This story was corrected on Sept. 17 at 1:45 p.m.
The long-sleeved jerseys, huge white numbers and shaggy Bieber-style haircuts in a football team photo, slightly browned by time, evoke a bygone era. And the scenario leading up to the last time Langley played T.C. Williams in football, 40 years ago, does too.
In October 1973, the Saxons were the small, unproven high school in the far-away suburbs of Fairfax County. Some former players remember they never had a winning season in eight years. T.C. Williams, on the other hand, was a power, fighting with schools like Annandale for the region crown and moving on to play against the state’s strongest teams in the playoffs. Just two years earlier, the Titans had won the state title during a season that would be showcased three decades later in the movie “Remember the Titans.”
T.C. Williams was also a young school, and its first-ever varsity game was a 1966 win over Langley. But by 1973, the Titans were a powerful football team that no Northern Virginia district wanted to welcome. So until the Titans eventually found a home in the Northern District, they rotated between the region’s districts. In 1973, the Titans were in the Great Falls District with Langley, McLean, Marshall, Yorktown, Herndon, Madison and others, setting up the second, and last, game between the two schools.
Bruce Allen, now the general manager for the Washington Redskins, was the Saxons’ placekicker.
Kevin Corey, a junior defensive back in 1973 and a member of Langley’s class of 1975, remembers hoping he and his teammates would just be able to look good as they drove to Alexandria for T.C. Williams’ homecoming game.
“We were doing our stretches,” Corey said. “I remember T.C. was coming out of the locker room and they started doing the clapping hands and the chant. All of us Langley guys looked at each other and said ‘uh oh.’”
But the Saxons kept it close, losing 15-9 after holding an early 6-3 lead. According to a Washington Post story, Langley’s rushing attack resulted in negative 51 yards. Allen kicked a 32-yard field goal.
“It was a real thrill for us to be leading [early in the game],” Corey said. “It was one of the best games – one of the most memorable games -- all of us had in our high school career. But we did end up losing.”
The Saxons felt inspired, in spite of the final score, and went on to win two of their next three games and finish with a 5-5 record.
“We probably played our best game of the year, and all of us realized it was the closest we were going to come to a state title,” said Corey.
Heading into this Saturday’s game (3 p.m.) at Parker-Gray Stadium in Alexandria, the tables are turned. Langley is the team with the stronger track record, making the playoffs in three straight seasons, while the Titans are trying to break a playoff drought going back to 1990. Each team comes into this game looking to prove head-turning wins in Game 1 weren’t flukes after dropping the season’s second game to traditional regional powers. After a first-week win against Yorktown, the region’s runner up in Division 5 last year, Langley lost to Stone Bridge, the defending regional champion, 45-35. T.C. Williams surprised Oakton, the defending Division 6 regional champion, 38-2 in the season opener before falling to Centreville 44-16. The winner of Saturday’s game will gain some traction heading into conference play.
“I hope we’re for real,” Langley coach John Howerton said. “It will certainly get the ball rolling in the right direction for both teams. I think you’re going to have quite a contrast in style of play.”
The Titans ambushed Oakton on the road in their first game, racking up a 31-2 lead before halftime as junior quarterback Darius Holland showed good touch on deep passes and senior running back Malik Carney, who is committed to play at the University of North Carolina as a linebacker next year, sparked the offense with a long touchdown run on their first offensive play. Rashawn Jackson showed both smarts and speed when he picked up what some Oakton players thought was a dead ball at the end of a punt, and returned it over 50 yards for a back-breaking touchdown. Langley, on the other hand, exhibited the ability to both run and pass, taking advantage of almost 300 yards rushing from junior running back Tyler West in its victory over Yorktown. A week later, as Stone Bridge loaded up for the running game, senior quarterback Nick Casso threw four touchdown passes and ran for another while completing 14 balls to wide receiver Garrett Collier (219 yards).
“There’s a lot of balance (in the offense),” said Casso, who was forced into action partway through his sophomore year and will play his 23rd varsity game on Saturday. “They’re going to have to spread it out to respect the pass, and then we can hit them with the run game.”
Langley’s sturdy offensive line feels as if it’s up to the task of protecting Casso from Carney and fellow UNC commit Jeremiah Clarke, a 6-5, two-way lineman with quickness honed on the basketball court.
“Just because they’re a D-1 recruit doesn’t mean they cannot be blocked or cannot be tackled,” said senior center Alex Kolencik, referencing Langley’s recent experience with former Stone Bridge defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, who is now at Alabama. “Anyone can tackle anybody on a given day.”
The eight-day layoff between Langley’s last game and Saturday will be important for the Saxons’ gameplan. “We’re going to have to account for those guys. We can’t pretend they’re not on the field,” Casso said last Friday. “They’re going to make an impact, so we have to plan around them. That’s what the extra long week will help with.”
T.C. Williams will celebrate its home opener, but also need to deal with a long layoff, having last played 15 days ago.
A 40-year hiatus means there’s no rivalry between these teams, and makes this game more of a curiosity. And Howerton wouldn’t be teased into saying anything inflammatory, choosing to focus on his desire to see Langley “play consistent every week. … I don’t need to concoct some big story or hoopla to get them fired up. “ But Kolencik quickly put the game into perspective after being told of the time lapse since the last time the Saxons and Titans played.
“Anything that happens again after a long break is big. That’s amazing [that it’s been so long],” he said.
The original version of this story contained the wrong score of a game.