NORFOLK—The ball wasn’t the only thing that popped out.
When Lake Taylor’s Elijah Washington won the scramble for an errant snap and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown, King George found itself trailing a mere five plays into Saturday’s Class 4 state semifinal.
But far more disturbing to the Foxes than the early deficit was the sight of senior quarterback Charles Mutter on the ground clutching at his left shoulder. As Mutter exited the field, a pall overtook the visitor’s sideline and grandstand. The Foxes’ offense went quiet, too.
With Mutter sidelined, the Titans built a workmanlike 20–0 advantage on touchdown runs by Chuck Fisher and Jeff Foster. Meanwhile, Mutter agonized on the bench surrounded by trainers. Kim McDonald, a nurse practitioner and the wife of Foxes assistant coach Clancy McDonald, was hastily summoned from the stands to perform the necessary adjustment.
In a touch of irony, the PA announcer plugged a local orthopedic practice that sponsors Lake Taylor athletics at the very moment Mutter’s shoulder was … relocated? As the pain hit, Mutter’s thoughts turned to former Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who once overcame the same injury to throw a game-winning touchdown pass.
“It was my senior year, I didn’t want it to end like that,” Mutter said. “I had to come back.”
After declining an ambulance ride to the hospital and working out his afflicted limb on the sidelines, Mutter returned to toss three touchdowns in King George’s 44–29 defeat, nearly completing an unfathomable comeback in the process. Lake Taylor (8–0) will host Salem in next week’s Class 4 state championship game.
Down three touchdowns, Mutter found freshman Chanz Wiggins on a slant to get the Foxes (8–1) on the board, then heaved a 45-yarder to senior Javon Campbell as King George pulled to within 28–14 just before halftime.
Foster, who moonlights as the Titans’ straight-on kicker, booted a 25-yard field goal to make it 31–14 with 7:01 left in the third quarter. On King George’s next possession, Mutter was picked off and the Titans capitalized on the turnover to put the game out of reach at 37–14.
Or so it seemed.
Campbell needed just one hand to snare a bomb from Mutter, using the other one to taunt the Lake Taylor defender who trailed in futile pursuit during his 80-yard catch and run. Then the Titans, leading by 16 points with under three minutes to play, inexplicably attempted a pass—and one in Campbell’s direction, to boot.
“I’m surprised, surprised they threw that,” Campbell said.
Imagine the shock on Lake Taylor fans’ faces when Campbell took his interception 81 yards to the house, when the Foxes succeeded on the subsequent two-point conversion, and finally, on their second attempt of the afternoon, when they recovered an onside kick.
“At that point, we believed we were back in it,” Mutter said.
The belief endured even when the Foxes turned the ball over on downs to squander a potential tying drive, then allowed Fisher to break through for a 46-yard touchdown run that iced the outcome.
After the final whistle, King George football coach Vern Lunsford lined up his underclassmen on opposite sides of the goal line, where they formed a tunnel through which the Foxes’ seniors processed. That group had endured a woeful 1–9 campaign in 2018, Lunsford’s first year at the helm, only to post a perfect 6–0 regular season this spring and capture the school’s first regional title since 1995.
“Years from now, people are still going to be talking about this,” running back Von Whiting said through a steady stream of tears.
In fact, it’s fair to say King George’s banner season put the program back on the map. After the game, a Titans coach shouted across the handshake line that he’d never heard of the school or its home county.
“Even though they beat us, they’re going to know who King George is now,” Campbell said.
Joey LoMonaco: 540/368-5045