McLean can’t keep up with Fairfax, loses 49-24

Highlanders run out of gas after a strong first half performance


Tanner Coerr

Captain of the Backfield–Quarterback Manoli Karageorgos shouts instructions to his team near the goal line.

Final score: 49-24

The McLean Highlanders came back home after a hard-fought victory against Thomas Edison High to face the Lions of Fairfax High School. The Lions entered the game with a 2-0 record after beating Wakefield and Langley, whereas McLean was looking to even up their record after a 1-2 start.

The Highlanders wanted to maximize time of possession and minimize turnovers in order to win this game. If their rushing attack could succeed like it did against the Edison Eagles, they would be in a good position to win the game.

“We are just going a lot harder at practice,” sophomore quarterback Manoli Karageorgos said. “We’re getting more reps on the field and mental reps in the classroom.” Karageorgos, coming off of a game-winning touchdown throw to Nicholas Halteh, was looking to do even better than he did against the Eagles.

McLean’s defensive group was facing a huge challenge in the form of Tony Rojas, a two-way player who previously made First-Team All District as both a wide receiver and a defensive end. His talent has caught the eye of football programs like Ole Miss and Virginia Tech.

Fairfax elected to defer after winning the coin toss, so McLean’s offense trotted onto the field to start the game. Mclean stayed with the running game early, with Kaelan Ferris and Karageorgos taking only two plays to move the ball into the opponent’s end of the field. The drive was the quickest score of the season for McLean, as Karageorgos lofted a pass into blown coverage for a 40-yard touchdown by senior Caden Hershberg.

Fairfax stuck to the ground to start their drive, pounding the ball to the outside of the opposing defensive line through end-arounds and stretch runs. On a 3rd and 9 which was the product of a personal foul, they went to the air on a bubble screen, which would result in them being short of the sticks, and the Lions punted.

The second drive for the home time started as effectively as the first did, with a mixed bag of run plays and pass plays keeping the chains moving. Ferris continually put his shoulder down to run through traffic, and Karageorgos used his legs and his arm to improvise when the pocket collapsed. They were on the brink of a touchdown before the defense took a stand, limiting them to a field goal attempt. That attempt was nullified when a misplayed snap saw the special teams unit in a frenzy, trying to recover. 7-0 remained the score as time ran out in the first quarter.

The defense was unfazed by the error, holding the Fairfax offense to a 3-and-out with some help from a dropped pass by Fairfax wideout Dylan Lyerly. Tony Rojas was playing all three sides of the ball, as he was back deep to punt it away for Fairfax. College recruitment officers weren’t interested in him for his punting skills, and his boot went nowhere, giving the Highlanders prime field position on the opposing 40.

Karageorgos used the advantageous field position to open up the field, throwing darts on both sides of the hash marks. Halteh made some strong catches, but they weren’t enough to convert on a 3rd and 3 inside the 10, and the field goal unit came out. This attempt went far better than their previous try, as Tyler Fontenot’s kick soared through the uprights to give the Highlanders a two-score lead, 10-0.

Fontenot’s prowess at both the kicker and punter positions is a very good treat for the Highlander coaching staff to work with. Fontenot, a former quarterback for the freshman squad, excels at a position which is a need for many schools. Teams are often hard-pressed to find a reliable placekicker who can convert from the 20 or 30 yard lines, so Fontenot’s ability gives the team a sense of security in clutch situations.

Mclean was showing another strong defensive possession, giving the Lions no choice but to go to the air on third down. Fairfax converted the attempt, as a blown coverage by the linebacker unit gave the Lions a first down on the Mc logo. The next play was another blown coverage which led to a wide open passing touchdown to bring the game to 10-7. McLean still led, but their margin was much narrower.

The ensuing offensive possession went nowhere, as the front seven of the guys in blue began to figure out McLean’s constant up-the-gut run scheme. Fontenot got a booming punt off while under pressure, and the Lions received possession as the half was winding to a close.

Rojas, the star of the Lions, had received surprisingly few touches despite his extreme talent. When he did get the ball, he was turning it into positive yardage en route to first downs. The curious decision-making by the Fairfax staff was beneficial for the Highlanders, but many in the stands felt that it wouldn’t be long until Rojas became the focal point of the offense.

Two minutes flashed on the scoreboard as the McLean defense was on its heels defending the constant offensive attack of their opponents. On their own goal line, they looked to take a goal line stand. Their effort ended up being for naught, as the Lions stuffed it in to take a 14-10 lead going into halftime. Amidst booming percussion from the award-winning Highlander band on their senior night, the Highlanders looked to regroup during the intermission.

Paint Out Party–The Highlander Faithful respond as Officer Davis tosses his pom-poms in the air after a moment as a cheerleader. (Tanner Coerr)

The Lions came out strong, receiving the kickoff and marching the ball down the field with less of a focus on the passing attack. The Highlanders had a couple opportunities to get the ball back, with their opponents attempting multiple third-or-fourth down conversions. Their efforts were to no avail. Rojas, seemingly tuned out of the offense at this point, broke multiple ankles on a 32-yard carry all the way to the endzone. McLean, once with a 10-0 lead, were now down 21-10 to their opponents.

The home team would not go down without a fight. Ferris took a run up the middle over 50 yards and was tracked down at the 20 by Rojas. After a couple of mediocre runs, captain Calvin Thinley hauled in a pass in the corner of the endzone for his first touchdown of the season. The cheerleaders counted off 17 times, and the deficit was only four.

It took all of one play for Fairfax to rebound. Quarterback Jacob Worthen lofted a ball to the speedy wideout Amir Green who outran the defensive backs for an 80-yard touchdown. The crowd went flat as the scoreboard updated to 28-17 in favor of the visitors.

The game was turning into a slugfest, with huge plays being traded both ways. Karageorgos tossed a pass through the night sky which was brought in by his favorite target, Nicholas Halteh. After the brilliant reception, the offense stalled. Ineffective play calling was the demise of the drive, as McLean opted for back to back up-the-middle runs on third and fourth down.

Rojas began to truly make his presence felt, carrying for back-to-back first downs to bring the ball into the red zone. His imposing stature blew through defenders the entire way down the field and eventually in for a touchdown, his second of that night. It had taken a while for the Lions to consistently feed him the rock, but now it seemed like there was little they could do to stop him.

Red Zone–Star wide receiver Nicholas Halteh lines up out wide as the Highlanders are nearing the end zone. (Tanner Coerr)

Keeping with the theme of the game to that point, McLean fought back. Halteh fielded the kickoff and used a wall of blockers to shred through the return unit like swiss cheese. He flew past the kicker and into the red part of the field, barely staying inside the pylon. The clock read three zeros as the Highlanders were hoping to use the momentum to come back from the 11 point deficit going into the fourth quarter.

The defense could not stop the Lions’ offense, as the wideout Lyerly took a screen pass to the house on third down, pushing McLean even deeper into a hole at 42-24.

The offense would remain at a standstill for the rest of the game, while Fairfax exploited the exhaustion of the defense to bring the score to 49-24, which would hold as the final score.

The game was a letdown for a squad that was starting to gel coming off of their first win of the season. A strong out-of-the-gate approach led to the Highlanders running out of gas as the other side hit their home stretch. Every game brings positive and negative adjustments, and this one was no different. All that the Highlander Faithful can hope for is for the coaching staff to make the correct adjustments and put this game well behind them with a win against South Lakes next week.