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By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- It was probably the sweetest Homecoming in Skyline history.
After being totally dominated by James Wood in the first half, Skyline (2-2) completely turned the tables on the Colonels (2-3), outscoring them 18-0 in the second half for a shocking 24-17 victory Friday in each team's opener in Northwestern District football.
A defensive struggle from start to finish, the game featured seven fumbles and an interception, and the difference in the two halves was staggering. James Wood accumulated 13 first downs in the first half to the Hawks' three, outrushed them 86-9, and had 143 yards of total offense to Skyline's 45.
"We really put our back to the wall in the first half," Hawks coach Heath Gilbert said. "But we knew that we were better than that."
James Wood scored on touchdown passes by Jake Lewin to T.J. Bruce and Chad Potter, and a 40-yard field goal by Chandler DeHaven.
The Colonels' commanding 17-6 lead was, however, deceiving. James Wood's dominance was complete. The Hawks' only points of the first half came midway through the second quarter when James Wood punter DeHaven watched helplessly as his deep snapper sent the ball 10 feet over his head into the Colonels' end zone.
Hawks fullback Trayvon Freeman recovered the fumble for Skyline's only offensive fireworks of the first half.
Despite their lead, cracks in the Colonels' armor were becoming apparent even before the Hawks' dramatic second-half comeback. The Colonels fumbled three times in the first half, and lost two of them. One stopped a promising James Wood drive deep in Skyline territory, and the other gave the Hawks their only points of the half.
After James Wood stumbled in its first drive of the second half, thanks to two penalties, Skyline set up on its own 43-yard line and drove the ball 57 yards for its first offensive score of the game.
It wasn't easy, though, and it required a little luck.
Facing fourth-and-6 on Colonels' 26, Hawks fullback Taylor Jeffries fumbled after gaining only four yards. That fumble, however, instead of ending the Skyline drive, bounced forward six yards and was recovered by Hawks receiver Marcus Turner for a first down on the James Wood 16.
"We made a few adjustments at halftime," Gilbert said. "We came out hard in the second half and tried to get the ball to our playmakers. I'm really proud of the kids and how they responded."
Six plays later, Skyline quarterback Aaron Jeremiah scored on a 2-yard run to narrow James Wood's lead to 17-12 with 2:01 left in the third quarter.
James Wood again stumbled in its next possession, and a 15-yard punt by DeHaven set the Hawks up their own 49 early in the fourth quarter.
Driving to the Colonels' 20 before facing fourth-and-4, Jeremiah hit Turner for an 11-yard pass for give the Hawks a first-and-goal on the 9. Two plays later, Jeffries plunged through the James Wood defense for an 8-yard touchdown and Skyline led for the first time, 18-17, with 8:40 left in the game.
The Colonels, who had dominated the first half, were only able to generate four yards of total offense against the inspired Hawks defense in the second half.
"I'm really proud of the way our defense performed in the second half," Gilbert said. "After the first two drives of the game, our defense began to get a feel for what Wood was doing and how they could stop it."
After stopping the Colonels on downs late in the fourth quarter, Jonta Baltimore extended Skyline's lead to 24-18 when he burst through the Colonels' defensive line for a 42-yard touchdown run with 3:13 left in the game.
James Wood had one last chance to tie the game with less than two minutes left, but Hawks defensive tackle Nick Helmick refused to give Lewin time to throw, and with the Colonels facing fourth-and-18 with the clock running out, Helmick batted down Lewin's last pass attempt of the game.
"We knew at halftime that we still had another half to play," Helmick said. "We wanted to come out and put the kind of effort into the second half that our homecoming crowd expected of us. We knew what we needed to do, and we got it done."