COOKEVILLE — Xavier Washington wrote a different ending to the script this time around.
The Central High School senior safety, the cornerstone of the football program the last 2-3 years, did not want the final game of his season to end in tears of disappointment like it did in the 2016 state championship.
So when Central’s offense needed him as its Wildcat quarterback Sunday against Henry County, he scored a touchdown.
When the Bobcats needed a key stop on a two-point conversion, Washington darted around left end and made the stop.
And when the Patriots were threatening in the final minutes of the game, Washington played hero in the Bobcats’ 14-9 victory over Henry County.
Washington ended up with 24 rushing yards and a 10-yard touchdown on three carries. He also had seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup for Central (13-2), which ended the season on a 13-game win streak.
“I knew that, coming in, we might need some extra effort,” said Washington. “Coach (Bryson) Rosser told me earlier in the week that I might be playing a little wildcat (quarterback). So I just went in and did what I did for my team.”
Washington came to the rescue early and late.
Central’s offense was stagnant and out of sorts in the first quarter Sunday, not handling the moment very well. So midway through the Bobcats’ second drive, and facing a fourth-and-7 at its own 29, Central called in Washington to run the wildcat formation. He ran for 11 yards and extended the drive.
Washington returned to the offense late in the third quarter with the Bobcats’ leading 7-3. On first-and-goal from the 10, Washington – again out of the wildcat – powered through the Henry County defense for the 11-point lead.
But the fourth quarter is where Washington etched his name in Central lore.
“Xavier, he’s been that guy for us for all four years, even as a freshman” said Central coach Bryson Rosser. “They say defense wins championships. And that’s the one thing we said at halftime. Offense, we knew we were struggling. They (Henry County) had a really good scheme on defense.
“But it held true. Defense does win championships, for sure.”
With Central clinging to a 14-9 lead and Henry County nearing the red zone with less than 6 minutes remaining, Washington and Daunte Holliday stopped Henry County’s Ethan Thompson on a fourth-and-1 run at the Central 21.
The Patriots got one more crack at it, and threatened the red zone again.
But on second-and-1 from the Central 20, Washington defended a pass successfully. On the next play, he hit Joseph Travis for a 4-yard loss in the backfield, creating a fourth-and-5 from the Bobcats’ 24.
Will Parrish’s final pass fell incomplete, and Washington ran to his team’s sideline to celebrate with his teammates.
He finished his season with roughly 130 tackles and 23 tackles for loss.
But more importantly, Central’s longtime wait for its first state title was over.
“Finally. Finally,” Washington said, recalling his thoughts once the game was clinched in Central’s favor. “Two years ago, we came and we lost. We all went home crying.
“We were told we’d never come back. We came back — and we shocked the world.”
Washington’s impact on Central’s program should be felt for years to come, as he has set the standard again for Central defensive players and encouraged younger players like sophomore linebacker Kalib Fortner.
Fortner, the game’s MVP with 8 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss and a forced fumble, said Washington has pushed him and showed him the way.
“He’s one of the leaders of this team. I thank him,” said Fortner. “He’s vocal. He’s in the weight room.
“He’s all of it.”