By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County couldn't have asked for a better beginning to the 2012 football season, rolling to an 8-0 start while beating its opponents by an average of 25 points per game.
But the Wildcats' hopes of a perfect season and an outright Evergreen District title disappeared with a 28-21 double-overtime loss at home to district foe Kettle Run on Oct. 26.
A week later, Warren County came up short in a defensive struggle against rival Skyline, giving the Wildcats their second loss in as many weeks and dropping them to the fifth seed in the Group AA Region II, Division 3 playoff bracket.
Instead of looking back at the regular season and wondering what could have been, the Wildcats are focused solely on the new task at hand -- making a strong postseason push. That new journey begins tonight with a rematch against the defending regional champion Kettle Run in Nokesville.
"We don't want to dwell on anything. There's two seasons, the regular season and the postseason," Wildcats senior quarterback Tyler Post said. "Right now we're in the postseason, so that regular season doesn't mean anything to us right now."
The Wildcats may have pushed their first loss to the Cougars out of their minds, but Post said that he and his teammates are "definitely excited" get another crack at Kettle Run.
In the two teams' first meeting, Cougars running back De Jackson, who got the start in place of injured star Josh Tapscott, gashed Warren County for nearly 200 yards and three touchdowns. Jackson's 1-yard touchdown run in the second overtime proved to be the game winner. Kettle Run as a team finished just shy of 300 rushing yards.
Warren County expects another heavy dose of the Cougars' ground game, and the Wildcats can take a lot from that Oct. 26 contest and apply it to tonight's rematch. But shutting down No. 4 Kettle Run's electric running game may be even tougher the second time around. Tapscott is expected to play after missing the last two games with a knee sprain.
"It will be a little bit different animal. We expect Tapscott to be back," Warren County coach Tony Tallent said. "They're an explosive team and we're just going to have to make sure we have all of our ducks in a row when we go up against them."
Jackson is currently Kettle Run's (8-2) leading rusher with 946 yards on 118 carries and 12 touchdowns. Tapscott is not far behind, racking up 908 yards and 12 scores.
Post said the Wildcats are hoping to see Tapscott back in action tonight.
"We're hoping that he's back because we want to play teams that are at their best," Post said. "Both of those running backs are great running backs, and that's what we want. We want to challenge ourselves and they're going to do that for us."
A major focus for Warren County tonight will be to come out of the gates strong after a pair of sluggish starts in its last two games.
In the first matchup with Kettle Run, the Wildcats fell into an early 14-0 hole before eventually battling back and taking a 21-14 lead in the first overtime.
Warren County will certainly look to Post, who was recently named the Evergreen District's Offensive Player of the Year, to provide the spark on offense that he has given to the Wildcats all season.
The senior quarterback has made plays with both his arm and his legs, passing for 1,213 yards and 13 touchdowns and running for 622 yards and six scores this season.
The ability of the Warren County offense to generate early points will be critical, especially in a hostile playoff environment.
"The crowd's going to be crazy -- the atmosphere is going to be something that some young guys need to experience and some older guys need to take advantage of, being there before," Post said. "Just going somewhere, you've got to set the tone. That's a big goal, to set the tone."
Warren County is no stranger to the playoff atmosphere, as this is the third year in a row that the Wildcats have made the postseason. Last year Warren County fell 28-21 at Tuscarora (now in Division 4) in the first round of regional play.
The Wildcats' roster contains 22 seniors, and many of them are making their third postseason appearance. That experience will surely help Warren County cope with the pressure of the playoffs.
"Any time you have experience, that is a positive. Some of these guys have never not known the playoffs, and that's a good thing," Tallent said. "We just feel like our team's seasoned and knows what to expect from these big games."
That senior leadership and experience is also helping Warren County move on after a tough pair of games. Post and the rest of his senior teammates know that the Wildcats can't afford to put less than 100-percent focus into tonight's contest.
"Everything right now is, 'Kettle Run, Kettle Run.' That's the way every week from now on has to be," Post said. "If you're lucky enough to make it to the next week, it's just complete focus on the next game.
"Obviously we wanted to beat Kettle Run [the first time], but now we have another shot at it. What more could you ask for but that?"
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com