Hugh Brown asked his St. Michael the Archangel football players and their parents to meet him at the practice field on Single Oak Road in Spotsylvania County for one final time in 2019.

The Warriors wanted to return to the place where they poured out sweat and performed drills since the sweltering summer months before school Monday morning.

Brown is the private school’s founder and football coach. His objective was to have the players take the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division III championship trophy and plaque they earned onto the field and to pray and thank God for the “miraculous” events that transpired in a 22–18 state title game victory over host Roanoke Catholic Friday night.

The Warriors then trekked to St. Michael and were welcomed with a surprise pep rally to fete the first state championship in any sport in the school’s history.

“It means everything,” Brown said. “It’s a grind. There were games when we had 14 healthy. We were an [injured] ankle away from not being able to run our offense … So the fact they were able to do this and come here and be recognized is special.”

It hasn’t been an easy road for the Warriors since the program began three years ago.

The original coaching staff was dismissed during the 2017 season, and the school considered postponing games or canceling the season.

“I remember at one point we went to a game with 12 players,” senior linebacker Matthew Brown said. “It would be nice to have 22. But I’d rather take the 18 we have now than 30 somewhere else.”

The Warriors were 7–1 heading into the Military Bowl against Northern Virginia Homeschool Association last season when Wendy Baker, the mother of three players and co-founder of the program’s booster club, died in a car accident at age 45.

The Warriors had just 14 players so they needed her sons to play. Jacob, Garret and Rendell Baker took the field four days later and the Warriors defeated the Centurions 8–3 to avenge a regular-season loss.

Senior lineman Jacob Baker said his mom was with the team last Friday.

“My dad was telling a lot of the other people before the game that she was here and he could just feel it,” Jacob Baker said. “I think she was one of the reasons I was able to play so well because I wanted to do it for her.”

The undersized Warriors were tested by Roanoke Catholic, the three-time defending state champions and winner of four of the past five titles. It was the sixth straight final game appearance for the Celtics and the Warriors’ first season as a member of VISAA.

The Warriors received a good sign when Colton Bubar barely made a career-long 41-yard field goal to give them a 15-12 halftime lead.

“It felt like it was in slow motion,” Bubar said.

St. Michael trailed 18-15 with a little more than eight minutes remaining when Matthew Brown and defensive tackle Melvin Spriggs switched positions and combined to stop a Celtics ball carrier on fourth and 2 from the Warriors’ 7-yard line.

Hugh Brown told his offensive coordinator: “If there’s such a thing as an eight-minute offense, we need it. We can’t give them the ball back.”

The Warriors marched 94 yards for the game-clinching score and left just five seconds on the clock. The Celtics’ Davionne Carter dropped a game-clinching interception on one third-down play. Roanoke Catholic was called for a 15-yard face mask penalty on another third-and-long. Smith also scrambled 20 yards up the middle for a key third-down conversion.

The Warriors were facing fourth and goal from the Celtics’ 5 with less than a minute remaining. Hugh Brown waited until 12 seconds were left and called timeout.

He was prepared to send Bubar out for a game-tying 22-yard field goal. But he wasn’t prepared for the look on his players’ faces when he suggested overtime.

“They just looked bewildered,” he said.

As the players trudged onto the field, one of St. Michael’s coaches told Hugh Brown their disappointed facial expression was because they wanted to go for the win. The coach called a second timeout and called his players back into the huddle.

“They said, ‘Coach, let’s win the game,’ ” Hugh Brown said. “I looked at them eyeball to eyeball and said, ‘Go win the game. And I grabbed Jalen and I said, ‘You were made for this moment. Go get it done.’ ”

Smith found sophomore receiver Chase Wormley on a rollout. Wormley hauled in the catch and the Warriors celebrated.

Wormley had dropped two first-half passes and was beaten on defense for a touchdown pass to tie the game at 12. He was admittedly full of nerves throughout the game until Hugh Brown settled him down with a pep talk at halftime. Hugh Brown told Wormley that eventually the Warriors would need him to make a play and that he believed in him.

“Jalen was scrambling so I had to go in the back of the end zone and get open,” Wormley said. “I just had to catch it … I went crazy. It didn’t feel real.”

The surreal feelings continued on Monday at school. Players wore party hats and sunglasses. St. Michael administrators had the Warriors re-create the game-winning play with volunteers as defenders and once again Wormley made the catch.

The Warriors then had three groups of six players attempt to spell out “champs” using Skittles candy and only being able to move the pieces around with their nose. No group completed the task, but they were happy they had permission to munch on the candy afterward.

Smith said the state title validated his decision to join St. Michael after transferring from Life Christian Academy in Chester. He was an all-state quarterback at Stafford High prior to joining LCA.

“I just know these past couple of years have been a little crazy,” Smith said. “All of my choices people questioned. They ask why I did it. A result like this is the reason. It’s just a great feeling.”

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Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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