Highlanders struggle late against South Lakes

Inconsistency plagues McLean’s varsity football team in their fifth straight loss

Junior punter Jack Needham heads back to the sideline after his punt is blocked and recovered for a touchdown.

McLean loses, 51-14

After a rough start to the season and close home loss to Edison two weeks ago, the Highlanders hoped to right the ship against South Lakes in their second home game of the season.

“I think we’ve got a good shot South Lakes,” senior lineman Andrew Mock said. “We’ve got a group of guys that really just want to fight.”

The desire to win is palpable amongst the players, and they were looking to feed off of the criticism they’ve faced lately.

“[It] feels like we have something to prove,” said Mock. “We can prove everyone wrong.”

The Highlander offense favors a ground-and-pound rushing attack, a style of play that puts heavy emphasis on the performance of the offensive line.

“We’re just looking to push them off the ball,” said Mock, “Drive them back [and] open up lanes for the running backs.”

The Highlander defense started out strong, holding South Lakes to a three-and-out, with the defensive line winning a series of scrums on inside runs.

The Highlanders’ first offensive drive featured an incredibly slow yet methodical rushing attack that drained more than seven minutes off of the clock. Thanks to a series of great runs by junior Jahi Jemison, and a gutsy 4th-and-1 decision to go for it, the Highlanders found themselves within South Lakes’ 25-yard line. Unfortunately, sophomore quarterback Ethan Ball threw an interception to South Lakes junior cornerback Brian Kennedy, who was downed at the 7-yard line.

Fortunes would soon swing back into Highlander favor though, as junior defensive back Soleiman Samad forced a Seahawks fumble at South Lakes’ 45-yard line, giving McLean great field position. However, the opportunity was wasted as McLean soon punted after a series of stuffed runs.

At the end of the first quarter, the Highlander defense looked to be playing exceptionally well, and while the offense had failed to capitalize on the good field position, it was truly anyone’s game.

To start the second quarter, South Lakes was tasked with starting their drive in their own red zone. However, the Seahawks offense remained unfazed, as South Lakes senior quarterback Max Daum delivered a big throw under pressure, leading to about a 30-yard gain. Just as the momentum began to swing towards South Lakes after a pair of plays to push the ball into the Highlander’s redzone, junior defensive back Kevin Kabasele forced a fumble, giving McLean the ball back at their own 20-yard line.

Unfortunately, the Highlander offense failed to make use of the turnover and went three-and-out, although junior punter Jack Needham boomed the ball past South Lake’s 40-yard line to give the McLean defense some breathing room.

This time, though, the South Lakes offense would not be denied, as they methodically drove down the field, making frequent use of out-routes and stretch runs. Once at the goal line, Daum rushed the ball in for a touchdown on a designed QB run, and after a successful point-after attempt, the Highlanders found themselves down 7-0.

Getting the ball back, the McLean rushing attack struck back thanks to a series of exceptional runs by Jemison, one going for more than 30 yards. Around South Lakes’ 35-yard line, Coach Cockerham made another gutsy 4th down decision, going for it on 4th-and-inches. Once again, the risk paid off as Jemison converted, and three plays later senior running back Max Geduldig found the endzone of an end-around, bringing the score even, 7-7.

Despite there only being 2:30 left in the half, South Lakes raced down the field, and after an interception by senior safety Jayden Vargas was called back, South Lakes settled for a field goal as time expired, putting the score at 10-7.

While the first half was an amazing display of grit and execution by the Highlanders, the second half was a completely different story. On the very first play in the second half, a fumble by Jemison placed the Seahawks in prime scoring position, which they immediately capitalized on as Daum found his wide receiver in the endzone to push the score to 17-7.

Things would only get worse from here, as after another 3-and-out left the offense within their own 10-yard line, a Seahawk blocked Needham’s punt, sending the ball into the endzone where it was recovered for a touchdown by South Lakes. South Lakes’ two-point conversion attempt failed, and the gap widened to 23-7 mere minutes into the second half.

South Lakes’ defense wasn’t done yet, as on the kickoff of the next drive senior return man Joel Martin fumbled the ball with South Lakes recovering, this time on McLean’s 14-yard line. Within two plays, South Lakes once again found themselves celebrating a touchdown, this time thanks to a pass thrown to the Seahawks’ tight end who was open right down the middle. This pushed the game to a 30-7 South Lakes lead, a scoring run that took less than six minutes and left the Highlanders in a hole they were unable to dig out of.

After another failed Highlander offensive drive, the Seahawks drove right down the field once again, punching the ball into the endzone despite fierce resistance from sophomore defensive end Will Lewey, pushing the score to 37-7.

The onslaught only continued, as the Seahawks backup quarterback Nicholas Harris found junior wide receiver J.P. Neaves for a touchdown in the back corner of the endzone, increasing the rout to 44-7 in the final minutes of the third quarter.

The Highlanders refused to go down quietly despite the lopsided score, as the Highlander offense powered down the field, bringing the score to 44-14 off of a touchdown from Jemison on a running back dive with around seven minutes to go in the game.

Unfortunately, the score did not remain 44-14 for long. South Lakes had the last laugh, scoring on a running back dive, pushing the score to 51-14 as the game entered its final minutes.

Both teams ran the clock out, ending the South Lakes rout at 51-14 as the final score.

The game was truly a story of two halves, as 41 of South Lakes’ 51 points came in the second quarter, with 34 of those points coming in a disastrous third quarter alone.

“First half, [the offense] played amazing, [the] defense played amazing, it was just a great first half all around,” Vargas said. “Second half, unfortunately, things happen, you know, fumble, blocked punt, and other fumble. It happens [and] it’s part of the game.”

Despite the rough loss, spirits remained relatively high along the McLean sideline throughout the game.

“Everyone gave 100% effort,” said Vargas, “I’m not questioning anyone’s effort, we played full speed, every single snap.”

McLean has a daunting task ahead of them as they attempt to rebound against Yorktown while on the road next week. While it will certainly be difficult, the first half of this game showed that this Highlander team has promiseit’s simply a matter of whether or not they can execute for all four quarters.