By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- When Damien Caison got home last Saturday, fresh off of helping Warren County earn its first ever win in the VHSL playoffs, there were phone messages waiting for him.
On the other end of the line were people he had never met before, people who simply wanted to offer words of congratulations to him and the Wildcats. That's when Caison realized this season has meant more than just the joy of winning a few football games. After suffering through disappointing seasons in recent history, Warren County football is one game away from a shot at a regional championship and the community has taken notice.
"It's just been a dream for us," Caison said. "And not only that, but we see it in our community, too. I'll have friends and family calling me before games and wishing me good luck and to see how much our community has embraced us, it's a wonderful feeling. We're not ready to wake up from it yet."
And while Caison and the rest of the Wildcats are making sure to soak in this magical run, they know their main focus is on today's opponent, Park View (5-6). The Patriots' record might not strike much fear at first glance, but beneath the 5-6 mark is a team led by a dangerous combination with quarterback Alec Dombkowski and wide receiver Ryan McCarter. During last week's win over Millbrook, Dombkowski threw for three touchdowns and 227 yards, 87 of which went to McCarter, in a 33-28 victory. Add to that a brutal regular-season schedule that included Sherando, Liberty, Briar Woods and Broad Run, and the boys at Warren County are well aware of the talent standing in their way.
"They play in the Dulles District, one of the toughest, if not the toughest slate of teams out there, so we don't look at their record," Wildcats coach Tony Tallent said. "We know they're a high-caliber team, and we're going to have to play our best game of the season."
There's no telling if that'll come to fruition today, but one aspect Warren County should be improved in is health. After a knee injury limited Gage Steele to just 64 yards on seven carries a week ago, Tallent said he expects the team to be "as healthy as they've been in three weeks." That's a discouraging sign for Park View, as Steele has rushed for more than 1,600 yards this season, including 25 touchdowns on offense, while registering 72 tackles on defense, second behind defensive end Jayme Perry.
"He's a good downhill runner, hard to tackle, so when he makes the correct read and gets behind their blocking he's tough to bring down," Park View coach Ferris Eways said. "From what I've seen, they try to get the ball into [Steele's] hands a lot and they play a sound defense, so they're tough."
Making matters worse for Eways is the newest wrinkle in Warren County's offense in the form of an improved passing attack. In the past two games, quarterback Tyler Post has led the Wildcats to come-from-behind wins, including tossing for a career-high 175 yards during last week's win against Dominion -- a mark that's nice to boast, but the Wildcats hope isn't necessary against the Patriots.
"We know we've always had the ability to throw the ball effectively," Post said. "Now we're a much more balanced team and my receivers do a great job of making great catches. That certainly makes my job easier, and hopefully we can continue that this weekend."