change to their offensive scheme, replacing Bijan Soltani at the quarterback position with dual-threat sophomore Griffin Stieg. Stieg allowed the McLean offense to implement a unique read option based offense the third quarter, confusing the Wakefield defense and eating up valuable time on the clock, until Stieg left the game with an injury late in a third quarter drive.

The play of the night came on a perfectly executed trick play midway through the second half. Senior Tio Graybill received a handoff on a jet sweep, drawing in Wakefield’s secondary, and then pulled the ball out to throw before crossing the line of scrimmage, finding senior receiver Joe Lokke wide open on a fly route for the touchdown. 

Towards the end of the fourth quarter, with an 11-point lead, it became obvious that the Highlanders had done it, and students crowded the fence; the only remaining barrier between the faithful Highlander fans and a chaotic celebration. 

At the moment the clock hit zero, hundreds of students poured onto the field to enjoy the monumental win. It’s a miracle that the stadium’s old, rusted fence didn’t collapse in the process. Nevertheless, Friday night’s game is an unforgettable McLean sports memory. 

We have one of the greatest student sections in the region. Homecoming brings out a lot of alumni and people within the community,” Scholla said. “To put together a win like that in front of a great crowd and help set the tone for the homecoming weekend, yes it was definitely extra special.” 

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