After an 0-2 start filled with mistakes, offensive and defensive troubles and turnovers, many in the area and in the state had left George Washington for dead.
But the way coach Steve Edwards Jr. figured it, there was no time better for the dead to rise than on Friday the 13th.
Using a late defensive stand and capitalizing on enough Huntington miscues to overcome their own, the Patriots registered their first win over the Highlanders in 13 years in a 31-30 thriller on The Hill.
With 5:29 remaining and GW up 31-24, Huntington quarterback Tay Blackwell dived in from a yard out to pull the Highlanders (1-1) within a point. Blackwell was back on the field for the conversion as the team seemed to be ready to go for 2, but an illegal-procedure call backed Huntington up 5 yards and coach Billy Seals sent kicker Nathan Young on to try and tie the game. But the kick came out low and was blocked, leaving the Patriots in front by a point.
And that point ended up being just enough.
“It’s very satisfying, we’ve been struggling,” Edwards said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a win. Happy for these kids, they’ve persevered. They’ve had people not believe in them and drop off on them and they’ve stuck together.
“It’s a big win for us. That’s a great program, hadn’t beaten them since 2006 — huge.”
With a full moon dancing in and out of cloud cover, craziness ensued late in the first half after a fairly tame opening 23 minutes.
Huntington led 10-3 and was looking for more with the clock winding. The Highlanders had the ball inside GW territory but Brocton Blair fumbled, giving the Patriots the ball with under a minute to go.
Quarterback R.T. Alexander ran a draw on the first play of the ensuing drive for 5 yards as the Patriots seemed to be debating on whether to run the clock or go for points.
Without using a timeout, Alexander took the next snap on a winding clock, scrambled around and then found a wide-open Alex Mazelon for a 54-yard touchdown pass to suddenly tie the game at 10 heading into the half.
It was a sign of things to come.
The teams traded points and big plays in the third quarter. After the Highlanders held GW to a three-and-out to start the half, Patriots punter Michael Hughes booted a ball with the wind at his back and it took a hard hop right into the knee of Huntington returner Devin Jackson. The Patriots fell on it, and two plays later Alexander found Mazelon again for a 23-yard touchdown pass to put GW in front for the first time at 17-10.
It would be short-lived as Huntington marched 80 yards in seven plays with Blackwell plunging in from a yard out to tie things up at seven.
Huntington’s defense forced another three-and-out and, again, Hughes’ punt ricocheted off Jackson, allowing GW to recover at the Huntington 17. Three plays later, Alexander found Isaac Isabell on an out route for a 10-yard score to give the Patriots (1-2) the lead back.
But the Highlanders were far from done as Blackwell hit Diallo Mitchell on a 69-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the following drive, sending the game into the fourth quarter tied at 24.
After reaching the Huntington 34-yard line by the quarter’s end, GW started the final period with a bang as Alexander hit on his fourth touchdown pass, this one a 34-yard strike to Brayden McCallister to put the Patriots up 31-24.
Blackwell cashed in on Huntington’s next drive, and after the blocked extra point, GW took over at its own 17.
Alexander came up with a key first down on a 17-yard run on third-and-14 with 3:22 left, forcing a Huntington time out.
The Highlanders would get one more crack at it, taking over at midfield with 2:22 left. But after a first down on a 19-yard pass from Blackwell to Jackson, GW stood tall one last time, knocking down a Blackwell throw on fourth-and-9 from the Patriot 30. Alexander took three kneel-downs and that was that.
“My coaches put together a nice game plan and our kids executed for a change,” Edwards said. “They believed in what we were doing, they believed in themselves and I’m happy for them.
“We hadn’t been able to catch our breath any this year, but I think that helped us some when things went bad. Having some good things happen, kept our confidence in it and I’m just really tickled the kids believed in each other and just a great team effort.”
Huntington outgained GW 402-252, including rolling up 207 yards on 45 carries and limiting the Patriots to 61 yards rushing. But three fumbles, 11 penalties for 65 yards and that crucial missed point after were ultimately the Highlanders’ undoing.
Alexander finished 11 for 18 for 191 yards and four scores. Blackwell threw for 195 yards for Huntington but hit just 6 of 23 passes. He threw for two scores and ran for two more. Blair led the Highlander run game with 78 yards on 13 carries.