BETHESDA — In a crucial matchup between Interstate Athletic Conference football teams, the Landon Bears topped the visiting Georgetown Prep Little Hoyas at home on Saturday afternoon 10-3.
Landon had just suffered a loss to Bullis in which the Bears did not score an offensive touchdown. For Landon to stay in the race for IAC title contention, the game against the Little Hoyas was a must-win.
However, the first break of the game went in favor of Georgetown Prep, as Landon would fumble early in its opening drive.
Landon swung the momentum right back onto their side, forcing a three-and-out, and getting the ball right back. The Bears staged multiple good drives throughout the first half of the game. However, self-inflicted mistakes, most notably penalties, cost the Bears chances at points.
The two sides traded punts, and the occasional fumble, throughout the first half. With 1:51 remaining in the first half, the Bears took over after forcing another Georgetown Prep three-and-out. Landon quarterback John Geppert completed passes to Archie Russ and Tyler Smith to move into Prep territory. The drive would eventually stall out, but the Bears were within field goal range. Davis Walker came on to the field to attempt a field goal, and drained it to put Landon up 3-0.
Prep had just 40.2 seconds remaining before the half to respond. After runs from star running back Jalen Hampton, as well as penalties on Landon, Prep had moved into field goal range. Prep kicker Ultan Horrigan scored a field goal in the final seconds of the first half, tying the game at three.
On their opening possession of the second half, the Bears drove into the red zone behind rushes from Geppert and Jelani Machen. Landon moved the ball all the way down to the Little Hoyas’ one-yard line. However, the Hoyas would make a defensive stand, keeping the Bears out of the end zone, and forcing a turnover on downs as they kept Landon out of the end zone on fourth-and-goal with just inches between the ball and the goal line.
As was the case in the first half, Georgetown Prep struggled to throw the ball, and while Hampton had a couple of chunk runs, he never provided a big play. Landon continued to pick up a first down or two before their own mistakes killed the drive.
With just over two minutes to play, the Landon student section exploded as Bears safety Chazz Harley picked off a pass from Prep quarterback John Ridgway (Harley’s second interception of the game) setting up his offense with good field position, and a chance to win the game.
The Bears picked up a first down on a run from Machen, but was forced into a fourth-and-inches scenario just a few plays later. On a handoff to Joseph Epstein, Landon was able to convert, keeping the drive alive.
Landon leaned very heavily on the run throughout the game, but in the final minute, the Bears were forced to throw. Bears receiver Tommy Baldwin ran a corner route into the end zone and towards the sideline. The Little Hoyas defense left Baldwin all alone, and Geppert saw the busted coverage.
“We were running this play called ‘Belly’ a lot all game,” Geppert said describing the play. “That’s been a really good play for us all year…It just came open, the [linebacker] came off, and he was wide open.”
Geppert fired a deep pass towards Baldwin in the end zone. Baldwin hauled in the ball, completing the 31-yard touchdown pass from Geppert and giving Landon a 10-3 lead over Georgetown Prep with 22.8 seconds to play.
Landon would take an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for their celebration, moving back the ensuing kickoff. However, Walker booted a fantastic kick, one that bounced through the end zone for a touchback, eliminating the opportunity for Prep to have improved field position.
The Little Hoyas finally found some success throwing the ball, and Landon was called for another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. This moved Prep into Landon territory. With just 2.9 seconds to play, Ridgway was forced to throw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone, but he wasn’t able to get it off before being sacked by the Bears defense. The sack sealed a thrilling 10-3 win for the Bears.
The Bears had a couple of sustained drives in the win, but were unable to find the end zone until the final seconds of the game. In a game that Landon desperately had to win, they found a way.
While Landon didn’t put up a lot of points on the Little Hoyas defense, the Bears defense was stout. Landon was facing a Georgetown Prep team that boasted one of the area’s best running backs in Jalen Hampton. Landon, for the most part, was able to bottle up Hampton, and did not allow him to make an impact on this game. “We’ve been really good defensively all year,” said Landon head coach Paul Padalino of the team’s defense. “It starts with our front group…we’re able to defend the run really well, with six or seven or eight guys when we needed to…It’s a team effort.”
Landon’s secondary was also solid in this game. They did not bite on play-action, and had two interceptions, both made by Harley.
Bullis was upset by Episcopal on Saturday, and after beating Georgetown Prep, Landon is back in the IAC race.
Landon improved to 6-1 with the victory, and will face St. Stephen and St. Agnes on the road next week. Georgetown Prep dropped to 5-2. Next week, they will go on the road to play Episcopal.