By Brad Fauber - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- There is no shortage of motivation for Skyline as it travels to Kettle Run to take on the undefeated Cougars tonight.
For starters, the Hawks will be looking to avenge a 26-7 loss at home to Kettle Run last season. Skyline led that game, 7-6, heading into the final quarter before two defensive touchdowns by the Cougars in the game's final minutes blew the contest open. Secondly, a win tonight would give the Hawks their first 5-0 start since 2008.
Tonight's game is also Homecoming for the Cougars, and the Hawks will be looking to play the spoiler.
But most importantly, a victory over Kettle Run (4-0) -- last season's Region II, Division 3 champion -- could have major playoff implications for the Hawks should they make a serious run into the postseason, as both squads are members of the Region II, Division 3 pool. A victory tonight could go a very long way for Skyline.
"If you're able to get this win, you're setting yourself up in the region to be one of the top teams and possibly host throughout if you're able to win in the playoffs," said Skyline coach Heath Gilbert. "This win would provide a ton of points for us, confidence, setting our place in the region -- so, we want this game, no doubt."
Skyline (4-0, 1-0 Northwestern) will certainly have its hands full on both sides of the ball when the two teams hit the field tonight.
Possibly the biggest challenge for the Hawks will be trying to contain Kettle Run's offense, which is averaging 43.8 points per game this year.
Much of the Hawks' focus on defense will be on Kettle Run senior running back Joshua Tapscott, who has recorded a touchdown in 20 consecutive games and has topped 100 yards rushing four straight times to start the season, a school record.
Skyline limited Tapscott to just 55 yards on 17 carries in last year's game, so the Hawks have proven that they can contain the explosive runner, but Tapscott is just one of several offensive weapons for the Cougars.
Junior De Jackson has rushed for 318 yards and six touchdowns this season, and senior Carlos Vegerano is a dual-threat quarterback that Skyline will certainly have to contain. Skyline has allowed just 104.5 yards rushing per game this season.
"We're excited. They've got an all-state running back over there in Tapscott, and last year we were the only team to show Tapscott the tougher side of life," said Hawks senior linebacker Zack Blair. "Jackson, he's no joke either. Their QB brings a whole new dimension as far as running. It's going to be a challenge. They're running game is absolutely ridiculous."
Skyline boasts an excellent running game of its own, as five different players have rushed for at least 100 yards and one touchdown so far this season.
Senior Dayvon Haight leads the Hawks' rushing attack with 250 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, and senior Kylmen Breeden has 15 carries for 217 yards and three scores.
Senior Aaron Jeremiah provides Skyline with its own dual-threat quarterback. Jeremiah is 33-for-59 passing for 534 yards and six touchdowns, and has rushed for 183 yards and four more scores.
Establishing the running game will be critical for the Hawks against a Kettle Run defense that has allowed just 19 points all season and is coming off back-to-back shutouts over Eastern View and Fluvanna. Kettle Run held Fluvanna to just four yards rushing on 25 attempts in a 56-0 win.
"We've got to run the ball, a lot of play-action. If we can run really good and set up the linebackers and cornerbacks looking in, we can get our receivers behind their cornerbacks and safeties and get the big play," Haight said. "They're a 3-5 team, they like to bring a lot of pressure. Our running backs and our fullbacks and our offensive line have to talk and communicate and give [Jeremiah] time to throw."
Blair said he thinks the game could turn out to be a high-scoring affair with both high-powered offenses finding success against the opposing defenses, or the Hawks and the Cougars could find themselves locked in another defensive struggle.
"Just like us, it's a big a game for them, too. They're the proven team and there's been some talk about us, and they probably feel like they need to shut that up and show that they're the team, and that's who people should be talking about," said Gilbert. "For 46 minutes [last year] we were right there with them. Hopefully this year, with a year under our belt, and experience and confidence gained, we'll be able to compete for 48 minutes."