By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline accomplished just about everything it could have during the regular season.
The Hawks captured their first outright Northwestern District title two weeks ago with a victory over Sherando. Last week, Skyline topped cross-town rival Warren County 14-12 in a defensive struggle that came down to the final minutes, ending the Hawks' two-game losing streak to the Wildcats.
Last Friday's win capped a 9-1 season for Skyline, the best regular season in the program's six-year history. More importantly, it boosted the Hawks to the top seed in the Region II, Division 3 pool.
But Skyline doesn't have time to bask in its accomplishments. The Hawks now must look to defend its lofty title as the top seed in the region, beginning when they host No. 8 Loudoun Valley on Friday night.
"It's does feel great, and our message to the kids on that is, 'This is going to be awesome to look back and reflect on, but not right now,'" Hawks coach Heath Gilbert said of Skyline's outstanding regular season. "Right now it's all about Loudoun Valley."
The Vikings claimed the eighth and final regional spot by virtue of a 4-6 record, including 3-5 mark in a tough Dulles District.
Skyline isn't paying attention to Loudoun Valley's sub-.500 record, considering the way the Vikings held tough against some of the best teams in the Dulles District.
Loudoun Valley lost by just six points to Tuscarora (9-1) on Sept. 14, and gave rival Woodgrove (7-3) a tough test before losing by a touchdown last week. Gilbert said Loudoun Valley "isn't your typical 4-6 team."
"It's a playoff game, we've got to work harder than we have all season," Hawks senior quarterback Aaron Jeremiah said before practice on Monday. "We have to work hard all week. We have to."
"We're feeling good right now at 9-1, but we're going to take this game just like we take every other one," senior Nick Helmick added. "Come out and work hard in practice, do what we need to do and not take [Loudoun Valley] any lighter."
Gilbert said the Vikings remind him of last year's Skyline squad in the fact that they are a very young team with 18 underclassmen in the starting lineup.
Skyline is quite the opposite this season, as the Hawks have an abundance of senior leadership at the skill positions.
The experience that Skyline's seniors bring could be a huge advantage for the Hawks on Friday night.
"We were in some tight games last year and we didn't win them. This year we've been able to win those tight games," Gilbert said. "Friday night, that is going to be huge on those guys, knowing how to finish, knowing to keep competing no matter what happened the play before. I think our kids have a good grasp of that and understand what they're doing."
Loudoun Valley uses a run-heavy offensive attack, and the Hawks will have to focus on slowing down junior running back Brandon Grayson. The Vikings also have a mobile quarterback in sophomore Sully Warner, and Loudoun Valley has had some success running the option with Warner under center, according to Gilbert.
Skyline has been a tough team to run the ball against this season. The Hawks are allowing 120 yards per game while holding opponents to just 3.6 yards per attempt.
Gilbert said Loudoun Valley uses a lot of pre-snap motion to create mismatches, an offensive style a little similar to what Skyline saw from Sherando and Musselman this season.
"They use unbalanced formations, they use a lot of motions and trades to try to create that extra guy at the point of attack," Gilbert said. "They're a dangerous football team."
Skyline boasts an excellent running game of its own, racking up a total of 2,587 yards and 33 touchdowns on the ground as a team this season.
Senior Dayvon Haight leads the Hawks with 938 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Jeremiah has 551 yards rushing and eight scores.
Jeremiah has also thrown for 943 yards and nine touchdowns.
The key for Skyline's offense will be how the Hawks adjust to the multiple looks that Loudoun Valley is going to bring on the defensive side of the ball.
"They are very diverse with the fronts that they run. They run almost every variation of the even front that they can come up with, and then they jump in a 3-3 stack and a 3-4," Gilbert said. "They're all over the place, and if you can't handle the adjustments throughout the game, they're going to get a mismatch at the point of attack."
The Hawks certainly have plenty of momentum on both sides of the ball after the string of success that they have had, particularly over the last few weeks of the season.
With the regular season goals wrapped up and taken care of, Skyline now has a new set of feats it hopes to accomplish, and it all starts on Friday night.
"We want to be the first Skyline team to win the first playoff game, I think that's what we're all shooting for," Helmick said.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org