By Greg Brill -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- It must have seemed like old times.
Here was the Warren County football team, holding a rare lead in the fourth quarter. And, boom, Brentsville hits a big play for the go-ahead touchdown.
But something was different Friday night -- the Wildcats had what it took to get a win for the first time in almost two months.
The Wildcats put together a 75-yard drive in the final three minutes, capped by Tyler Post's 1-yard plunge with 34 seconds left to play, to beat the Tigers, 27-20, Friday night at rainy Wildcat Stadium.
"When we got down to the goal line I was standing on the sideline and said, 'Do we try the field goal or go for it?'" Warren County coach Tony Tallent said. "The kids said, 'Let's go for it.' I had in my heart that was what I wanted to do."
A win on Senior Night was fitting for Warren County standout running back Marty Haley, who rushed for 260 yards on 33 carries and scored three rushing (34, 16, 53) touchdowns. That performance in the final home game of his three-season varsity career was Haley's second-highest career single-game rushing total, topped only by the 297 yards he picked up in the Aug. 29, 2008, Warren County victory over Strasburg on the same field.
"That's what coach Tallent has been teaching us -- believe, believe, believe and never give up in the last minute," Haley said. "Never give up and finish the game tough. And we did."
At times, the same Warren County team that has been beat by big plays and special teams breakdowns showed up. Brentsville jumped to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter, with one score set up by a blocked punt and the other by a turnover. The Wildcats (2-6, 1-2 Evergreen District) got back in it early in the second quarter behind good blocking and Haley's fleet feet.
Warren County went 74 yards on its first scoring drive, getting a 19-yard pickup on third down by Post during the series to reach Brentsville territory. Gage Steele (86 rushing yards) had a touchdown run called back due to a hold, but Haley scored on the next play, from the 34, to get the Wildcats on the board.
After recovering a squib kick, Haley had all the right moves to bring Warren County even with winless Brentsville (0-8, 0-2). On fourth-and-inches, Haley got the carry, bounced out to the right, juked one defender and won a race to the right corner for the touchdown. Molka's extra point tied the game at 13 and the score stood up at halftime.
It didn't take Haley long to work more magic in the third quarter. On the Wildcats' third play from scrimmage in the third, Haley went up the middle, faked out another defender and raced 53 yards to give Warren County its first lead.
"It was slick, and I knew what I was going to do," Haley said. "I would cut one way and they would go for that, slip, and I'd go right past them and not look back."
Down 6 points, Brentsville hit its own big play after picking off a Haley halfback pass that fell short of its target. Quarterback Kevin Willard then connected with Cole Farmer for a second crossing-pattern touchdown, this a run-and-catch for 75 yards and a 20-19 lead with 9:52 left to play.
The Wildcats picked up three first downs on their next possession, but the drive stalled when Post could not complete back-to-back long passes. Brentsville then took two minutes off the clock before punting back to Warren County. With 3:35 left and starting from their 25, the Wildcats went to work.
Haley said the team used senior teammate Justin Ernst as their inspiration to drive for a winning score. Ernst missed Friday's game due to a torn ligament in his thumb that the down lineman had played with the previous two weeks.
"The [offensive] line has stepped up big time," Haley said. "I mean, without them there wouldn't be a [star] running back. They came out to play today. I mean, Justin Ernst was a big [loss] and he came in and told the line [before the game], 'Since I'm not going, you have to pick up the slack.' And that's what they did."
The Wildcats got a break when Brentsville was called for pass interference on a fourth-down play during the drive, and Post hit Damien Caison for a gain of 31 on the next play to move the Wildcats to the Tigers' 14. Four straight runs by Haley got Warren County down to the 1, and Post punched it in from there after a timeout.
The Wildcats finished with 382 yards total offense, including 351 on the ground. Warren County's defense also rose up, holding Brentsville to 175 total yards and no first downs in the second half.