Skyline edges Warren County

By Brad Fauber

FRONT ROYAL — As Skyline took the field on fourth-and-6 with Warren County kicker Blake Steele threatening to put the Wildcats up late in the fourth quarter of Friday’s football season opener, the Hawks tried not to think about the magnitude of the moment.

Skyline’s sole thought was simply to try to block the kick, and worry about the consequences of failing to succeed afterwards. The Hawks weren’t able to get a hand on the kick, but Steele’s 34-yard attempt from the center of the field sailed wide right with 1:28 left to play.

The Hawks were able to run out the rest of the clock, capping a thrilling 14-13 come-from-behind victory over their cross-town rivals to begin the 2013 season.

“I was out on the field when they were lining up … I know Blake has a great leg. We were all just saying have faith and just try and block it, keep playing hard,” Hawks junior linebacker Gerren Butler said. “When we saw that he had missed it, we were ecstatic.”

The Hawks (1-0) trailed for most of Friday’s game as Warren County’s defense shut out Skyline for the first three quarters.

But Skyline’s offense came alive in the final period with two touchdowns over the final 11 minutes of play.

“I’m very happy. I feel very fortunate to come away with that victory. Our kids fought hard,” Hawks coach Heath Gilbert said. “Give a little credit to our conditioning. We work hard and I think that helped us in the fourth quarter.”

Trailing 13-0 late in the third quarter after a 2-yard touchdown run by Wildcats senior Kristian Deal (68 yards rushing), Skyline began its ensuing drive in great field position after a 41-yard kickoff return by Hunter Partlowe put the Hawks at their own 47.

Skyline marched down the field behind some solid running by Jerrius Baltimore and several personal foul penalties by Warren County, and Gerren Butler finally put the Hawks on the board with a 1-yard touchdown plunge on fourth-and-goal.

Skyline’s defense forced Warren County into a three-and-out on the next possession, and the Hawks put together another touchdown drive, this one 42 yards on just six plays. Baltimore carried the ball five times on the drive for 38 yards, and his 3-yard touchdown run — again on fourth down — gave Skyline its first lead with 6:41 to play.

Baltimore, who proved to be a tough runner to tackle all night, was able to wiggle out of an ankle tackle near the line of scrimmage and lunge into the end zone.

“He stopped me in my tracks, and then I just kept my feet moving like coach says — don’t let the first man get you down,” said Baltimore, who ran for 164 yards on 20 carries.

Things looked bleak for Skyline early, as Gerren Butler was stripped of the football on just the second play from scrimmage, allowing Warren County (0-1) to recover the ball at the 50-yard line.

The Wildcats promptly marched down the field, reaching the Hawks’ 5-yard line on a 12-yard run by quarterback Austen Butler (9-for-25 passing, 151 yards). Warren County was then flagged for a delay of game penalty, and a loss of yardage on a second-down run placed the Wildcats at the 13. Austen Butler’s pass on a fade to the end zone went off the hands of Steele, and Warren County was forced to settle for a field goal as Steele punched it through from 30 yards out.

“They were just feeling everybody out. First game jitters. I was just happy to get points on the board, and that’s what you’ve got to be happy with,” Wildcats coach Tony Tallent said.

Skyline’s fortunes took an even worse turn on its ensuing possession, as quarterback Corban Ruch was injured on a failed fourth-down pass attempt from Warren County’s 22-yard line. Ruch was taken off the field on a stretcher and taken to the hospital.

Gilbert said after the game that medical personnel had feared a possible broken sternum, but X-rays on Ruch’s chest came back negative. Gilbert said there may be some cartilage damage, but didn’t know more than that.

Ruch’s injury forced junior Baltimore — who has been used in a wildcat quarterback role in the past — into the full-time quarterback spot.

“I was a little nervous when I first got out there, but once we got the offense going it all started coming back,” said Baltimore.

Warren County took its 3-0 lead into halftime and opened the second half with a 55-yard drive that led to Steele’s second field goal of the game, this one from 29 yards to give the Wildcats a 6-0 lead.

After holding Skyline to a three-and-out on its next possession, Warren County marched right back down the field for the first touchdown of the game. Deal and fellow senior Demetrus Yates (94 yards rushing) combined to carry the ball eight times on the drive for 48 yards, and Deal gave the Wildcats a 13-0 lead on his 2-yard touchdown plunge with 2:51 to play in the third quarter.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD