Hawks in a ‘must-win’ situation in road matchup with Manassas Park

Heath Gilbert

Skyline enters Friday night’s 7 p.m. district contest against the Manassas Park Cougars ranked seventh in the latest Region 3B playoff ratings (the top eight make the regional field). Manassas Park is eighth, meaning tonight’s outcome could have major playoff implications for both squads.

The Hawks are coming off a 26-17 loss to Culpeper County last week, and head coach Heath Gilbert likened the urgency surrounding this week’s matchup to that of the Strasburg game two weeks ago, when Skyline came off a bye week to edge the Rams following a blowout loss to Handley.

“We really needed that (win over Strasburg) and we’re in a similar situation but we have a shorter amount of time, which is good. We can just work our butts off and get ready for Manassas Park,” Gilbert said Tuesday. “We’ve gotta have it. It’s a must-win.”

Missed chances and turnovers proved costly to Skyline (2-4, 0-1 Northwestern District) in the loss to Culpeper, a game in which the Hawks only had eight offensive possessions due to a heavy reliance on the running game by both teams, Gilbert said.

Skyline had a 22-play drive to start the game that stretched inside the Culpeper 10-yard line and ended in a missed field goal, Gilbert said. The Hawks also lost a fumble in Blue Devil territory to halt a drive in the third quarter, and another at their own 7 late in the game after Skyline’s defense had delivered a fourth-down stop at their own 2.

Ryan Scott Rich Cooley/Daily

The Hawks’ offense, which is averaging 18.5 points per game, hopes to get back on track against a Manassas Park (1-5, 0-1) defense that has allowed at least 41 points in five of its six games.

Last season, the Cougars beat Skyline, 55-35, in Front Royal, though Manassas Park has experienced a lot of roster turnover since then.

“I know last year their offense was good too but their defense was better,” said Hawks senior quarterback Ryan Scott, who noted that the Cougars’ defensive line stymied Skyline’s run game last season. “We couldn’t do anything against them, so we’re gonna have to study and do our work out on the field to be able to beat them.

“They did lose a lot of players and they’re probably not quite what they were,” he added, “but they’re still a solid team.”

Manassas Park was shut out in its first three games of the season but has scored 103 points over the last three games, including 51 in a win over Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (Alexandria) on Sept. 15.

Gilbert said the Cougars run some spread formations but have also shown unbalanced sets with two tight ends and two fullbacks to pave the way for a power running game. Gilbert added that a Hawks defense that has been gashed by the running game this season can expect to see the latter on Friday night.

“They had some success against us last year with that and they’ve probably seen our film, and they know probably looking at some stats that we’ve struggled to stop people against the run,” Gilbert said. “I’m sure we’re gonna be challenged with that unbalanced formation. Handley took it to us on that and Culpeper worked out of the two tight end set, power-type football. They’re gonna make us stop it before they change it.”

Skyline went 2-8 last season and can exceed that win total with a victory against Manassas Park.

“This game’s definitely one of the important ones after we just went on the road and lost to Culpeper,” senior receiver/safety Matt Rutherford said. “We need this win and then we need to keep winning to get in a playoff spot so we can contend. It’s a really big game. We need to work hard this week.”