By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Something will have to give when Warren County and James Wood meet tonight at 7 p.m. in Winchester.
The Wildcats (3-0) have the area's second-ranked offense, averaging 347.6 yards per game. James Wood has the area's third-ranked defense, allowing only 214 yards per game.
"Their defensive line is very stout," Warren County coach Tony Tallent said. "They really fly to the ball and gang tackle."
The Colonels are coming off a loss in which they gave up 167 yards passing and 20 points to Hedgesville. James Wood coach Mike Bolin said the Colonels decided to switch their defense against Hedgesville, but in the second half they switched back to their base 4-4 scheme and played much better.
One area where the Colonels have been particularly strong at is stopping the running game. James Wood is allowing only 103 rushing yards per game, but the Colonels will be put to the test this week.
Warren County's Gage Steele is one of the area's top running backs, with 509 yards on the season.
"Gage has always given us fits, even when he was a freshman," Bolin said. "He runs the ball hard. He does a good job of finding the seams. He's by far the best running back we've seen this season."
Steele went over 200 yards rushing in each of the Wildcats' first two wins against Strasburg and Tuscarora. He is averaging 8.2 yards per carry and has 10 touchdowns.
The junior said he didn't expect to have so much success early in the season.
"The offensive line makes it easy for me," Steele said. "They've done a great job and I've taken advantage of what they've given me. I just try to go hard every play and do what I can."
James Wood (2-1) lost a lot to graduation last year, especially on offense. So far this season, the Colonels have been solid on offense. They are averaging 277 yards of offense per game.
Senior Matt Copley has thrown for 276 yards and has also rushed for 51 yards. However, Copley suffered an injury in the loss to Hedgesville and Bolin said he will be a game-time decision.
The running game has been equally strong for the Colonels, with three different running backs scoring touchdowns. Leading the way has been fullback Cory Schrock, who has 174 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
"Last year when Ryan [Abdelhalim] went down with an injury, I had to step up," Schrock said. "The coaches told me I did well. This year I've just tried to improve. The offensive lines have done a good job opening up holes. I couldn't do it without them."
James Wood's stable of running backs won't have it easy this week against a Warren County defense that has yielded only 15 points per game.
Tallent said the Wildcats' defense has really improved with each game. Tallent said both the offensive and defensive lines are stronger this season than in the past.
"They really came in and took it upon themselves to hit the weight room in the offseason and get stronger," Tallent said.
Tallent said a big key to the game will be not turning the ball over. The two teams have done a good job this season of limiting turnovers.
James Wood has made the postseason the last three years, including picking up a playoff win last year for the first time since 1970.
A 3-0 start is something new for Warren County. The Wildcats have struggled for several years, and finished with a 3-7 record last year.
The players are excited, but aren't getting too caught up in it.
"It feels really good to be able to come out with a bang this season," Steele said. "It makes us work harder. We're not going to let our heads get too big. We know we have to take it game-by-game if we want to keep it going. Right now, we're just focused on James Wood."