By Brian Eller -- email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Cliff Woodard huffed his way back to the team bench, resting his hands on his thighs after finally reaching his teammates on the sideline. He was red-faced, out of breath, and looked as if he could collapse from exhaustion at any minute.
Fortunately for Woodard and his teammates, the fatigue stemmed from an 84-yard touchdown run, Woodard's third score of the night. Behind an impressive performance from the senior running back, the Skyline Hawks won their first game of the season on Friday, defeating Strasburg 41-13.
"[Cliff's] tough, he's got some good speed, and got some good moves," Skyline coach Heath Gilbert said. "He's worked really hard and improved his blocking, so much from his junior year to his senior year. That's one of those things we're so proud of him. We knew he was a good runner, but he's taken his total game to the next level this year."
Woodard got the Hawks off to a quick start, taking a punt return 62 yards for a touchdown with less than two minutes gone off the clock. That play appeared to deflate any pre-game excitement from Strasburg, as it put the visiting Rams into a 7-0 hole before their defense could even take the field. For Woodard, the play was mapped out before the snap, and with some help from his teammates down the field, he was able to find a seam and burst through.
"It was a designed play to go to the right," Woodard said after the game. "I saw Kwaunte [Stewart], he sprung me with a nice blindside block. It was crazy. I just saw the green and just ran."
Woodard again found the end zone on the final play of the first quarter, taking a handoff from quarterback Josiah Patrick 38 yards, putting Skyline ahead, 14-0. By the time the game reached halftime, Skyline had a 21-0 lead, and Woodard had three touchdowns, each over 30 yards, to his name.
As the second half got underway, Woodard saw increasingly less time on the field, and could be seen nursing what appeared to be a leg injury on the sideline. After the game Woodard said he merely "tweaked his hamstring," and that the injury was "no big deal."
His coach, however, had other thoughts on the injury.
"That's definitely a concern," Gilbert said. "He's our number one guy as far as that offensive weapon, so you really want to keep him healthy."
Despite the Hawks' success on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, penalties hampered Skyline's ability to move the ball down the field at times. Between several holding penalties and three ineligible linemen down the field calls, the Hawks surrendered more than 60 yards, a problem Gilbert said is of concern, but can be corrected.
"We'll see on film most of the time, it's because kids are going to where they are instead of where they're going to be, so they're not taking that correct path to block the moving target," Gilbert said. "We're out of position. Those things can definitely be corrected. That's a case where our linemen are being too aggressive, and driving them too far back where that's not what we want them to do."
With Woodard shut down for most of the second half, it opened the door for the other members of the Skyline offense to showcase their abilities on the field. Patrick, who replaced last year's starting quarterback Nathaniel White, had an impressive game, throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Perry in the third quarter to give Skyline a 34-0 lead. Patrick had thrown another touchdown pass to Perry earlier in the half, but the score was negated due to a penalty on the Hawks.
By the time the fourth quarter came, the decision was all but wrapped up. Strasburg's offense didn't quit, however, finally getting on the scoreboard with 9:17 left to go, as senior running back Tanner Orndorff registered a 14-yard touchdown run, cutting the deficit to 34-7.
Another score by Orndorff just minutes later put the Rams into double digits for the night, but it was not nearly enough to escape the 41-13 defeat.
Though it was just the first game for his team, Gilbert said he was impressed with their effort, and despite the knack for penalties, the players can see this is a move in the right direction.
"I think we played fairly well," Stewart said. "We just had the first-game jitters. In practice we'll definitely fix that."