The push originated three years ago, its energy emanating from a group of players who’d just endured a winless 0–8 season.
“You could feel it in the room,” Fredericksburg Christian coach Billy Thomas recalled of meeting his team for the first time. “They were hungry.”
The push was realized on the turf at King George High School Saturday night, as the Eagles propelled themselves to a VISAA, Division-II state championship with brute force. At two pivotal junctures in a 35–21 victory over North Cross, FCS senior Cannon Zylonis embodied the push.
Both times, Zylonis was stood up and stopped by a band of Raider defenders shy of the line to gain. But a pile of teammates precipitated behind him, and, somehow, he kept moving. Collectively, they carried Zylonis to a 16-yard first-quarter touchdown and a critical fourth-down conversion down the stretch.
“It’s like I’m floating,” said Zylonis, a transfer from King George who rushed for a 115 yards and a touchdown. “I’ve got the people on my back and I know they’re working for me. I feel 80 times stronger.”
The Eagles (11–1) flexed their offensive muscle early, going ahead 7–0 on a 48-yard pass from Antwan Johnson to Hunter Whittenburg off play-action. Cameron’s Schaub’s 11-yard scoring scamper put FCS ahead 14–0 with 1:02 left in the first quarter.
Privately, Thomas the Eagles had wanted another shot at the Raiders, who handed FCS its only loss of the season back on Sept. 13. The Eagles committed seven turnovers in a sloppy 26–9 loss.
“We wanted to prove we were the better team,” Thomas said.
North Cross (7–4) got a pair of passing touchdowns from Gabe Zappia and pulled within seven late in the third quarter, after an inadvertent whistle wiped out an apparent FCS fumble recovery. On the ensuing re-do, Zappia scrambled right and hit a streaking Mehki Hines for a 35-yard score.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Raiders appeared to get a stop that would’ve afforded them a tying drive. But Zylonis kept his legs churning on a 4th and 1, and so did the clock.
“They did a great job of controlling the ball,” North Cross coach Stephen Alexander said. “That’s what their offense is designed to do.”
The Eagles’ push for a state championship proved all consuming for some. With his team leading 28–21 and driving to put the game away, senior running back Aaron Johnson absorbed a dizzying blow at the Raiders 1-yard line.
Motionless for several seconds, he was escorted off the field with an apparent head injury. Nothing, though, could dull the emotions surrounding a title more than three years in the making.
“I remember everything,” Johnson said. “It just took a minute to process it all.”
FCS-Hunter Whittenburg 48 pass from Antwan Johnson (kick blocked).
FCS-Cameron Schaub 11 run (Jackson Parker pass to Whittenburg).
NC-Isaac Harris 16 run (Piers McGinn kick).
FCS-Cannon Zylonis 16 run (Parker kick).
NC-James Jackson 44 pass from Gabe Zappia (McGinn kick).
FCS-Aaron Johnson 26 run (Parker kick).
NC-Mehki Hines 35 pass from Zappia (Parker kick).
FCS-Antwan Johnson 1 run (Parker kick).
RUSHING: North Cross—Isaac Harris 16-55, TD; Gabe Zappia 1-(-6). Fredericksburg Christian—Cannon Zylonis 23-118, TD; Cameron Schaub 15-53, TD; Antwan Johnson 1-1, TD; Aaron Johnson 5-52, TD.
PASSING: North Cross—Gabe Zappia 13-21, 176 yards, 2 TD’s. Fredericksburg Christian—Antwan Johnson 4-8, 88 yards, TD; Aaron Johnson 0-1.
RECEIVING: North Cross—James Jackson 6-75, TD; Austin Zappia 3-35; Mehki Hines 2-41, TD; Harris 1-(-4); Zae Baines 1-29. Fredericksburg Christian—Hunter Whittenburg 2-51, TD; Cameron Schaub 1-31; Aaron Johnson 1-6.