McLean varsity football falls in nail-biting home game

The Highlanders’ first home game against the Edison Eagles keeps fans on their feet till the very end

The Highlander defense approaches the line of scrimmage. McLean’s defense was a large part of why the game remained close.

McLean loses, 14-6.

The McLean Highlanders took the field at Basil Harless Stadium for the first time in the 2022 season, hoping to capture a victory over the Edison Eagles in their home opener. After two big losses to begin the season, head coach Joe Cockerham and the rest of the Highlanders looked to notch a tally in the win column by extending their winning streak against the Eagles, who they defeated in a 16-13 thriller during the previous season.

“We’ve had a really rough start to the year, but we’ve really come together as a team and decided to flip the switch and transform into the team we know we’re capable of being,” senior captain Charlie Samburg said. “We’re excited for the first home game and being able to play in front of the amazing student section again.”

As the Highlanders trotted onto the field to begin the game, some notable names weren’t on the sideline.

“We’ve lost some players but that’s for their own personal reasons and we wish them all the best in their endeavors,” Samburg said. “But guys are stepping up to fill their spots and they’re doing awesome.”

Loud, paint-splattered McLean fans rocked the stands of the student section as the varsity team ran onto the field, with senior Daniel Benitez proudly planting the McLean flag in the endzone.

Edison came into the game with a 1-1 record, having suffered a brutal 45-0 loss at the hands of the West Springfield Spartans in the prior week. In the early stages of the contest, the Eagles played more similar to the level they were at during their victory over Justice High, holding McLean to a three-and-out on the opening drive and moving the chains consistently for first downs on their own. Edison’s read-option offense proved effective on their first possession, as they were able to punch it in for a rushing touchdown with quarterback Elijah Williams to take a 7-0 lead with 5:10 remaining in the opening frame.

The Highlanders stuck to their guns in their second offensive position, using sophomore quarterback Ethan Ball and junior running back Jahi Jemison to establish a methodical ground-and-pound offense of their own. The consistent play calling was eventually stifled by the Eagles, who shut down a run play to make it 4th down and 9, with senior punter Jack Needham sending away a booming punt to return possession to the Eagles.

The first quarter ended with a strong defensive play from the Highlanders, as senior Jayden Vargas came flying off of the edge to wrap up Williams for a sack on first down. After a big tackle from sophomore James Kim set the Eagles up with a 4th and 5. Their attempt to convert was nullified, as junior defensive back Kevin Kabasele blazed past the offensive line for a massive sack to cause a turnover on downs, his fellow Highlanders swarming him for the incredible play.

Ball’s next pass was intercepted, with the Eagles taking the ball well into McLean territory. On the following play, everyone in the stadium supporting the Highlanders experienced a moment of ecstasy, as senior Max Geduldig jumped in front of a pass and screamed down the field for a 70-yard pick-six. Although the energy from the stands was palpable, it proved to be short-lived—two personal fouls by the Highlanders not only reversed the touchdown, it actually managed to give the Eagles a 15-yard pickup, making for one of the most productive interceptions in the history of the Edison Eagles offense.

The Highlanders managed to hold their opponent to no scoring from the drive, but a miscommunication between McLean’s center and quarterback on third down led to another punt by Needham. The Highlanders continually had poor luck defensively, with a fumble bouncing out of bounds before they could jump on it and a personal foul flag turning a huge sack into a positive play for the Eagles. After a prolonged offensive possession, Williams was able to eek into the corner of the end zone for his second touchdown of the game, making the score 14-0 with 3 minutes to go in the half. Although junior Vaughn McCullough was able to pull in a circus act of a catch on second down, the Highlanders were forced to punt again as the clock ticked towards halftime. The half ended with the Highlanders trailing by two touchdowns.

Edison’s initial drive of the first half ended in a turnover when Geduldig ripped the ball clean out of the hands of the Edison ball carrier for a fumble. This time, Geduldig’s forced turnover was not deterred by penalties, and the Highlanders overtook possession in their own half of the field. Another three-and-out for the Highlanders after the fumble gave the Eagles the ball right back, and time began to be a factor as the Highlanders had yet to score with time running out in the third quarter. Geduldig continued his monster game on the defensive side of the ball, chucking Williams to the ground on third down for a big sack, and senior Joel Martin’s great coverage on a fourth down end zone shot gave the ball back to McLean.

The Highlanders added 6 points to the scoreboard with a 46-yard touchdown run on fourth down, as Ball was able to bounce the keeper play to the outside and break through the hole for an untouched house call. The extra point was blocked by the Eagles, making the score 14-6 in the early stages of the fourth quarter.

As a long Edison drive trickled into McLean territory, the tenacious McLean defense was chomping at the bit to get the ball back. Their wish was granted, as a mishandled snap left the ball in no-man’s-land, and it was quickly snapped up by the waiting defenders. Needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion, the Highlanders took the field on offense. Although an offside call against the Eagles bailed McLean out of a 4th-and-3 situation, they were unable to generate any offense and were forced to punt.

The genie watching over Basil Harless Stadium granted McLean their second wish, as a wounded duck pass by Williams was intercepted by junior linebacker Easton Johnson. When the offense found themselves at fourth down with eight yards to go, the genie reached for his third wish, and a completion up the seam to McCullough gave the Highlanders the first down and more, leaving the ball at the 5-yard line. Unfortunately, genies only possess three wishes, and the offense sputtered out on the final plays, turning the ball over on downs after a failed fourth down passing attempt. Despite a valiant attempt at a comeback, the Highlanders left with a 14-6 defeat.

McLean will have another shot to add a tally in their win record at Fairfax High School, where they will face the Lions next Friday, September 16th.