By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County and Kettle Run were both playing for something different when the two teams met on Friday night.
Warren County was looking to keep its unbeaten season alive while locking up the Evergreen District championship. Kettle Run, on the other hand, was playing for pride after dropping two straight heartbreakers in district play.
So when the Cougars cashed in on a 1-yard touchdown by junior De Jackson to put them up 28-21 on the first double-overtime possession, Kettle Run was desperately seeking a stop as Warren County took the field for its turn at the 10-yard line.
They got that stop on the very next play, as Wildcats quarterback Tyler Post attempted a quarterback draw on first down and was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. The ball popped loose as Post fell to the turf, and Kettle Run's Tim Coleman fell on the ball to seal the victory.
"It was nice to get a break," said Cougars coach Jeff Lloyd. "We've lost two heartbreakers in back-to-back weeks, and our kids' confidence was a little bit shaken. We preached all week that, 'Hey, you can't win [the district title] this year, but you can make a statement by showing up and winning tonight.'"
The victory didn't come easily, as Warren County (8-1, 3-1 Evergreen) showed why it was the team to beat in the district this season with a resilient performance on Friday.
The Wildcats found themselves in a 14-0 hole early in the second quarter, but they clawed away at the lead before eventually tying the ballgame late in the third quarter. Warren County's defense flirted with disaster for much of the night, but the Wildcats held tough when they needed to the most.
Kettle Run (7-2, 1-2) drove the ball inside the Warren County 30-yard line on all three of its second-half possessions, but came up with no points. The Cougars' final possession ended with a missed field goal from 38 yards away by Evan Szklennik with 1:40 left in the fourth quarter.
"We have a good defense and they have a good offense. It was a good battle," Wildcats senior Matt Nicholson said. "We've got a great defense, we couldn't stop their offense every time -- no defense can do that."
Warren County struggled to slow down Jackson and the Kettle Run ground game, as Jackson, who was filling in for injured Cougars standout Josh Tapscott, racked up 191 yards on 33 carries.
After losing a fumble and an opportunity for points inside Warren County's 10-yard line on their second possession of the game, the Cougars pounded the running game on their next possession and found success. Kettle Run marched 47 yards on just five plays, and had runs of 12, 24 and 10 yards on the drive. Quarterback Carlos Vegerano scored from a yard out to give Kettle Run a 7-0 with 2:48 left in the first quarter.
Kettle Run found the end zone again on its next possession, this time marching 59 yards for the score. Jackson scored the first of his three rushing touchdowns with a 10-yard run with 9:27 left in the first half.
"He's just a warrior, and I'm really glad he's at Kettle Run," Lloyd said of Jackson. "I knew he was capable of this type of game. He did a great job, and our offensive line did a great job."
Warren County's offense struggled for much of the first half, and the Wildcats were forced to punt on four of its first five possessions, and threw an interception on the other drive.
The Wildcats finally found a rhythm late in the second quarter when Post connected on three straight passes to the Kettle Run 27. On the drive's fourth play, Post faked a handoff to Timmy Green and sprinted 27 yards for Warren County's first score with 54 seconds left before halftime.
Warren County had a chance to tie the game right before the half after the Wildcats recovered the ensuing kickoff at the Cougars' 25, but the Wildcats failed to score.
"We just made uncharacteristic mistakes," said Wildcats coach Tony Tallent. "We really didn't come out of our shell until the beginning of the second quarter, and against a really good football team you can't do that -- you've got to play all four quarters."
Warren County tied the game with 1:23 to play in the third quarter when Post found Nicholson open down the left sideline for a 46-yard strike.
Post finished 13-for-27 for 166 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 54 yards and another score.
The teams carried the 14-all tie into overtime, and Warren County took a 21-14 advantage on the first possession of the extra frame when Post found Zane Grudzinski over the middle for a 10-yard jump pass.
Kettle Run answered with a 1-yard run by Jackson on its possession, and sealed the deal with Jackson's double overtime score.
Warren County can't dwell on the Friday's loss for long -- rival Skyline comes knocking next week in a huge cross-town battle for bragging rights.
"It's very important, we've got to shake this off tonight," Nicholson said. "We've got to get ready tomorrow and get ready for Skyline."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com