Hawks come alive in second half for win over Wildcats

Skyline's Brad Halsey avoids an attempted tackle by Warren County's Joseph Rutherford during second quarter action on Friday in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Senior Brandon Wells said Skyline High School’s football coaching staff prepared the Hawks for the scenario they got in Friday night’s regular-season finale against cross-town rival Warren County.

The struggling Wildcats held the lead for most of the game, but Skyline’s offense put together three key scoring drives in the second half, while the defense held off a last-ditch Warren County drive in the waning seconds to cap a thrilling 24-21 comeback victory at home on senior night.

The win secured a first-round home game in next week’s Region 3A East playoffs for the Hawks.

“(The coaches) stayed on us and they knew that it wasn’t gonna be a cakewalk, and honestly at first, we thought we had them easy,” Wells said after the win, the fourth straight Skyline victory over its rivals. “But when we went into that locker room at halftime we realized that we had to fight. And the practice during the week, they really showed us that we needed to fight no matter what.”

Trailing for most of the night after taking an early 3-0 lead on the game’s opening drive, Skyline scored touchdowns on all three of its second-half possessions, capping the comeback with a 67-yard march that needed only six plays.

Skyline's Quentin Diggs tries to ward off Warren County's Robert Rutherford, left, and his brother Joseph, right, during their game last season in Front Royal. Diggs and the Hawks will host Central on Friday. Rich Cooley/Daily file

Facing second-and-10 at the Skyline 45 and the Hawks trailing 21-17 with less than four minutes remaining, senior quarterback Dylan Hamman hit Wells in stride with a deep strike down the sideline, Wells making a spectacular over-the-shoulder grab before being brought down at the Warren County 18.

“I knew that if we didn’t make that drive we weren’t winning the game,” said Wells, who had four catches for 87 yards. “When they called my number I just had to lay out for it and make the play. It came to me and I’m thankful I made it, honestly.”

Three plays later, Hamman found senior Jay Roy over the middle for an 18-yard touchdown pass to put Skyline (5-5) up 24-21 over the Wildcats (2-8) with 2:57 left to play.

“I started rolling out and then they got people through the line where I was rolling out, and I saw him open across the middle and I just threw it,” said Hamman, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 188 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

But Warren County, playing for nothing more than pride and bragging rights Friday night, had more fight left in it.

Warren County's Cameron Ford picks up big yardage on this second quarter pass play while Skyline's Joey Newman pursues him on Nov. 6 in Front Royal. Ford led the Wildcats in three sports this season. Rich Cooley/Daily file

The Wildcats took over at their own 27 after the ensuing kickoff then lost ground to their own 6 after a pair of false starts and a pass that netted minus-11 yards after it was batted at the line and caught by offensive lineman William Deavers. But on second-and-31, Warren County senior quarterback Robert Rutherford found Daniel Spangler for a 43-yard completion and a first down.

“That’s just senior to senior, trusting my boy Daniel Spangler, because he was on a linebacker so I kind of had a feeling he’d win that matchup,” said Rutherford, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown while running for an additional 108 yards and a score.

Rutherford converted a third down at the Skyline 32 when he scrambled for a first down to the 29 before a spike, an incompletion and a short gain on a reverse pass on third down netted 7 yards to the Skyline 22. After taking its final timeout facing fourth down with 13 seconds left, Warren County attempted a halfback pass with senior Joseph Rutherford, but his pass to senior Josh Butler was batted down by Hawks senior Marcus Burke at the goal line with just a few seconds remaining on the game clock.

“A senior making a play,” Hawks coach Heath Gilbert said. “This is senior night and he had to come through and he did. Really happy for him.”

Wildcats coach Steve Crist said Warren County was “just outside” out of the range of kicker Stuart Ashley for a field goal attempt on the final possession.

Skyline's Brandon Wells tries to make a move on Warren County's Cameron Ford on this third quarter pass play during Friday night's game in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

“Fourth-and-short, trying to catch them maybe biting up,” Crist said of the play call. “They made a good play.”

Warren County took a 14-3 lead into halftime but Skyline went 65 yards on its first possession of the third quarter to cut into that deficit. Hawks sophomore running back Quentin Diggs (104 yards rushing) accounted for 61 of those yards on the final three plays of the drive – including a 17-yard catch on a screen pass and a 37-yard run – before punching it into the end zone from 7 yards out to pull Skyline within 14-10.

The Wildcats came right back with a 14-play, 76-yard scoring drive the chewed up over seven minutes of clock before Robert Rutherford found tight end Brendan McMackin for a 30-yard touchdown on a jump ball near the pylon to put Warren County up 21-10 with 11:01 to play.

Warren County out-gained Skyline 318-295 in the game, while the Wildcats’ defense also forced four sacks and an interception

“I think it was the sharpest we’ve looked as a team, honestly,” Crist said.

Warren County's Josh Butler wards off Skyline's Phillip Clark as he picks up yardage during first quarter action Friday night in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Skyline came right back with another touchdown drive, as the Hawks went 76 yards to the end zone, capping the drive on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Hamman to Ryan Abel with 8:41 left.

The Hawks gained 203 of their 295 yards in the second half.

“We went into halftime and was like ‘boys, this is week 10, we are gonna do what we do,'” Gilbert said. “The box was right for us. What we want in the box to run the football, they were lined up like we thought they were gonna do. They were hitting some defensive line stunts and we were missing some blocks obviously. … We had a difficult time with that, especially in the second (quarter) but we picked it up in the third and fourth quarter.”

A.J. Dueweke put Skyline up 3-0 on the game’s opening possession with a 33-yard field goal, but Warren County came back with two unanswered touchdowns.

Wildcats sophomore Cam Ford set up Warren County’s first score – an 8-yard run by Joseph Rutherford as time expired in the first quarter – with an interception and return to the Skyline 38, and Warren County put together a 96-yard touchdown drive late in the first half.

Skyline quarterback Dylan Hamman gets sacked by Warren County's Quay Caison during first quarter acton Friday night in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Robert Rutherford found Ford (5 catches, 102 yards) for completions of 33 and 41 yards on the long drive before the quarterback scored from 8 yards out.

“We came in, we had nothing to lose, so we just wanted to come out and the seniors really wanted to go out the right way,” Robert Rutherford said. “We lost, but I feel like we did. We played a great game. I’m proud of everyone and I wouldn’t trade this season for anything.”

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

Box Score
Hawks 24, Wildcats 21
Warren County 7 7 0 7 – 21
Skyline 3 0 7 14 – 24
First Quarter
S: Dueweke 33 field goal, 8:06.
WC: J. Rutherford 8 run (Ashley kick), 0:00.
Second Quarter
WC: R. Rutherford 8 run (Ashley kick), 1:13.
Third Quarter
S: Diggs 7 run (Dueweke kick), 6:18.
Fourth Quarter
WC: McMackin 30 pass from R. Rutherford (Ashley kick), 11:01.
S: Abel 26 pass from Hamman (Dueweke kick), 8:41.
S: Roy 18 pass from Hamman (Dueweke kick), 2:57.
First downs 11 12
Rushes-yards 35-140 31-107
Passing yards 178 188
Comp-Att-TD-INT 11-20-1-0 10-18-2-1
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-0
Punts-Avg. 5-32.4 3-38
Penalties-yards 8-61 2-10
RUSHING: Warren County, R. Rutherford 24-108, J. Rutherford 8-31, Butler 1-(-1), Haley 1-2, Spangler 1-0; Skyline, Hamman 6-(-22), Diggs 13-104, Roy 2-5, Halsey 8-19, Tasker 1-3, Scott 1-0.
PASSING: Warren County, R. Rutherford 10-18-171-1-0, Ford 1-1-7-0-0, J. Rutherford 0-1-0-0-0; Skyline, Hamman 10-18-188-2-1.
RECEIVING: Warren County, Ford 5-102, Butler 2-7, McMacking 1-30, Deavers 1-(-11), Spangler 1-43, R. Rutheford 1-7; Skyline, Roy 3-50, Wells 4-87, Halsey 1-2, Diggs 1-17, Abel 1-32.

Warren County's Joseph Rutherford runs toward the sidelines as Skyline's Antwan Swain pursues him during this first quarter action Friday night in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Warren County's Daniel Spangler and quarterback Robert Rutherford celebrate Rutherford's second quarter touchdown during Friday night's game in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Warren County quarterback Robert Rutherford runs for a big gain during third quarter action Friday night in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily