By Tommy Keeler Jr.
There's plenty at stake when Central hosts Warren County tonight at 7:30 p.m.
Both teams are battling for a high spot in the 3A East region playoffs. Both teams are 5-2, and each has lost to Clarke County in the Bull Run District. The Falcons are trying to recover from their tough overtime loss to Clarke County last week. The Wildcats are coming off a week in which they played two games, both victories.
"It's a big game because for both of us, we're [the five seed] and they're the [six seed]," Central coach Mike Yew said. "The winner's going to pick up a lot of playoff points and have a chance to, probably, ultimately catapult into the fourth seed, which is big because if you win your first playoff game you get a second one at home. So it's a big deal. It's got a lot on the line."
Warren County coach Tony Tallent said he's pleased his team was able to win two games in one week, and he's just looking for his team to keep improving.
He said this game will help his team get better.
"It's a litmus test game," Tallent said. "When you play a good team, it's going to show you what you need to improve on."
The Wildcats have been able to run the ball effectively all season. Senior Demetrus Yates has led the way with an area-best 995 yards and nine touchdowns. Warren County also mixes it up with running backs Josh Newman and Kris Deal, giving the team plenty of options to move the ball.
Warren County quarterback Austen Butler has thrown for 694 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Yates said a big key to the offense has been the play of the offensive line.
"Our line has taken big steps in practice, so that once Friday comes they get out there and are doing what they need to be doing," Yates said.
The Wildcats have been very solid on defense all season, allowing just 15.5 points per game.
"They're sound," Yew said of the Warren County defense. "I don't think they really have a guy or two that jumps out at you, they're just so sound across the board. They play defense as a team. They get to the football."
The defensive line has played a big part in the Wildcats' success, led by Newman with 4.5 sacks and Blake Steele with 6.5 sacks this season.
Central has a strong passing game, and Steele said it will be important to try to put pressure on Central quarterback Hayden Bauserman.
"It's going to be big for us to get a lot of pressure on them," Steele said, "try to make them get out of the pocket or throw a lot of incomplete balls, make him rush his throws as much as possible. We're going to have to have a pretty big night overall."
The Falcons have a very balanced offense led by Bauserman, who has thrown for 1,380 yards and 20 touchdowns. Central has a very talented receiving corps, with five receivers with at least 11 catches.
Central senior Daniel Molina leads the running game with 886 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Yates, who also plays at defensive back, said Warren County's secondary faces a tough challenge this week.
"Their passing game is really on point, so we have to step up in the secondary, and get after the ball this week," Yates said. "We have to lock it down and stay as close as we can to their receivers, just make sure that we put a lot of pressure on the ball."
Central's return game has also been strong all season. Molina had a kick return for a touchdown, and junior Tommy Caison had a punt return for a touchdown in the Falcons' loss to the Eagles.
"Their special teams is as deadly as any part of their game," Tallent said. "Caison is super fast and you just got to make sure you cover well."
Yew said the loss to the Eagles was a really tough one for his squad. He said he felt his players were putting too much pressure on themselves, and it started with him as coach.
"Pressure comes with winning, and the more you win the more pressure you have," Yew said. "We've certainly won some football games the last five years, but most notably the last two, and making the playoffs and getting two or three wins. And having a special senior class we've put pressure on ourselves collectively, but I've probably put more pressure on them than was needed, instead of just loosening the reins and letting them play, because that's what this team's always been about is just having fun and getting after people. And hopefully we can return to that Friday night."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd