Cougars won’t be surprised
Knowledge is power for Manassas Park as defending Division 2 champion Washington & Lee rolls into town.
The Cougars entered last year’s game against the then-unknown from the Northern Neck District 4-0, like they do this season. But after what happened last year, Manassas Park won’t mistake not knowing about a team for it being a pushover.
“We hadn’t ever heard of them,” said A.C. Fitchett, who like his older teammates had never played the Eagles before. “We were maybe a little bit conceited.”
“We thought it would be another easy victory,” said senior lineman Howard Mighty as his team practiced in the gymnasium on Thursday. “After that, we never really bounced back.”
Washington & Lee won 21-0, starting a four-game slide during which the Cougars were outscored 77-12. Manassas Park rebounded to make the playoffs, but the season was never the same.
But Sam Wright, another two-way lineman, says the past is just that: history.
“That’s last year,” he said. “We don’t think about it.”
“At the same time,” adds linebacker Ivan Fitchett, “we can take [what happened last year] and gear ourselves up to show that it was a fluke.”
To be certain, Manassas Park respects what Washington & Lee did last season. They know a little bit about Eagle quarterback Joe Taylor, the 6-foot, 200-pounder who was the Group A player of the year last season.
The Cougars also think this year’s 4-0 group is different than last year’s. Sophomore quarterback Zach Terrell has been a pleasant surprise and classmate A.C. Fitchett has developed into a deep threat at receiver.
They recognize that the best way to prove they are different is on the big stage, against a reigning champion.
The Group A clash isn’t even the biggest game in either region, as Group AAA Gar-Field hosts Hylton and Group AA Liberty-Bealeton hosts Culpeper. And Manassas Park coach Jeff Lloyd said the game will likely be postponed to Saturday, due to the rain storms pushed north by Tropical Depression Isidore.
But when the two teams do take the field, they’ll be looking at near-mirror images of themselves. Taylor, a junior, is 22 of 36 for 487 yards and eight touchdowns. Terrell, a sophomore, is 29 of 57 for 603 yards and nine touchdowns.
The combined records of the three opponents the Eagles have defeated is 0-11. Manassas Park has outscored its four opponents 164-34, a 32.5-point margin of victory. This is the first big test for both teams, built on speed more than power.
If the rain continues, it could change the game plans, but it shouldn’t change the outcome.
“Washington & Lee has speed too, so playing in the rain won’t matter,” said Chris Tanks.
The Eagles may have a size advantage along the lines. A.C. Fitchett tapped Wright and Mighty on the shoulders and said “they underestimate our linemen.”
The Cougars, feeling like underdogs and thinking they haven’t put together four good quarters yet, want to make a big statement.
“It determines where we sit [in the Group A picture],” said Ivan Fitchett.
“We want to make the playoffs with no questions asked this year,” said Mighty.