The trophy made its way through the arms of Liberty Christian players until it was finally seized by Gideon Davidson.
The freshman wore a wide smile, one that contrasted the rough-and-rumble demeanor he'd just displayed on the field. His team had just captured the Seminole District regular-season title with a 41-21 victory over E.C. Glass in one of the most anticipated bouts of the year.
"At first I was a little nervous," Davidson said of when the night began. "And then I just got in my flow."
In his flow, no doubt about that. Davidson rumbled up the gut, got to the outside edge and wreaked havoc on the E.C. Glass defense all night, churning up 121 yards and scoring three touchdowns to help LCA (9-0, 6-0 Seminole) finish the regular season undefeated and earn its first Seminole title outright. In the 2020 pandemic-shortened season, the Bulldogs shared the crown with Heritage.
"I just relied on my speed," Davidson said. "That's all I had to do."
E.C. Glass (8-2, 5-2) entered the night looking to force a share of the title. If they did that and Heritage won, all three would share it. But LCA swatted away that scenario.
The Bulldogs never trailed, although the Hilltoppers kept answering their calls through three quarters. But LCA's offense shone at two distinct times. Just before halftime, with a 21-14 lead, LCA took advantage of a Glass punt gone awry that gave the Bulldogs the ball just 30 yards from the end zone. Davis Lane ran in an 11-yarder for a 14-point lead. And in the fourth quarter, after E.C. Glass scored in the third to narrow the deficit to seven points, LCA answered with two straight touchdowns to put the game away.
LCA put up 419 yards of total offense, with 312 on the ground.
Receiver Jaylin Belford was all kinds of amped after the game. He took off on a dead sprint in celebration after LCA received the trophy. And he had plenty of reasons to be excited. The senior is wrapping up a four-year career with the Bulldogs and has seen this team transform into one of the top-ranked teams in Virginia.
"It feels amazing, man. Every year we've been getting better and better. Losing in the [state] semifinals last year, I was like, 'Next year is gonna be the year. It has to be; it's my last ride.' So I knew this was going to be a special year. ... We've got the potential to go all the way. We've got the potential to do something special."
LCA will head to the playoffs as the top team in Region 3C and have home-field advantage throughout the five-week playoffs, if they keep winning.
It wasn't immediately clear late Friday night whether Glass would be at home or on the road for the first round in Region 4D. The VHSL will release its parings over the weekend.
Glass' George White threw for 164 yards and tossed all three of Glass' touchdowns. The Hilltoppers tied the game at 7 with 25 seconds left in the first quarter on White's 24-yard pass to Eli Wood, a play that took place after Glass' Markevus Graves caused an LCA fumble.
White tied the game at 14 midway through the second quarter when he let loose a 38-yard bomb to Lyvarius Gilbert. Gilbert (team-best 72 receiving yards) hauled in a 1-yard pass on Glass' first possession of the third quarter to bring the Hilltoppers within seven, 28-21.
"We were sniffin,' we were there," Glass coach Jeff Woody said of the comeback bid. "We just didn't take advantage of the opportunity."
It was a sign Glass wasn't going to fade quietly into the chilly night. Graves, who later recovered another LCA fumble, started the third quarter with a 52-yard breakaway run and nearly scored on the play. He finished with 54 receiving yards and 79 on the ground.
"It was a dogfight, that's how the game was, honestly," Graves said. "They swung, we swung, and they got the last punch on the chin at the end. ... I knew we needed a spark [to start the third quarter]. I asked Woody to give me the ball and he trusted me. He gave me the ball, and I tried to do my best."
For LCA, Lane completed 7 of 11 passes for 107 yards, rushed for 69 more yards and scored twice, on runs of 16 and 11 yards late in the second quarter. LCA coach Frank Rocco said his team stayed the course when Glass pulled within seven.
"They're a good team," he said. "They're gonna keep fightin', but we're gonna keep fightin' back. Our kids never gave up. They could have gotten rattled and let the momentum go the other way. We never let that happen."
The Hilltoppers struggled in two categories: it fumbled four kickoffs or punts. They recovered those, but missed a chance to gain better field advantage in the process. And they also put LCA in prime scoring position because of a few lackluster punts.
"They outmanned us," Woody said. "We'll see a team as good as this in the playoffs as we progress, and it's good preparation. ... We had a couple of special teams mishaps. We didn't return the ball well, sometimes we didn't kick it well, sometimes we didn't run it well. Overall though, I'm proud of the effort of the kids. They left their feet to make a play and they always will. But we've got to find a way to overcome."
Belford finished with 35 receiving yards and 44 rushing yards. The senior who is such an integral part of LCA's schemes said his eyes are now on the playoffs. Winning the Seminole title was sweet, though.
"We knew this was gonna be a close game," he said. "We knew this team was gonna test us, and they did. And we showed out. We gave everyone a show."