Hawks ready for rematch with Hopewell

Skyline's Brad Halsey runs to the sideline during second-quarter action last Friday as Culpeper's Tristen Mullen, right, works to contain him. The Hawks will play at Hopewell on Friday in the second round of the playoffs. Rich Cooley/Daily file

FRONT ROYAL — There’s no question that Skyline is facing a tough task when it travels to take on Hopewell today in the second round of the Group 3A football playoffs. However, the Hawks are facing a familiar opponent, which could be a real positive.

Skyline lost last year to Hopewell, 24-21, in the first round of the playoffs. The game came down to the final minute. Even though it’s a new season, Skyline coach Heath Gilbert said some of the match-ups from last year will be the same on the offensive and defensive lines.

“The things that we did we’re going to have the opportunity to do again,” Gilbert said. “They’re a year stronger we understand that, and we’re a year stronger. We have to take confidence in that we were able to compete with them.”

The Blue Devils (9-2) will once again be led by quarterback Cameren Hill, who is as dangerous running the ball as throwing it.

“He’s shifty. He’s really quick,” Skyline senior Marcus Burke said of Hill. “I remember last year there was a time that he was like an inch from the ground, and somehow he just got up and was just gone. I know he’s quick and I watched the film, the receivers they seem pretty good. So that will be a challenge this week.”

Sophomore Ronnie Walker leads the way at tailback for the Blue Devils.

Gilbert said that the key for the Hawks is to limit the number of big plays.

“They’re going to make big plays,” Gilbert said. “We can’t get down because it’s going to happen. We have to on the next drive make them earn what they get.”

Gilbert said that Hopewell is big across the board on the offensive line. He said they are very fast on defense, and the Hawks will have trouble running outside on them.

Gilbert said that one of the big match-ups in the trenches will be Skyline’s Zack Atkins against Xavier Claiborne.

“(Claiborne) is a beast and Zack played very well. One of his best games of the year last year was against him,” Gilbert said. “And that’s got to give him confidence. Now he’s put on 15 pounds and he’s just as quick. So he’s got his work cut out for him.”

The Hawks (6-5) are certainly playing some of their best football at the right time.

Skyline has won back-to-back games in the final minutes, including its 24-21 win over Culpeper in the first round of the playoffs.

Burke said the team has a lot of heart, and that’s helped them in close games.

“Our team has a lot of heart, tons of heart — so much character and heart,” Burke said. “It’s just something that I look up to about my team. Something that I’m proud to be a part of this team for.”

Skyline has never won more than one playoff game in a season, and a win by the Hawks today would give them an even bigger place in the football program’s history.

Gilbert said the Hawks are OK with being the underdog.

“We’re playing with house money,” Gilbert said. “They’re the high seed. We’re going in there with nothing to lose. We just need to prepare the best way we can. …Go down there with no regrets and do our best and whatever happens, happens.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com