McLean football finishes season on a high

For the first time since 2011, the Highlanders beat Langley to cap off an exciting day

Jack Shields and Addie Brown

The scene was set. The buildup to the annual McLean v. Langley rivalry football game was as intense as ever, and both teams came into the game with high expectations. This season, McLean broke a two year losing streak in their season opener, and carried their momentum throughout the rest of the season, ultimately winning four games prior to Friday night’s game. In the end, the Highlanders delivered in dramatic fashion, hanging on to a 17-7 win in a defensive battle.

The rivalry festivities started early this year, as the McLean v. Langley game was named ABC7’s Game of the Week. The ABC news team visited McLean at 5:45 in the morning on Friday, where the student body gathered for a sunrise pep rally. After the news segment, students filled the breakfast restaurants throughout downtown McLean, maintaining the early morning’s energy. Dressed in all black for the blackout theme, school spirit was at an all-time high, amplifying the hype for the game.

Players feel that the festivities contributed to the big win.

“It was just a fun and exciting day and got everybody hyped up before the game, and we wanted to make sure we kept that excitement throughout the night with a win,” junior quarterback Bijan Soltani said.

McLean was pulling tricks out of the bag right from the opening kickoff. Junior Ivan Maric executed a perfect low driven opening kickoff straight at a Langley special teams player, which was muffed and recovered by the Highlanders. The team’s momentum continued through their opening two possessions, which both resulted in touchdowns.

Soltani threw two touchdown passes in the first quarter, one to running back Ryan Jessar on the goal line, and another on a deep touchdown pass to junior receiver Billy Ludwick. The Highlanders were thrilled by their strong start to the game.

“It’s the best feeling you will ever have. There is so much hype around it, the joy you get is unforgettable,” Soltani said.

The rest of the game was characterized by strong defensive performances by both teams. McLean made multiple, crucial fourth down stops in the redzone to keep Langley off of the scoreboard for most of the game. The Highlander defense was also able to nullify Langley’s read option based offensive scheme and shutdown their rushing attack.

A late McLean field goal iced the game, and the passionate Highlander faithful rushed the field in joy to celebrate just the second home win in three years.

The aftermath of the game was even crazier than the game itself. The planned fight between McLean and Langley students at the McLean Chipotle was put on hold as numerous police cars monitored the restaurant. Still, an incident arose where a McLean student drove into a police car. Overall though, serious dangers and consequences were avoided following the eventful night.

For the Highlanders, the win over Langley secured their first victory in the rivalry game in 8 years, but also gave McLean a 5-5 record to finish the season. Their .500 season came following two straight winless seasons, and the team was able to deliver a strong season against all odds.

“From the beginning we all believed that we could change the culture even when no one else did, so we put in the work in the off-season and just went out there and proved everyone wrong,” Soltani said.

Despite their newfound success, the team does not feel completely satisfied, and hopes to continue building on this season’s progress.

“Managing to win 5 is a huge accomplishment. With that being said we left a few games on the table but that’s what next season is for,” senior captain Cotter Smart said. “I’m incredibly confident that [the juniors] will be fantastic leaders and have bought into this program.”

Soltani is willingly accepting his role in furthering the success of the program.

“We are going to be looking to improve off of what we did this year,” Soltani said. “We have a good foundation and a lot of motivation to go and have even more success next year.”

Until then, Highlander fans will be anxiously awaiting another year of football, but the support for our team remains stronger than ever.

“I’m proud that we built the foundation, now it’s time for the class of 2021 to go win 8 or nine games,” Smart said. “You can bet I’ll be checking incessantly and rooting as hard as ever.”