As the ball falls incomplete in the end zone on a last ditch effort by Victory Christian, a celebration breaks out on the Foundation sideline and spills out onto the field.
Head Coach Brad Lord runs onto the field arms raised in victory, as he and his staff run in circles until finding players to embrace in a moment of jubilation that the program has been waiting on for years.
For the first time in school history, the Lions (8-1) have claimed the Class 2A, Region 2 title in a grinding 7-0 win over rival Victory Christian (7-5) on Black Friday — Nov. 27.
“We lost in double overtime to them one year, we lost by throwing an interception on their 2-yard line one year, two games we got blown out of and another game we played them tough,” Lord said. “They’re our rivals … and they’ve gotten the better of us, but Coach (Andre) Walker dialed up a gem and we played really good tonight — I’m just proud of the boys.”
Victory Christian has been a consistent thorn in the side of Foundation for years now, with the Storm besting the Lions four times in the playoffs — all of which were in regional final showdowns in the 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Unlike those four regional final losses — where the Lions gave up an average of just under 30 points per game — it was the defense and its gutsy performance that turned the tide in the game with its magnum opus performance of the season.
Halfway through the first quarter Foundation’s defense would face its first challenge when the Lions stuffed Victory Christian on fourth-and-inches from the 12-yard line to prevent the Storm from finding pay dirt.
Both offenses would continue to struggle against strong defenses until senior Danny Stutsman broke free for a 70-yard touchdown run off of the direct snap to help give the Lions a 7-0 lead with 11:45 left in the first half. Stutsman should have had three touchdowns by the end of the night, but two running scores later in the game would be called back by blocking penalties. He would finish the night with 151 rushing yards on 13 carries.
The touchdown run would prove huge, but it was a defensive stand just a few minutes later that would prove to be the ultimate game changer.
After Victory Christian quarterback Tyler Vanderzee hit Jayden Paul for a 49-yard toss down to the Lions’ 7-yard line, and following a couple of short runs, Foundation defensive tackle Reggie Jean and a host of Lions stuffed a run on third-and-goal at the 1-yard line. What followed was the play of the game, as on fourth-and-goal from inches out from the end zone, the Lions once again dominated on the line and shut the Storm out.
It was a moment that was met by absolute excitement from the Foundation sideline — especially from defensive coordinator Andre Walker
“A year ago when we played The First Academy, they got down to the goal line in similar fashion and we elected not to call the timeout,” Walker said. “This time we learned from our mistakes from previous years. We learned from our mistakes and we were able to capitalize because of the way our defense was playing — we were playing solid football — and getting key stops in the game.
“We knew this game was going to be a game of inches, so when we got down there and we had our opportunity to burn a timeout, we used it,” he said. “We got the guys settled and then they executed like they had been doing all game.”
By the end of the night the Foundation defense had terrorized Victory Christian’s normally explosive offense, and held the Storm to just 183-total yards of offense throughout the entire game.
A big part of the defense came not from just one individual, but several. Bryan Thomas picked up 11 tackles (including five tackles for loss), one sack and four hurries, while Reggie Jean recorded nine tackles (two for a loss) and a sack. Stutsman, Greyson Labiad and Edward Byrd each would rack up 11 tackles apiece in the Lions’ dominant defensive performance.
“Me and my other defensive coaches we talked about it — from the start of the game — that we hope that it has to fall on us, that we have to win the game by playing defense,” Walker said. “I’m overjoyed — that team over there is a really good team. The ball bounced our way this year, we were fortunate enough to execute and make plays when we needed to make plays.”
It was a big win for the program, but now the Lions have to get ready to play University Christian (7-4) in the state semifinals next Friday on the road in Jacksonville.
“We’re going to heal up this weekend, and Monday we’ll go to work,” Lord said.