By Tommy Keeler Jr.
NOKESVILLE --Skyline's football team had the odds stacked against it on Friday night. Playing against fifth-seeded Kettle Run, and without one of their top players - senior Marcus Turner - the Hawks put up a fight against the Cougars.
Kettle Run's solid defense and balanced offense were too much in the end for the Hawks in a 35-7 win in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.
"We challenged the kids to come out and play hard for the entire game," Skyline coach Heath Gilbert said. "We had some players out. Kettle Run is a quality team. I give them a lot of credit. They did a great job. I thought our kids played hard and gave their best effort."
The Hawks (4-7) were playing without Turner due to a wrist injury.
Things started off on a bad note for the Hawks. After a three-and-out by Skyline, Kettle Run's David Eldridge went 64 yards on a punt return for a 6-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
The teams traded interceptions on consecutive possessions. The Hawks put together one of their better drives of the night. They moved the ball 47 yards to the Kettle Run 30-yard line.
Skyline quarterback Corban Ruch ran for 26 yards to give the Hawks a first-and-10 at the Cougars 30-yard line. on the next play, Skyline's Jerrius Baltimore had his pass intercepted in the end zone by Justus Drakeford.
Skyline's defense stopped Kettle Run on a fourth-down play on the ensuing possession. On the next play, the Cougars recovered a fumble by Ruch at the Skyline 17.
Three plays later, Evan Szklennik scored on a 5-yard run to give the Cougars a 12-0 lead with 10:20 left in the first half.
"I think we played really well at times," Kettle Run coach Jeff Lloyd said. "Offensively we started off a little slow. Then we started to get into a rhythm and we played better after that."
On Kettle Run's next possession, the Cougars needed only four plays to go 61 yards. Austin Lewis scored on a 23-yard touchdown run to give the Cougars a 19-0 lead with 6:04 left in the first half.
Kettle Run (7-4) added a 20-yard field goal by Szklennik in the final seconds of the half. The field goal capped off an 11-play drive for the Cougars.
Kettle Run added another touchdown in the third quarter on a 5-yard run by Bailey Branham for a 28-0 lead.
Lewis then added a 75-yard touchdown run with 8:54 left in the game. The Cougars finished with 303 rushing yards.
"I thought we ran the ball pretty well," Lloyd said. "We made some adjustments in the second half, which I think helped."
Baltimore scored on a 1-yard run with 3:23 left in the game. The Hawks ran for 97 yards against a stout Kettle Run defense.
"We had some positives that we can build on from this going into next year," Gilbert said.
The Cougars will now play at James Monroe next weekend. James Monroe has knocked the Cougars out of the playoffs the last two years in the state semifinals.
"They are a very talented, athletic team," Lloyd said. "We can't beat ourselves and expect to have a chance to win against a team like that. We're just going to have to show up and play hard."
Skyline lost earlier this season to Kettle Run, 35-0. The Hawks' season comes to an end, but Gilbert said he was happy with his young squad this year.
"I think it could be a good learning experience for all of our younger players," Gilbert said. "We played a lot of guys who hadn't played before and now they got that taste of what it's like. I know the score didn't show it, but we've really improved since the last time we played them. The last time we played them they completely dominated the game. I think we only had 24 yards total. We did much better this time. They're a great group of kids and I'm proud of them."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd