By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline needed to win Friday night's Northwestern District football game against James Wood. It just had to.
The Hawks entered the game on a three-game losing streak, a skid that had seen Skyline score just six points during that stretch. The defending district champions also couldn't afford to lose their second game district game of the season if the Hawks were to have any hope of defending their title.
And that's not to mention that Skyline couldn't lose to the winless Colonels in the Hawks' Homecoming game.
All of that frustration and determination culminated in a satisfying 22-13 bounce-back win for Skyline.
"I knew we had to win it," Hawks junior running back Jerrius Baltimore said. "Everybody wanted to win it tonight for the seniors. They're not going to play another Homecoming game in high school football, so we just had to do what we had to do to win this game.
"We lost a couple games and we wanted to win this, bounce back and show our next opponent that we're ready to compete."
Friday night brought a nice change of pace for a Skyline offense that had previously failed to score more than 14 points in all but one game this season. The Hawks scored a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter and finished the game with 330 total yards.
Skyline (4-4, 1-1 Northwestern) rushed for 263 yards -- led by Baltimore's 199 yards on 23 carries -- against the Colonels and hit on several big plays, including a 50-yard touchdown run by junior Jamal Parker on a reverse during the Hawks' first drive of the game that gave them an 8-0 lead.
"It was nice to get some kids out in some space so they could do some things," Hawks coach Heath Gilbert said. "That was real important for our kids' confidence, kind of get that edge back to them and that little swagger."
The Hawks' defense, which is starting to get healthy after injuries struck along the defensive front and secondary earlier this year, held James Wood's offense in check for most of the game. The Colonels (0-8, 0-2) managed just 72 yards rushing on 30 carries, although James Wood's passing game did find some success late in the game as the Colonels made a desperate comeback attempt.
Skyline's defense was very impressive in the first half, as the Hawks held the Colonels to 78 total yards in the half and forced James Wood to punt five times in seven first-half possessions.
James Wood's touchdown in the first quarter came following a 16-yard punt by Skyline from its own 4 that gave the Colonels excellent field position to begin its third drive of the game. The Colonels capitalized on the next play as quarterback Brady Hepner (11-for18, 161 yards) found running back Landon Rutherford for a 20-yard touchdown pass to cut Skyline's lead to 8-7.
But Skyline quickly answered with a four-play, 65-yard touchdown drive on its next possession to extend its lead.
"We gave them a short field and they were able to punch it in right away. For us to answer, that was big. Real big for our kids," Gilbert said.
Baltimore got the drive started with a 41-yard scamper that moved the Hawks all the way to the James Wood 24, and Baltimore ripped off a 20-yard run on the next play to set Skyline up inside the 5-yard line.
Senior wide receiver Marcus Turner punched it in from a yard out two plays later to give the Hawks a 15-7 lead with 31 seconds left in the first quarter.
"There was a big hole in the A gap, so I just took it. I just tried to run through there as fast as I could and as hard as I could," said Turner, who also had four catches for 47 yards.
"We started off fast. That was the fastest we started this year. The offense has been focusing on doing everything right this week and we just came out and executed."
Skyline opened the third quarter with an eight-play, 68-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 5-yard pass from quarterback Corban Ruch (5-for-10, 67 yards, interception) to Jay Roy that put the Hawks up 22-7.
James Wood continued to try to work the running game until the fourth quarter when the Colonels opened up the playbook and began throwing the ball down the field. The Colonels capitalized on a Skyline fumble with a 50-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown run by Hepner with 42 seconds left in the game. However, a failed two-point conversion attempt sealed the win for the Hawks.
"We've got a heck of a run these last two games with Handley and Sherando, so we need to have some confidence heading into those last two," Gilbert said. "I'm really happy for the kids and we got a victory on our Homecoming, which was sweet."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD