Rejuvenated Hawks travel to James Wood hunting second straight win
FRONT ROYAL – It’s said that winning cures a lot of ailments, and Skyline’s football team was certainly in a better place this week as it prepared for tonight’s Week 3 matchup with James Wood.
The Hawks, who took a beating in their season opener two weeks ago and spoke openly of their lack of mental focus afterward, rebounded last week to pick up their first win of 2018 with a 21-20 victory on the road at Broadway last weekend.
How the Hawks won that game – with an inspiring display of resiliency – added to the win’s healing powers. The game against the Gobblers required two days to complete after persistent lighting postponed the contest midway through the second quarter last Friday night, meaning Skyline had to make a return trip to Broadway on Saturday morning. The Hawks saw a tie game turn into a 20-7 Broadway lead but gathered themselves and came alive late offensively, striking for two touchdowns in the final seven minutes of the game to complete the comeback.
Hawks head coach Heath Gilbert said on Wednesday the feeling on the field after that win was “fantastic,” and that mood spilled over into Skyline’s week of practice as they prepped for tonight’s 7 p.m. kickoff at James Wood.
“It boosted our confidence, definitely,” Hawks senior wide receiver/defensive back Caleb Reedy said. “Coming back on Saturday was rough for us but we got out there and performed just like I thought we would, and came back and beat a good team. I was very pleased with our effort that day.”
Skyline (1-1) is hoping to keep it going against the Colonels (0-2), a team that failed to hold its own two-touchdown lead in the second half in a 28-21 loss to Justice last Thursday.
Skyline, which had less than 100 yards of offense against Central in Week 1, had mustered only 81 yards against Broadway before putting together a 94-yard TD drive fueled by several big plays in the fourth quarter to pull within a score. A Gobblers fumble on their next possession set up the Hawks’ go-ahead touchdown with 3:04 remaining in the game.
Skyline senior receiver/defensive back L.T. Barber, who caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chase Tasker to cap the 94-yard drive, said the Hawks found life on offense after cutting down on penalties, something they need to continue against Wood.
“The key will be to keep our head in the game and focus on what we’re doing, make plays,” Barber said.
James Wood has beaten Skyline in each of the past two seasons, including a 28-22 overtime win in Front Royal last year, which marked the second time in three meetings the two teams needed overtime to determine a winner.
The Colonels this time around come into the contest after blowing a 21-7 halftime lead at Justice, a game in which James Wood lost six fumbles.
Wood second-year coach Ryan Morgan, whose team also fell in lopsided fashion to Sherando in the season opener, called his team’s lack of ball security against Justice a “weird occurrence.”
“We really haven’t had many issues in practice with fumbles. We didn’t really have issues in scrimmages with fumbles. We didn’t have a problem against Sherando with ball security. It was kind of a freak thing,” Morgan said.
“We do have to get better at it. There were some times where we were carrying the ball loosely. The one thing that I think might have been a factor that we just have to play through is that it was so hot and the kids were so sweaty it was hard to get their arms and their hands dry. … Obviously we’re going to be playing in the rain and the mud later in the year and we have to shore up our ball security.”
James Wood also played last week’s contest without some key players due to injury, including quarterback Carson Hoberg, running back/defensive back William Crowder, two-way lineman Luke Roy and running back/linebacker Joey Vitola. Morgan said he hoped to get some of those players back this week, and Gilbert said the Hawks spent the week preparing as if Crowder, a key offensive weapon in the Colonels’ run-heavy offense, would play tonight.
Junior running back Jackson Turner shouldered the load for James Wood in Crowder’s absence last week, carrying 20 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
Crowder, who was injured in the first half of Wood’s Week 1 contest, led the Colonels with 69 yards rushing in last year’s win over Skyline, a game in which James Wood finished with 288 yards on the ground.
Skyline’s defense has struggled against the run in recent seasons, and the Hawks surrendered nearly 400 yards rushing to Central in Week 1 before allowing 150 yards and two TDs to Broadway running back Brandon Cruz last weekend.
The Hawks’ run defense will be tested again tonight by a Colonels team that Gilbert said boasts plenty of size up front.
“They’re huge,” Gilbert said. “They like to run the football and they do it well. We’ve gotta play tough. We’ve gotta play tough, we’ve gotta play physical and if we don’t they’re gonna run the ball for a whole lot of yards. I know Crowder didn’t play (against Justice) but you saw him when he touched the ball in the Sherando game, how explosive he is. He has elite speed and we’ve gotta be ready to take good angles to tackle him, for sure. They’re very dangerous on offense. I think they play tough, they’re flying to the ball on defense. They’ve got a good group of kids. You don’t see anybody loafing on the back side or anything like that. Their kids are hardnosed.”
James Wood has had extra time to prepare for tonight’s game having played two full days before Skyline last week, but Gilbert said he didn’t think that would have an effect on the contest.
“Maybe for them, but it also (could) feel like you haven’t played forever either,” he said. “I feel like we’re in a pretty good groove. The biggest issue these last two weeks is the weather, not being able to put pads on (due to the heat).”
Both Barber and Reedy said Skyline’s primary goal is to go into the contest with sharp mental focus and toughness.
“I think that’s our main key with our team anyway is coming into the game knowing we should get a victory and coming out strong,” Reedy said. “Playing tough and playing the mental game of football.”
Winchester Star sports editor Walt Moody contributed to this story.