CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Back in 2018, metro-Richmond had two of the best high school football programs the area had ever seen. Both Highland Springs in Henrico and Manchester in Chesterfield won state championships with undefeated 15-0 seasons.
The Manchester Lancers had six shutouts that year and topped 47 points in all but two of those wins in Class 6.
The Highland Springs Springers capped off a run of four consecutive state titles at the Class 5 level.
Obviously, the two teams did not meet that season, but the debate raged about which team would win.
In 2019, they did meet in the regular season.
The Springers notched a come-from-behind victory, but it wasn’t a playoff game.
This Saturday was to be the postseason match-up everyone wanted to see.
But it wasn’t to be.
After their late-night win over Hermitage in the regional semifinals, one of the Lancer players began to feel ill.
Subsequent testing revealed a positive COVID result, and contact tracing back to Friday night’s game wasn’t going to leave the Lancers with enough players to field a team.
In an instant, their season was over.
“They didn’t want to believe it just like we didn’t want to believe it,” Manchester head coach Tom Hall said of his players and coaches.
Hall broke the official news to his team on Monday night.
“A lot of emotion, a lot of silence. A lot of disbelief," he said.
The meeting, much like the season, ended quickly.
"When it officially came out, it was a deep breath,” said Highland Springs head coach Loren Johnson. “It was kind of a sigh. Not a sigh of relief but kind of like oh my God. I told Tom I don't know what to say."
The Springers automatically advance to the Class 5 state semifinals and will carry with them some of the hopes of their opponents who didn’t get the chance.
"We took the approach of we got to play for all of those teams that are in this region,” Johnson continued. “We say ‘804’ but it's just really this entire region. We just want to make sure we represent and play as best as we possibly can."
Hall feels for all of his players, but especially his seniors who have given so much to the program.
Over the last four years, the Lancers were 43-5 with that state title in 2018.
Next year’s Lancers already have a head start in motivation.
“They’re already talking about unfinished business,” Hall said. “The growth of this year’s team, not just physically, but mentally as well, that’s why we coach. Seeing development in kids turn into success. I can’t ask for anything else as a coach.”
The Lancers will begin their now much-anticipated offseason program in a couple of weeks to get ready for the 2021 season. That schedule opens with a game against Highland Springs.