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Group AA, Div. 4 Football: Cougars out to exorcise evil memory

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The Courtland football team arrived at Briar Woods High School a bit unprepared in 2010.

The Cougars had won eight straight games after an 0–4 start. They were fresh off a Region I, Division 4 championship, and the celebration never ceased.

That was until it was abruptly halted with a humbling 52–8 loss to the Falcons in the Group AA, Division 4 state semifinals.

“I believe that team was satisfied with the fact we had won a regional championship and we didn’t mentally prepare to play the toughest team we’ve ever played,” said Courtland senior linebacker Zack Braswell, who was a sophomore cornerback two years ago. “And that was definitely the toughest team we’ve ever played.”

Courtland (9–4) will get a second chance against Briar Woods (13–0) today at 1:30 p.m., with another trip to the state championship game on the line.

The Cougars say they’re more prepared for the trip to Ashburn this time. They’re aware that Briar Woods is on a 27-game winning streak and is the two-time defending state champion.

“We were oblivious to them in 2010,” Courtland senior running back Brandon Mason said. “We didn’t really think much. We were just like ‘Oh we’ve got a regional championship. We haven’t lost in all this time. We’re going to go up there and get a win.’ We were almost too confident in ourselves.

“We didn’t look past them but we also didn’t focus on what they could be or how to get a win.”

That’s not the case this season.

Courtland junior linebacker Matt Knowles said he has studied the Falcons for two to three hours every night after practice.

He’s relayed his findings to his teammates, and the Cougars have concluded the Falcons aren’t unbeatable.

“We want to be the people to knock them off,” Mason said.

Braswell and senior defensive lineman Jared Fehrens said Briar Woods possessed more big-time playmakers in 2010, including Alex Carter, a former wide receiver and defensive back who now plays for Stanford University.

But the Falcons still boast junior quarterback Trace McSorley, who threw two touchdowns against the Cougars as a freshman.

“I feel like they’re still a tough team, because of course they’re undefeated,” Knowles said. “But looking at them on film I feel like we have a good chance of beating them if we play good football. I don’t feel like they’re as physical as they were when we played them in 2010. And our defense is a little better. So I feel like we have a better shot now than we did before.”

Knowles said the Cougars will still have to play a mistake-free game to pull off a win. Courtland believes that although the Falcons were the superior team two years ago, it didn’t do much to help its own cause.

The Cougars committed five first-half turnovers and had a punt blocked. They trailed 45–0 at intermission.

“We went there and thought we had arrived,” Courtland head coach J.C. Hall said. “It was a combination of us thinking we were bigger than what we were and forgetting to get ready for Briar Woods.”

Hall said the Cougars were jubilant after their 18–15 win over Smithfield last Saturday to claim their second regional championship in the past three years.

But the celebration didn’t last as long this time. On Monday, the Cougars were keenly focused on Briar Woods.

“I think it’s because they know the task they’re up against,” Hall said of his players. “They know the team they’re playing. We know they’re a good opponent. So the celebration over that [Smithfield] victory went out the window real quick.”

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