Hawks, Wildcats set for rivalry game in regular-season finale

Skyline's Antwan Swain hauls in a pass while James Wood's David Funk and Ryan Funkhouser tackle him during their game on Oct. 16 in Front Royal. The Hawks host Warren County on Friday. Rich Cooley/Daily file

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County High School will likely see its football playoff appearance streak end at five straight seasons this fall, but the Wildcats have one big reason to get up for its final game of the season Friday night.

The Wildcats travel to cross-town rival Skyline for a 7 p.m. kickoff in a rivalry game that pits friends against friends for a chance at yearlong bragging rights.

“It’s gonna be the last game a lot of us seniors play,” Wildcats quarterback Robert Rutherford said following practice on Tuesday, “so we’re just really trying to come out and put a complete game together and have as much fun as possible, and get a win.”

Skyline (4-5), sitting comfortably in the middle of the Region 3A East playoff picture with a chance to lock up a first-round home game with a victory Friday night, has won the last three meetings against the Wildcats (2-7), including a 31-7 rout last season.

Even with the Hawks’ recent string of success against their rivals, and Warren County’s struggles this season, Skyline senior receiver/defensive back Jay Roy said it’s important not to overlook the Wildcats in what will be the ninth meeting between the two teams.

“I’m sure that they’re gonna come out and try to play strong,” Roy said Tuesday. “I hope nobody takes them lightly because it’s gonna be a game.”

Both teams enter Friday’s game coming off blowout losses last week. Warren County was routed on the road by Clarke County 55-0, while Skyline was beaten soundly at home by Sherando in a 53-0 contest.

The Hawks, who were limited to 103 total yards of offense in last week’s loss, are averaging 21.4 points and just less than 300 yards per game this season. Senior quarterback Dylan Hamman has passed for over 1,500 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his first year as the starter, while completing 35 passes to Roy for 426 yards and four touchdowns.

Skyline should also receive a boost with the return of junior running back Brad Halsey (118 carries, 533 yards, five touchdowns), who has missed the last two games while serving an athletic department suspension. Hawks head coach Heath Gilbert said sophomore Quentin Diggs will get his third straight start at tailback against Warren County, but Halsey will play and rotate with Diggs in the backfield.

Warren County, which allowed over 500 yards rushing to Clarke County last week, is giving up 36.8 points per game and has allowed 55 points in each of its last two games.

Regarding the Wildcats’ defense, Gilbert said they are “very similar to us.”

“We both run a 4-2-5 look, so you can do a lot of different things with coverage, so we have to be careful. We have to recognize what they’re doing. They have a couple of stunts that could give us a hard time. They’ve showed some aggressive things that could really catch you if you’re not prepared, so we have to understand where the safety is and where they’re creeping from and be able to pick up pressures,” he added.

Warren County’s offense has struggled mightily at times this season. Though the Wildcats have scored 27 or more points three times this fall, they’ve also been shut out three times in the last five games.

Wildcats coach Steven Crist said they have been a little bit inconsistent.

“We’ve been shut out (and) we’ve scored a lot of points. It hasn’t been one thing. It’s been a couple little things that add up. Some of that is we’ve played some good defenses. Some of it (is) we haven’t executed and made the plays when they were there to be made,” Crist said.

The Wildcats should benefit from the return of their own starting running back, senior Joseph Rutherford, who is expected to play for the first time since suffering an injury on Warren County’s first drive against Central on Oct. 2.

“Really we’ve just gotta come out, execute and get off to a quick start,” said Robert Rutherford, who has thrown for over 1,300 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. “Lately we’ve kind of been having a rough first half offensively and we need to come out of the gates putting up points.”

Skyline’s defense is allowing 34.7 points per game, and Gilbert said much of the Hawks’ defensive focus will be on the trio of the Rutherford twins and junior receiver Cam Ford (34 catches, 449 yards, three touchdowns).

“They are the key to their offense and what they can do and we’ve got to make sure we are lining up correctly and in our correct coverages according to formation, how they set their backs, because all those things together make a puzzle and we have to make sure we’re right,” Gilbert said. “If we’re wrong we could give up a big play.”

Crist said he expects to see the heightened atmosphere that generally comes with the annual rivalry game, and he noted he’s seen an “up-tick” in intensity from the Wildcats in practice this week.

“It’s the last game for (the seniors) and I want to see them enjoy it,” Crist said. “I want to see them have fun and I want to see them play hard, fight every play because you don’t get them back.”

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