The usual roar of the crowd was more like a murmur, and six-feet-apart fans ducked for cover to avoid a refreshing spring shower instead of a wintry rain and sleet mix.
But while the pandemic pushed the high school football postseason from winter to spring and changed many of its regular features, at least one thing remained a constant: Lake Taylor will play in a state championship game.
The Titans surged to an early lead and clamped down on defense when they needed to in a 44-29 victory over King George in a Class 4 semifinal Saturday afternoon.
Lake Taylor (8-0) earned a spot in its third consecutive state championship game and will play for its fourth title since 2012. The Titans — state champs in 2012, 2014 and 2019 — will host Salem (9-0), of southwest Virginia, in next Saturday’s championship game.
Lake Taylor earned its latest trip to the title game after the 2020 season was pushed to spring. The Virginia High School League has limited fans to 250 per team, and signs of the pandemic are prevalent — from the announcer imploring fans to wear a mask to the availability of hand sanitizer in the stands.
But none of that seemed to matter to the Titans, whose offense churned out 406 total yards, including 115 rushing and three touchdowns from Chuck Fisher. On defense, Lake Taylor harassed King George (8-1), located east of Fredericksburg, into three turnovers and collected six sacks.
“It always feels like Lake Taylor football, no matter when,” said senior linebacker Darious Speight, who finished with three sacks. “We’ve just been hoping we’d be able to do this and get back to the championship game for the seniors. We didn’t want to miss out.”
The Titans’ defense played like that in the opening quarter. Elijah Washington ran after an errant King George snap on the game’s first drive and raced 67 yards for a touchdown. Lake Taylor then forced four consecutive punts to build a 28-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
King George starting quarterback Charles Mutter was injured on the scramble for that bad snap and missed most of the first half.
Titans quarterback Jeff Foster, who finished 14 of 21 for 214 yards, shook off an early interception and guided the Titans on three consecutive scoring drives, including a 35-yard TD run of his own, and Lake Taylor led 37-14 after Tarreon Washington-Jacobs’ 3-yard TD with 1:49 left in the third quarter.
King’s George’s Javon Campbell (four catches, 182 yards, two TDs) hauled in an 80-yard TD pass from Mutter and then returned Foster’s second interception 82 yards for a score to pull the Foxes within 37-29 with 3:02 left.
But Fisher put the game away with a 46-yard TD run, and the Titans’ defense stiffened, capped by Washington-Jacobs’ game-sealing interception.
Mutter finished 10 of 28 for 232 yards, but the Foxes — thanks to some fumbles and mishandled snaps — had 15 rushing attempts that resulted in minus-70 yards.
Afterward, the Titans gathered around coach Hank Sawyer on their home field and cheered about another difference spring football has produced: a home game for the state championship.
“We gotta rally around whoever is here, whatever fans we have and play for each other,” Sawyer said. “It’s almost unbelievable. It’s a phenomenal time.”
Jami Frankenberry, 757-446-2376, firstname.lastname@example.org