Hawks aim to bounce back against upstart Tigers

By Brad Fauber

FRONT ROYAL — Maintaining team unity has been the biggest point of emphasis for Skyline’s football team from the moment the Hawks opened fall camp back in August. Whether or not the Hawks learned from last season’s experience in that aspect will be put to its first true test tonight.

Skyline suffered a disappointing 23-9 defeat to Fauquier last week in a game where the Hawks turned the ball over five times and committed some costly penalties, yet still found themselves in the game late before an interception return for a touchdown sealed their fate.

Skyline must now look to rebound against non-district foe Brentsville when the Tigers visit Front Royal for tonight’s 7 p.m. contest.

“Your character isn’t tested until you lose,” Hawks head coach Heath Gilbert said Tuesday. “We’re going to find out what our true character is at that point. We had a couple incidents I wish we would’ve handled a little better [last week], but they are kids still. Seeing how they bounce back this week and seeing how they respond will be key to telling me what kind of kids they’re really going to be.”

If the Hawks (1-1) do indeed bounce back, they will need to do so against a Brentsville team that has made tremendous strides back toward respectability this season.

The Tigers, who snapped their 39-game losing streak with a 12-7 win over Manassas Park in their season opener two weeks ago, are coming off a 36-0 blowout victory over Warren County last Friday. Brentsville is 2-0 to start the season for the first time in recent memory and has won consecutive games for the first time in eight years.

Skyline barely escaped the Tigers in a 40-37 shootout last season, and the Hawks know they can’t take Brentsville lightly tonight.

“We’re going to look at them like anybody else,” Hawks senior running back Jerrius Baltimore said. “We want to win and we’re not just going to say that we’re going to come in there and win just because we beat them all these years. They say they’re a different team and we’re going to have come out Friday and prove that we’re a different team, too.”

The Hawks will certainly have to cut down on the mistakes tonight if they hope to be successful. In addition to Skyline’s five turnovers against Fauquier, Gilbert said the Hawks committed costly penalties in situations that extended some of Fauquier’s drives and stalled Skyline’s own possessions.

Penalties have been an issue for the Hawks in the season’s first two weeks — Skyline committed 13 in its season-opening blowout of Warren County — and Baltimore said the Hawks discussed ways to limit those mistakes during film study on Monday.

Despite struggling to find the end zone last week, Skyline did still outgain Fauquier 254 to 232 in total offensive yards, and Brentsville coach Ryan Smith said the Hawks’ playmaking ability on offense remains a big concern for the Tigers.

“Skyline’s athletic ability can be a huge problem for us,” Smith wrote in an email Tuesday. “That is what stands out the most is the big play capability on each play. We have to be able to tackle in space and not let up the big play. We are [plus-6] in the turnover ratio and that needs to continue to happen to be successful Friday night.”

Brentsville’s own offense has yet to commit a turnover this season and used a solid rushing attack against Warren County last week. Sophomore running back Zack Yates scored three touchdowns for the Tigers in the win.

Smith said the key for the Tigers’ offense will be to match Skyline’s physicality, and he added that the Hawks’ size up front and speed in the secondary could be troublesome for Brentsville.

Gilbert said he expects Brentsville will utilize a combination of power run plays and misdirection out of a variety of formations, adding that the Hawks need to be sound in their defensive keys in order to slow down the Tigers’ run-heavy attack.

“Offensively they’re an unbalanced attack and you can’t get caught up in their backfield action at all or you won’t know where the ball is. It will be behind you in the pass game or it will be right by you on a trap or something like that if you’re not reading your keys. That’s going to be vital for us to do that,” Gilbert said.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com