Hawks, Wildcats set for rivalry clash in regular season finale

Quentin Diggs

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline High School’s football team had the run of its cross-town rivalry with Warren County from 2012-15, winning four straight games over the Wildcats in that span, before Warren County got one back last season. The Hawks have had a full year to stew on that loss.

Skyline gets a shot at redemption on tonight when it hosts the Wildcats in a 7 p.m. regular season finale between the two Class 3 Northwestern District foes, and you can count senior running back Quentin Diggs among the many Hawks eager to exact that payback.

“We’ve been thinking about it ever since weight training over the summer, two-a-days. This is the game everybody looks forward to,” said Diggs earlier this week, adding that atmosphere in the annual rivalry game is unmatched by any other on Skyline’s schedule.

“Everything leading up to the game, the preparation for it, and then when game time comes you’re looking across the field and you see Warren County over there, something changes throughout the game.”

The Front Royal rivalry has almost always been a hotly contested one. Five of the last seven Skyline-Warren County matchups since 2010 have been decided by three points or less, and even the Wildcats’ 28-14 win last season was a touchdown game in the fourth quarter.

Brian Bush

Both teams entered last year’s game with 2-7 records and played for little more than bragging rights. The game gets a little refresher this season with both squads positioned to make the Region 3B playoff field, as the Wildcats enter the game ranked second in the region and Skyline seventh. For that fact, Warren County first-year head coach Brian Bush – who will get his first taste of the rivalry – said Friday night’s game means “a little bit more.”

“I’m excited,” Bush said. “To us, though, it’s just another game and it’s something that we have to take care of and finish out the season. I don’t really like the word ‘rivalry,’ but they are across town and we’re foes on the field and friends off the field. It should be one exciting atmosphere. Looking forward to having all of Front Royal out there, hopefully, and supporting both teams. It should be fun.”

Bush has rejuvenated Warren County (5-4, 3-1 in district) in 2017 after the team missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons, and the Wildcats could claim the Class 3 Northwestern District title with a win Friday night and a Culpeper County loss to William Monroe.

Bush has driven home the importance of maintaining a high energy level on the field since he took over the program in May, and Skyline (4-5, 2-2) head coach Heath Gilbert has taken note.

“We talk about it all the time, I love the enthusiasm of their kids,” Gilbert said. “You watch their sideline, we actually talk to our own kids about trying to be more team players. (The Wildcats) get excited about whatever’s happening on (the field). It’s obvious they don’t care who’s getting the ball and who’s making the plays and who’s doing what. They’re just excited that their team is having success. That’s a great atmosphere, a great attitude by their kids.

Heath Gilbert

“Coach Bush is a good guy. I mean I’ve only known him for a little while now but we did a couple youth conditioning camps together over the summer. I really enjoyed being around him. He’s a nice guy and he’s obviously doing a great job. I have a lot of respect for what they’re doing.”

Warren County’s formula on the field has included a stout defense that is allowing less than 250 yards per game and a running game led by 1,000-yard rusher Ronnie Dodson.

Gilbert, meanwhile, said Skyline needs to move past last week’s heartbreaking 22-21 loss to Brentsville while learning from the same mistakes that cost the Hawks in last year’s loss to Warren County.

“Ultimately the game’s gonna come down to this – they’re gonna run the football and we’ve gotta stop it,” added Gilbert, whose defense is allowing 242.7 yards rushing per game. “We wanna run the football and they’ve gotta stop us from running the football, because if we can run the football, everything else we wanna do with (quarterback Ryan Scott) and the receivers comes off that. That’s the bottom line.”

Skyline’s offense goes as Scott goes. The senior quarterback has passed for 1,463 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions and is the Hawks’ second-leading rusher (403 yards, seven touchdowns) behind Diggs’ 540 yards rushing.

Ben Vogt Rich Cooley/Daily

“When the play breaks down he’s able to make a play,” Bush said of Scott, who rushed for three touchdowns last week. “He’s seasoned. You can tell he’s played quite a few varsity football games before.”

Friday’s matchup could possibly be a primer for the first round of the Region 3B playoffs next week. Gilbert said the most likely scenario, regardless of who wins Friday night, is that Skyline travels to Warren County to open postseason play.

First, though, comes the regular-season finale.

“Everyone’s gonna come out excited,” Warren County senior receiver/defensive back Ben Vogt said, “both teams are gonna come out excited. Who can keep it going and who wants it more? That’s what it’s gonna come down to. Both teams are good. It’s gonna be a good game.”