By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline quarterback Corban Ruch was ready for his second shot against cross-town rival Warren County on Friday night.
Ruch's Skyline debut was cut short a year ago when he suffered a bruised sternum in the first quarter of the 2013 season opener against the Wildcats. His encore performance lasted quite a bit longer on Friday.
Ruch threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score, and Skyline's defense shut down the Wildcats' offense to run away with a 31-7 victory to begin the 2014 season.
"I was so excited for this game, I couldn't wait," said Ruch, who helped lead the Hawks to their third straight win over Warren County. "Practice leading up to this game was really intense so I was just ready to get back at it.
"Our defense really stepped up. Our defense made the stops and kept them out of the end zone. Our offense put points on the board. The line did a great job blocking and the receivers made plays. Jamal [Parker] made great plays. Jay [Roy] made great plays. It was just everybody doing their part."
Ruch was an efficient leader of a Skyline (1-0) offense that churned out 388 total yards against the Wildcats' defense, as he completed 18 of 28 passes and rushed for 30 yards before giving way to backup quarterback Dylan Hamman midway through the fourth quarter with the game well in hand.
Ruch completed passes to five different receivers, including six each to Aaron Tasker (75 yards) and Jay Roy (36 yards, one TD) and four to Jamal Parker (62 yards, TD).
"We feel like we have pieces around the field," Hawks coach Heath Gilbert said. "... It's tough when they stack the box on us, they go cover zero, they bring an extra guy for us to block. Running the ball can be tough so we have to spread it out to our playmakers and take some shots."
While the Hawks' offense effectively moved the football up and down the field, their defense stifled a Warren County offense that has been completely retooled after losing almost all of its offensive production from last season to graduation.
Skyline surrendered just 77 total yards of offense to the Wildcats, including just 15 yards passing. The Hawks also tallied four sacks.
"We actually made good open-field tackling, big-time plays," said Hawks senior safety Hunter Partlowe, who had two sacks in the victory. "Just hustled, 11 heads to the ball at all times and just worked hard this week in practice."
The Hawks forced Warren County into three-and-outs on its first two possessions of the game, and Skyline's offense got on the board on its second drive with a 58-yard march.
Ruch found Parker for a 37-yard pass on the drive's first play from Skyline's own 42 and the Hawks worked the ball to the 8-yard line two plays later to set up first-and-goal. Facing third-and-goal from the 5, running back Jerrius Baltimore was stopped for a 1-yard gain, but a personal foul penalty on the Wildcats gave the Hawks a first down at the 2.
Ruch connected with Roy for a short touchdown pass on the next play to put the Hawks up 7-0 with 3:18 left in the first quarter.
Skyline feasted on quick hitting passing routes to both Roy and Tasker all game long while using Parker's speed to stretch the defense.
"Our quick game is really coming together and as you can tell we're using our deep threats too," Ruch said. "... Everybody is making plays and the O-line is giving me time to throw the ball, so it's just fantastic."
Warren County (0-1) operated with a two-quarterback system on Friday with junior Robert Rutherford and sophomore Cameron Ford sharing the snaps. Rutherford got the start, but it was Ford who sparked the Wildcats to their only scoring drive of the night.
In his first play from scrimmage on Warren County's third drive of the first quarter, Ford streaked through a big hole on the right side on a designed quarterback run and carried the ball 50 yards to Skyline's 12. The Wildcats punched it in on a 1-yard run by Joseph Rutherford three plays later to tie the game at 7-7 with 1:24 left in the opening quarter.
Warren County's offense wouldn't see Skyline's side of the field again until midway through the fourth quarter.
"We certainly didn't control the line of scrimmage like we knew we needed to," Wildcats first-year head coach Steve Crist said. "We'll have to go back and look at the film. Made a couple mental mistakes and I'll take the blame for that. It's my job to prepare them. We'll have to go back and keep working to get better."
Skyline's offense immediately responded to Warren County's touchdown with a 12-play, 77-yard scoring drive that ended in Ruch's 15-yard touchdown run.
The Hawks followed that with a 67-yard scoring drive on their next possession, capped by a 4-yard run by Brandon Dodson with 3:55 left in the first half. Baltimore, who finished with 83 yards rushing on 11 carries before exiting the game with leg cramps in the third quarter, took a screen pass 31 yards and broke off a 43-yard run during the drive.
Skyline -- which did commit a whopping 13 penalties for 126 yards -- opened the second half with a long drive that ended in A.J. Dueweke's 24-yard field goal, and Parker made a spectacular juggling touchdown catch on a 13-yard fade route with 8:31 to play to put the Hawks up 31-7.
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com