Wildcats expect tough test against James Wood

Karl Taubenberger Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – For the second time in as many games, Warren County’s football team will host a Group 4A opponent when James Wood travels to Front Royal for tonight’s 7 p.m. kickoff.

The Wildcats, members of the Virginia High School League’s 3A classification, most recently picked up a 27-17 victory over Handley in their season opener two weeks ago. Warren County had a bye last week and is now set to take on a Colonels squad that trounced the Wildcats 36-0 in last season’s meeting in Winchester.

“I don’t know that we’re hungry to avenge it,” Wildcats coach Steven Crist said of last year’s loss. “We’re certainly aware, but mostly because a lot of those guys are back so we know how good they are. It’s not necessarily a revenge thing. We understand that they’re a really good team with really good players, so we know we’ll have to be ready.”

James Wood (1-1) comes into tonight after picking up a win in its home opener against Park View (Sterling) last Friday, a 32-20 victory highlighted by a second straight stellar performance from senior running back Tyler Bishop to open the 2015 season.

Bishop carried 27 times for nearly 200 yards and three touchdowns and also hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Dade Carroll in the victory. Bishop has racked up almost 500 yards rushing in the Colonels’ first two games to go along with five rushing touchdowns.

Robert Rutherford Rich Cooley/Daily

Crist called James Wood’s rushing attack “the real deal,” and Wildcats senior defensive end Karl Taubenberger said the Colonels’ ground game benefits from a multitude of strengths, including a strong offensive line.

“(Bishop’s) speed and his cuts and his blockers. Their offensive line is pretty solid from what we’ve seen,” Taubenberger said.

“We just have to be physical. We have to attack the ball. … Everyone has to do their job.”

In its season-opening win over Handley, Warren County (1-0) allowed 236 yards of offense, including 209 yards rushing. The Wildcats also forced three turnovers, including an 85-yard fumble return for a touchdown by senior linebacker Daniel Spangler.

Crist said the Wildcats used the early bye week to focus on sharpening up on the fundamentals – including tackling and blocking – and he added that he doesn’t expect his team to lose any of the momentum it built up two weeks ago.

“You never know how you’re gonna play off a bye week. It doesn’t matter if it’s early, middle, late in the year, you’re never really sure how you’re gonna come off it,” Crist said. “We’ve done some things this week to try to help us be more ready on Friday, knock some of the rust off from not playing last week.”

Warren County’s offense enjoyed a balanced attack in its opener, as senior quarterback Robert Rutherford efficiently completed 13 of 14 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown while the Wildcats rushed for 182 yards.

Robert Rutherford (15 carries, 94 yards) and his twin brother, Joseph (10 carries, 72 yards, TD), combined for 166 yards in the win, including a 66-yard touchdown run by Robert.

Crist said the ability of the Wildcats’ to sustain drives tonight will be one of the biggest keys in defending against James Wood’s rushing attack.

“You’ve got to keep the chains moving,” Crist said. “You want to keep your offense on the field, which keeps their offense on the sideline.”

Junior speedster Cam Ford, who moved from quarterback to wide receiver late last season, hauled in 10 catches for 82 yards last week, and Robert Rutherford said the Wildcats want to stretch the field against a James Wood defense that allowed five passing touchdowns in the first half of its season opener at Heritage (Leesburg) and surrendered three scoring plays of 75-plus yards.

“They’ve got a really good D-line and linebacking corps, and they know it,” Robert Rutherford said of the Colonels, who are allowing 37.5 points per game through their first two contests. “… Really we just want to get the ball outside on them and use our speed against their size.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com