Lasting memories of Williams-led state playoff runs

Over two weeks have elapsed since longtime Thomas Dale football coach Vic Williams lost his battle with cancer, and because his passing occurred just one year since last season’s magical run to the Knights’ first state football crown, many fans have undoubtedly reflected on how short and fragile life can be.

Many of the Dale faithful have probably also taken a few minutes to look back at the memories Williams and his program created since he took over in 1987. Saturday will be the first anniversary of last year’s state championship, when the Knights captured the title over Lake Braddock, 35-21. As it turned out, it was Williams’ final game as a coach and the crowning achievement of his coaching career.

During 23 seasons at the helm of the Knights, Williams achieved many things, including facilitating the careers of future NFL players William Henderson, Ken Oxendine and Rudi Johnson. He won many Central District titles, but perhaps the most indelible memory for Knights’ fans will be the seven Central Region titles the Knights captured. Those championships propelled Dale into the state semifinals and sent the program and its fans on a roller coaster ride of upset wins and disappointing losses that culminated with last December’s state championship.

Here’s a look back at that journey:

1989 – Dale got its first taste of the state semifinal experience in Williams’ third year as coach. The Knights were defeated by Potomac, 20-14.

1992 – Many believe this was Williams’ most talented team, led by junior running back Ken Oxendine. On a clear and cold day, Dale steamrolled Bayside 42-20 behind the running of Oxendine and seemed destined to capture its first state title the following Saturday. What appeared to be destiny did not become reality, as Dale fell 35-20 to Pulaski County and its tricky Wing-T offense.

1993 – The Knights were back in the state semifinals the following year, facing Northern Region champ Annandale. Though Dale had multiple opportunities to put the Atoms away, a late goal-line stand by Annandale ended Oxendine’s high school career and the Knight’s season, 10-7.

1996 – Williams’ fourth regional title earned Dale a trip to face George Washington Danville. A rainy day slowed both offenses, and the game remained scoreless after regulation. GW-Danville scored the game’s only points in overtime, winning 7-0.

2001 – Dale hosted Northwest Region champion C. D. Hylton in the state semifinals and entered the game as a heavy underdog. The Knights stifled UVA- and NFL-bound Ahmad Brooks and surprised the Bulldogs 27-22. The win earned them a trip to the state final against Northern Region champion James Robinson. Robinson’s Mike Imoh ran wild in the final, and the Knights were soundly defeated, 40-7.

2002 – The Knights won the Central Region again in 2002 and faced C.D. Hylton in the semifinals for the second straight year. The game was played at Hylton and a heavy snowstorm in northern Virginia threatened the postponement of the contest. An around-the-clock effort allowed the field to be playable, and Hylton got revenge for the previous year, defeating Dale 22-8.

2009 – When Dale lost two of its first three games, it appeared the season would be forgettable. Instead, after losses to Varina and cross-Chester rival L.C. Bird, Dale won five straight games. But, the team still faced elimination from the playoffs in the ninth game of the year, when it trailed Meadowbrook by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. They rallied to defeat the Monarchs, 35-34, propelling the Knights into the postseason with plenty of momentum. Playoff wins against Bird and Hermitage earned the Knights a state semifinal matchup with Eastern Region champ Oscar Smith.

The Tigers came to Chester ranked in the top 10 in the country and were enjoying a 28-game winning streak. The game day was filled with rain, sleet and wind, and Oscar Smith coaches and officials tried unsuccessfully to have the game postponed or moved because of muddy playing conditions. Dale took advantage of this and jumped out to an early 14-0 lead. Oscar Smith battled back, eventually tying the game 14-14 and sending it into overtime. After the Tigers kicked a field goal, Williams asked his offensive line for one more surge and they answered, opening up the entire right side of the field. Running back Demetric Jackson went untouched from eight yards out for the winning score. A week later, behind a powerful running game and an opportunistic defense, the Knights finally captured the school’s first state championship and the first state title for any Central Region Division 6 school.

After a lot of near misses, Williams and his Dale program finally reached the top of the mountain. The journey to win it all lasted over two decades, with 213 total wins.

Williams took the Knights to unprecedented levels of success and he and his teams provided many unforgettable moments over those 23 seasons. Thanks for the great ride Williams, and thanks for the memories.

Commentary by Walt Stone

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