Before leading Ballou against No. 11 H.D. Woodson in Thursday’s Turkey Bowl — before he had 132 total yards and a hand in all three of the Knights’ touchdowns — quarterback Terrlonta Buchanan was with his mom, Angellee Spears, in the school cafeteria for a team breakfast and a pep talk.
“I want it, Mom,” the senior told her.
In the two years since Coach Malcolm Hilliard took over a .500 team at National Collegiate, the Panthers have progressed to a 12-0 mark, cracking The Post’s Top 20 for the first time this week.
The significant improvement is a result of several factors, Hilliard said, including the players’ growing familiarity with his system and all the work they’ve put in on their practice field, or as they call it: “Hell’s kitchen.”
“No lights,” Hilliard explained. “If we ain’t off the field by 5:30, 6 o’clock, practice is over. It’s pitch black out there, but we get it in and do what we got to do.”
The No. 18 Panthers have improved every year since their 2014 inaugural season, and as far as Hilliard is concerned, their rapid ascent is far from over. Saturday, they will face Theodore Roosevelt with the D.C. Class A state championship, and an undefeated season, on the line.
Hilliard expects to see the Rough Riders employ plenty of double-teams against his 6-foot-3 senior wideout Andre Ross Jr., who is a constant big play threat and a large target in the red zone. The Panthers, meanwhile, will try to neutralize Roosevelt’s biggest weapon on defense — 6-foot-3, 356-pound tackle Kareem Williams — by tiring him out.
“I’m going to make sure I make him chase,” Hilliard said. “He’s going to chase all day long.”
As the heap of Theodore Roosevelt players dispersed, the players moving the celebration of their 13-12 victory over Bell to the sideline with hugs and screams and chest bumps, Coach Chris Harden stayed on the ground, crying and hugging an assistant.
St. John’s Coach Joe Casamento told his football team maybe too many times that “it’s about us,” a mantra that was on the verge of becoming stale until the Cadets won their first Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship Saturday.
The first round of the playoffs helped separate contenders from pretenders across the area. Our rankings’ top five teams won, but there were a handful of upsets after that.
Gonzaga avenged a regular season loss at Good Counsel to advance to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference final against archnemesis St. John’s. The Eagles are up to No. 6; the Falcons drop to No. 16. In Virginia, Madison lost its regular season finale to Centreville but won the playoff rematch to move into the top 10. In Maryland, Eleanor Roosevelt beat C.H. Flowers to jump from No. 19 to No. 11.
Last weekend, it took penalty kicks for the St. John’s girls’ soccer team to overcome Paul VI and earn a WCAC title. On Saturday, the Cadets endured another nail-biting path to a trophy, this time against Sidwell Friends in the District of Columbia State Athletic Association championship.