By Robert Edmonds - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- It appeared as if the entire town was at Warren County High School on Friday night when the Wildcats hosted their cross-town rival Skyline in the final game for both teams of the 2012 regular football season.
Adding to the hype of the rivalry was the fact that both teams entered the night with identical 8-1 records as well as winning their respective district title and securing a postseason berth. The game certainly lived up to the billing as both teams battled fiercely in a tightly contested matchup.
"When we split into schools a few years ago, both of our teams had some tough going," Skyline coach Heath Gilbert said. "Now we both come into tonight district champs and going to the playoffs, it's really exciting for our kids and the community."
Both teams' defense was prevalent on the night forcing the opposing offense to earn each and every yard. In the end, it was the Skyline defense that withstood the pressure and shutdown the Wildcats enough to edge out a 14-12 victory.
The Wildcats were able to move the ball down several times against the Hawks, but couldn't manage to finish their drives with points. Trailing 14-6 midway through the fourth quarter, Warren was able to draw closer after a big fourth-down conversion.
With 5:50 remaining in the game, the Wildcats faced a fourth-and-four from the Skyline 40-yard line. After punting on its previous series in a similar situation, Warren opted to go for it with time becoming a factor. Tyler Post dropped back to pass and found Matt Nicholson for a 14-yard completion to keep the drive alive.
Two plays later, Post completed an 18-yard pass to Chris Larsen inside the 10-yard line. On the very next play, Timmy Green rumbled into the end zone from 8 yards out for the touchdown. Trailing by two after missing an extra point in the first quarter and a field goal to start the second half, the Wildcats were forced to go for a two-point conversion.
Post's pass into the end zone was intercepted by a Hawks defender spoiling the Wildcats opportunity to tie the score. The ensuing kickoff went out of bounds allowing Skyline to start their drive from the Skyline 35. With just four minutes remaining, the Hawks looked to grind out the clock with their run game.
With the Wildcats defense holding the Hawks on the first three downs, Skyline went for it on fourth-and-one and converted on a four-yard run by quarterback Aaron Jeremiah. Skyline continued to use the run game to drain the clock, but after gaining only three yards on their next two carries faced a third-and-seven.
Jeremiah looked to pass over the middle on third down, but was picked off by Jeff Budwash to give the Wildcats life with less than two minutes to go. The Wildcats began the drive impressively converting a first down, but when Post rolled to right after being chased out of the pocket and through to the sidelines, the officials threw a flag for intentional grounding saying there were no receivers in the vicinity of the pass.
Staring at a third and 24, the front line of Skyline dug in applying pressure to Post and forcing two consecutive incompletions to seal the victory.
"Our defense worked hard tonight," Hawks senior Nick Helmick said. "We played all out every play tonight. They made some good plays, but we were able to make the big stops. I think this is the best our D-line and linebackers have played all year."
Another huge stop by the Skyline defense at the end of the first half also played a large role in the outcome. With Warren driving deep into Hawks territory, Skyline managed to force Warren into a third-and-long situation.
A completed pass by Post to Nicholson gave the Wildcats a fourth-and-five attempt. Post again dropped back to pass, but was hit violently from the blindside by Brenden O'Conner forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Wildcats but ultimately ended with a turnover on downs leaving the Wildcats coming up empty in regards to points.
"All year long our defense has been susceptible to giving up big plays," Gilbert said. "Tonight they stepped up and came through in every key moment especially late in the game and was the reason we were able to walk out tonight with a win."
Despite two consecutive tough losses, Warren coach Tony Tallent feels his team will rebound and be ready next week when the playoffs start.
"We had our chances tonight. We didn't punch it in when we had the opportunities," Tallent said. "This type of game is what makes this such a good rivalry. Our kids know that there were no trophies won tonight, and the next season is when we get our chance to get that trophy. I expect and know that they will come out next week and be ready to play against whoever we face."