An amazing, stupendous, program-making campaign comes to a close for the John Champe Knights.
Final score –
Salem Spartans (12-0) 14 6 7 7 34
John Champe Knights (11-1) 0 7 0 0 7
1 / 8:37 – Salem TD (Donte Clayborne 44-yd run; Nate Craft kick)
1 / 2:16 – Salem TD (Donte Clayborne 15-yd run; Nate Craft kick)
2 / 8:56 – John Champe TD (Zach Burdick 11-yd run; William Nichols kick)
2 / 1:54 – Salem TD (Alex Ramsey 1-yd run; Nate Craft kick missed)
3 / 3:48 – Salem TD (Donte Clayborne 25-yd run; Nate Craft kick)
4 / 8:33 – Salem TD (Noah Beckley 42-yd pass to Viante Tucker; Nate Craft kick)
John Champe High School, Aldie, Va. (November 28, 2015) — In the aftermath of suffering their first and only loss of the 2015 season, the Knights of John Champe High School had nothing to hang their heads about. Despite some somber faces, prolonged hugs and a few trudging walks, none of them did.
All of them expressed sorrow over the season’s sudden conclusion, not so much because of what they did on the field but because of what they’d come to mean to each other off of it. The words “family,” “brotherhood” and “love” flowed freely from slightly cracked voices and dewy eyes, but no Knight I encountered was shy about expressing his sincere affection for a football team that didn’t even exist four years ago.
Champe went down in defeat in the 4A West region semifinals to the visiting Spartans of Salem High School, who scored touchdowns on three of their four first-half possessions and two of their first three in the second half. The Knights were within striking distance until late in the third quarter, but could not muster enough offense to hang with their foes from Southwest Virginia.
But that’s not the important part.
Looking back, the Knights probably weren’t going to win this game. That Salem team was strong, very strong. There’s a reason the Spartans played for the state title a year ago and are a game away from doing it again. They have lots of big, fast, good players, and they’re very well-coached by Stephen Magenbauer, who’s won 134 games since taking the reins in 2004.
The blueprints for John Champe High School weren’t anywhere near the drawing board back then, and yet the fourth-year football program under Jason Dawson still won the right to compete with a squad the caliber of Salem.
They lost. But that’s not the important part.
What’s important is the camaraderie, the sentiment, the genuine outpouring of passion and compassion the Knight players demonstrated on Saturday afternoon, standing around their immaculately manicured field on which they’d made memories to last a lifetime.
That’s the important part of the 2015 John Champe Knights football season. But let’s hear it from the Champe men themselves:
Zach Burdick, senior quarterback/punter:
“I’ll remember this season in the most positive way. I couldn’t think of anything negative. My greatest memories have come from this team, on this field. It hurts to walk away from that, standing on this field for probably the last time, but I’ll remember my time with these guys for the rest of my life.”
Kamrin Eaton, senior defensive end:
“It’s what every kid could have possibly dreamed of, just giving it everything you have. This is not just a team; it’s more like a family. I’m going to look back in five, ten years from now, and these guys are all still going to be my brothers. I just want the best for everyone here, including myself and the coaches.”
Cory Young, senior linebacker:
“I knew it was up to us seniors to pave the way for the younger guys. We knew we were going to decide the fate of this season.”
Conner Ryan, senior tight end/middle linebacker:
“All I can really say right now is there’s no team I’d rather be on. This is just the most tight-knit group of players I’ve ever played with. We just competed our butts off, every game, and I just love them so much. We’re all brothers.”
Owen Cosenke, senior tight end:
“I moved here as a freshman, a little scrawny kid, wasn’t good at football at all. But being around these guys, being with Coach Dawson, working so hard for four years and now to be successful…. It hurts so much, but I’ve never been so confident in my teammates. My brothers.”
Mike O’Connell, junior linebacker:
“Coming back, I’m going to use all that I learned from Zach, Cory, the captains on this team [Cory gives him a brotherly shoulder slap] to lead this team next year. We want to go even farther next year.”
Dawson, the only head coach in Champe’s brief history, was among many wearing t-shirts proclaiming the successful on-field rise of the football program. The Knights went 0-10 in their inaugural 2012 season, then 2-8, followed by 8-4 last year and a statewide-announcing 11-1 this year.
He said that the results everybody sees come directly from the work nobody sees.
“That’s why we win here at Champe, because of the time and effort and work we put in when there’s no this [pointing toward the field], when there’s no third-round playoff game,” he said. “It’s so hard to start something when there is no example. These seniors, they have become the example. This is what you do, this is how hard you work, this is what it takes, and there are no shortcuts.”
As Dawson spoke, his players trickled slowly out of the locker room and into waiting cars, but not before sharing a few words and a hug with their football coach.
“My greatest gift as a head coach is to be able to pass along some of the lessons I’ve learned in life, and to see them learn those lessons, that’s what this is about,” Dawson continued, his eight-month-old daughter Willow snuggled against his left shoulder. “It’s an amazing experience.”
Near game’s end, with result not in doubt, the stadium’s public address announcer boomed into the microphone: “So how do you think they did this year?!?”
The response, collectivized by the thousands, was by far the loudest, longest, warmest cheer of the day.
John Champe stats –
Rushing: Zach Burdick 12-49, 1 TD; Carl Garmon 8-47; David Cousino 1-(-3)
Passing: Zach Burdick 9 of 25 for 129, 1 INT
Receiving: Kuony Deng 3-69; Coleman Rafferty 3-24; Owen Cosenke 3-36
Salem stats –
Rushing: Donte Clayborne 15-120, 3 TDs; Alex Ramsey 21-77, 1 TD; Noah Beckley 1-10; Riley Fox 1-6; Avante Robinson 2-5
Passing: Noah Beckley 11 of 12 for 168, 1 TD, 1 INT
Receiving: Viante Tucker 5-90, 1 TD; Alex Ramsey 1-25; Joseph Quinn 1-22; Nick Wade 3-17; Vincent Pinello 1-14
Other scores (regional semifinals) –
Stone Bridge 50, Massaponax 49
Tuscarora 63, North Stafford 49
Jefferson Forest 56, Woodgrove 38
Next round (regional final) –
Stone Bridge at Tuscarora
VivaLoudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Jason S Rufner
for Viva Loudoun Media Communications