When he applied to become the football coach at Midlothian High in 2017, Matt Hutchings did his homework on the Trojans’ history. There wasn’t much to research on the playoff front.
Midlothian had made one playoff appearance — a 27-20 loss to Henrico in 1986 — since the Virginia High School League instituted state playoffs in 1970.
“One of things I kind made sure of was to know where you’re going you’ve got to know where you’ve been,” Hutchings said. “We decided if we’re going to do something, let’s do it big. Let’s not come in here and say, ‘Well, we want to win games or we just want to be competitive. Let’s shoot for the moon.’”
Midlothian made the playoffs in Hutchings’ first year, then again in the second. But there was a companion goal the Trojans didn’t achieve: winning one of those games. With losses to Monacan (26-0) in 2017 and Eastern View (40-3) in 2018, they were 0-3 in their playoff history.
The playoff victory was crossed off the list last week, when Midlothian beat Mills Godwin 42-13 in the Region 5C quarterfinals.
“It’s kind of something you dream about. You’re like, what am I going to say? What’s the speech going to be,” Hutchings said. “You imagine like confetti falling down and fireworks exploding.
“At the end of it, it was like, huh, we did it. I was actually dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. I just looked at the team, I’ve got tears coming down from my eyes, and I said, ‘We did it. Go hug your parents.’ It was pretty cool.”
The thing after achieving one goal is there’s usually another. Second-seeded Midlothian (7-2) gets a chance at a second playoff victory when it plays third-seeded Hermitage (9-2) in the semifinals Friday at 7 p.m. at Midlothian.
The Trojans went 5-6, 6-5, 3-7 and 4-2 (COVID-shortened spring season) in Hutchings’ first four years. This season marks their best record since 2001, when they went 7-2. From 2002-19, Midlothian had four winning seasons, none better than 6-4.
Hutchings made it known from the outset that winning in the playoffs has been the target.
“I said we want to do something that hasn’t been done before,” he said. “We need to be able to believe we can win. We’re not going to sit here and hem and haw about what we can’t do. Give the guys something to shoot for.
“It’s been an amazing journey the last five years of getting to the playoffs. … We had to get them used to winning. It’s been a whole process. … But this group is used to winning. … They went to the championship [in youth league] when these guys were in eighth grade, seventh grade. I had a feeling about what was coming, but I just never knew they’d be this good.”
Still, Midlothian went into the postseason with some question marks. After starting 6-0 — including the euphoria of a victory over power Manchester (42-35) for the first time since 2001 — the Trojans were smoked by Powhatan 42-7 and beaten by James River 28-14 to end the regular season.
Hutchings said those losses were a combination of playing good teams, not handling success well, and in the James River game, turning the ball over.
The Trojans got back on track against Godwin, and Hutchings knows his team will have to be sharp against Hermitage. The Panthers have won 18 games in the playoffs since 2004.
“We have an opportunity,” Hutchings said. “It’s the same message it’s always been. … With what we’ve done this year, everything that is really meaningful comes with [something that is] really, really difficult. If we want to be a program … that’s known around the Richmond community, Hermitage is a traditional powerhouse, and that’s a challenge we want to take and show everybody that we’re for real.”