Wildcats hoping for more energetic effort at Manassas Park

Brian Bush

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County High School’s football team lost the battle in the trenches during a homecoming loss to Culpeper County last week, but Brian Bush,  the first-year head coach said Monday he is most concerned that the Wildcats  didn’t seem like they were emotionally invested for the first time this season.

With eyes turned toward rejuvenating the energy level that had helped them win three of four games before last week’s loss, the Wildcats are aiming to get back on track with a Class 3 Northwestern District road contest at Manassas Park tonight. The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff.

“I just need to see us get that energy back,” Bush said after practice Monday. “We watched the whole game (against Culpeper) just now before we came out to practice and we didn’t really point out the mistakes. We pointed out what we were doing well at and then we sort of went back and pointed out, ‘Hey, look at the sidelines. There’s zero energy. Or look what happens when we make a great play here. Who was excited? Who was jumping up and down? Who was congratulating that player on making a great play?’ I would love to see us get that enthusiasm back.”

Bush expects that the Wildcats (3-4, 1-1 Northwestern District), who enter the game holding the fifth spot in the latest VHSL Region 3B playoff ratings, will need that energy against a Manassas Park team that limps into the matchup with a 1-6 record after falling at home to Skyline, 37-12, last week.

The loss to Skyline was the third straight for the Cougars, who have sandwiched a non-conference win over Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology with a pair of three-game losing streaks.

“They’re gonna try anything and everything,” Bush said of the Cougars. “There’s gonna be tricks up their sleeves. They’re gonna throw everything at us. I’m expecting a fight to come out of them because when you face a team that sort of is down on their luck a little bit, sometimes that’s when you find out they’ll go out there and play hard because they don’t have anything to lose. They just wanna go out and hit people, they just wanna go out and play and I think that’s probably what we’ll see Friday night.”

The Cougars, who are averaging 16.4 points per game and were shut out in each of their first three contests this season, show multiple looks on offense, according to Bush. He said Manassas Park sometimes operates out of spread formations while at other times packing things in with unbalanced formations, in which they’ll try to “run it down your throat.”

Manassas Park managed just 96 yards rushing on 43 carries against Skyline, but Bush said the Wildcats would need to pack more punch on their defensive front than they did last week, when they allowed 193 yards rushing and 252 total yards of offense to the Blue Devils.

“We didn’t do a real good job coming out, firing out on the defensive side or the offensive side on the line of scrimmage, and Culpeper was able to move the ball really well against us,” said Bush, whose defense is allowing 20.6 points and 273.7 yards per game. “… It just goes back to show that we just weren’t ready.”

Similarly, Bush said the key to moving the football against Manassas Park’s defense would start up front.

The Cougars, who are allowing 46 points per game, operate out of a 4-4 defense, though Bush said they sometimes drop the fourth linebacker into coverage as a safety to turn the formation into a 4-3.

Warren County, which has ridden the legs of junior running back Ronnie Dodson (164 carries, 805 yards, eight touchdowns) with a lot of success over the last month, mustered just 131 yards of offense against Culpeper while freshman quarterback Bryce Post threw a pair of interceptions.

The Wildcats had only 99 yards rushing against the Blue Devils and are averaging only 256.4 yards of offense per game this season.

“It definitely goes back to the offensive line,” Bush said of Friday night’s matchup, adding that the Wildcats need to cut down on the penalties that plagued each offensive possession last week. “This game’s gonna be determined, if we’re ready to play it’s gonna be our offensive line is able to stay on blocks and control that line of scrimmage, because last Friday we did not.”