Could there be a better time to catch a high school football game in Front Royal?
There's plenty to be excited about for fans of the town's two public high schools, Skyline and Warren County. Both are off to 2-0 starts, for one thing, and they've looked oh-so-impressive in getting there.
The Hawks, who just missed the Group AA state playoffs last season despite winning a share of the Northwestern District title, made it their business to take the next step and reach the postseason this year. So far, so good. With veteran quarterback Aaron Jeremiah running Skyline's productive offense, the Hawks look well on their way to a playoff berth this season.
In last week's 20-9 victory at Fauquier, Jeremiah twice connected with senior tight end Nick Helmick on touchdown passes. Helmick, a 6-5, 220-pound menace on both sides of the ball, could well be suiting up for James Madison next season after getting a verbal offer from the school shortly before the season began. This year, though, he's an integral part of Skyline's offense and a menacing member of the Hawks' line as a defensive end. Against the Falcons, Helmick had a pair of sacks and pass defensed in the win.
Jeremiah and Helmick are headliners, but Skyline is deep and physical. In a season-opening 41-28 victory over always-tough Musselman (W.Va.), the Hawks weathered a strong passing attack with game-changing defensive plays. That secondary looked to be Skyline's biggest question mark coming into the season, with graduation losses taking a heavy toll. But against the Applemen, Hunter Stewart picked off two Caleb Dembeck passes -- including one in the end zone with 6:25 to play.
Warren County has been every bit as impressive in the opening two weeks of action. Facing a Clarke County squad coming off a dominating win against Berkeley Springs (W.Va.) in its opener, the Wildcats completely shut down the Eagles' dangerous running game with a smothering defensive performance on the way to a 27-9 victory. The Wildcats' defense even contributed a pair of touchdowns to the victory. That was just a bonus, really, as Warren County's offense appears plenty capable of putting points on the board this season.
Senior Tyler Post is cool in the pocket and can run for the tough yards as needed, wide receiver Matt Nicholson is as dangerous a big-play threat as anyone in the area, and fellow wideout Chris Larsen is another rock-solid option in the passing game.
Larsen stepped to the forefront in Warren County's 28-7 victory over Central last week, hauling in a pair of touchdown receptions among his three catches for 115 yards against the Falcons.
The Wildcats also picked off four Central passes on the night, bringing their total to seven in two games. Post and Nicholson have long been mainstays on that unit, but last week it was Jontae Rollins intercepting a Hayden Bauserman pass and bringing it back 55 yards for a touchdown. Warren County has two interception returns for scores, plus a fumble return for a touchdown, already this season.
Like Skyline, the Wildcats feature a dominating defensive line that forces opposing quarterbacks into ill-advised throws if they can escape getting sacked in the backfield.
The schedule sets up nicely for the Wildcats for the next few weeks, as they should be solid favorites at home against George Mason and on the road at Moorefield (W.Va.) and James Wood before entering Evergreen District play with a matchup against perennial power Liberty on Oct. 5 in Bealeton.
Skyline also has a chance for serious momentum heading into Northwestern District play, with a home matchup against Brentsville on Friday followed by a road game against James Wood. A road game at unbeaten Kettle Run on Sept. 28 could provide a barometer on just how improved the Hawks are this season.
There's still plenty of football left to play for both squads, weekly tests to see just how far they've come and how far they can go this season.
The early returns are in, though, and they sure do look promising. It's shaping up to be quite an entertaining football season in Front Royal.
-- Sports editor Jeff Nations can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.