Central and Skyline will both be looking to build off of victories when the two teams clash in Friday night’s non-district football game in Woodstock.
Central, which sat idle last week while taking a COVID-related forfeit win over Luray, last played a game on Oct. 2, when it surged away from Broadway in the second half for a 26-13 win in a rare midseason home opener.
Skyline, meanwhile, capped an emotional week with its first victory of the season last Friday, a 29-20 home win over William Monroe that the Hawks played in memory of former teammate Logan Maiatico, a 2021 graduate who died in a car accident four days earlier.
“Is this gonna be a one-time thing, for us to play with passion and heart like that,” Hawks head coach Heath Gilbert said on Wednesday, “or are we gonna be able to honor him the rest of the season? That’s definitely something we talked about from Day 1 this week and we’re hoping that it carries over.”
Skyline senior lineman Judd Schuman, for one, said the victory has helped get the Hawks’ “energy back up” in practice this week and that “we’re starting to get that momentum.”
Central’s last on-field performance is less fresh, and the Falcons (5-1) have experienced little in the way of consistency in regard to its schedule over the past month. Due to COVID-19 issues both within and outside of Central’s program, the Falcons have played just once since Sept. 17.
The Falcons treated last week like another bye week, head coach Mike Yew said on Tuesday, and spent much of the time revisiting the basics -- like form tackling, route running and extra passes for starting quarterback Ashton Baker -- before turning its full attention to Skyline this week.
Baker said Central has handled the erratic nature of its fall schedule well “for the most part.”
“Last year we battled a lot of adversity with the whole COVID thing and only getting to play four games, so I think that’s a big step for us. Everybody’s mentally prepared,” Baker said.
“Going through everything and through all the adversity everybody’s fought through and all that stuff, I’m just grateful we’re even out here playing right now,” he added.
Central and Skyline, two former district foes, have played annually since 2015 and have split those six meetings, with the Hawks winning each of the last two, including a 49-13 win in Front Royal last spring.
Both sides spoke of the physicality of the other this week, with Yew noting that past matchups with the Hawks have been “fist fights” that were “good, physical games for the kids.”
“They’re a very physical team,” Baker said of the Hawks. “It’s physical every time we play them. It’s a fun game for everybody. We know they’re gonna be pretty quick and pretty sound on both sides of the ball, so I think it’s a good matchup for us.”
“They’re a tough team,” Hawks senior lineman Judd Schuman said. “It’s gonna be one of the tougher games left on our schedule, definitely.”
The Hawks (1-4) felt they took some strides offensively last week as they continue to progress past the shock of losing senior quarterback Blake Appleton to another knee injury two weeks ago. Schuman said the offensive line was “amazing” in its blocking against Monroe and that he feels that unit is finding some consistency, while Gilbert added that the Hawks took better care of their assignments on that side of the ball.
Skyline’s offense will be without at least a few of its key weapons against Central, however.
Appleton, who tore his ACL last November and reinjured the same knee in a loss to Meridian on Oct. 1, recently had an MRI, Gilbert said, and though the head coach didn’t know the diagnosis on Wednesday, Gilbert noted that he and Appleton “kind of know what (doctors are) gonna tell us.”
Additionally, Elias Carter, the area’s leading receiver, is no longer with the team, Gilbert said, and versatile sophomore running back Aidan Vaught (512 rushing yards, 106 receiving yards, nine touchdowns) was banged up against Monroe and won’t play against Central if he’s not 100% come game time.
Vaught’s absence would create a bigger challenge for Skyline against Central’s defense. Spearheaded by leading tacklers Tyler Forbes (38), Isaiah Dyer (34) and Nathan Lopez (33) and eight interceptions, the Falcons are allowing just 13.4 points per game.
“We have to try to do what we can with the personnel that we have available to us, and that’s what we’re doing,” Gilbert said.
Senior Ethan Caperton, a receiver-turned-quarterback who filled in for Appleton in the spring, has assumed that same role for the Hawks and enters Friday’s game with 261 yards receiving, 207 yards passing and 54 yards rushing.
Yew said he expects Skyline, which is averaging 23.4 points per game, to do many of the same things it did last week offensively.
“The Caperton kid obviously is a good athlete, so they put him back there and he can make things happen with his feet and his arm. They’re gonna motion. They’re gonna try to get you in situations where they outnumber you,” Yew said. “We’ve got to be prepared for a whole wide variety of what Skyline will do.”
Central’s offense, which is averaging 311.4 yards per game, starts with Dyer, a senior running back who leads the area in rushing yards (520) and rushing touchdowns (seven), and a power-running game that is generating 206.8 yards on the ground per contest.
“He’s a tough, tough kid,” Gilbert said. “He’s physical. He’s got enough juice there that he can make some things happen if he gets a seam. And the sophomore fullback (Forbes), I like him. I mean he hits people. We’ve been telling the kids you can’t sleep on this kid thinking he’s a sophomore and he’s gonna be a pushover. That’s not the case at all.”
Baker, who has passed for 477 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions and rushed for 177 yards and a score, has made plays with his arm and his legs this fall and has a big-play threat at receiver in senior Caleb Daugherty, who is averaging 37.1 yards per reception and has four TD catches.
Gilbert said playing against Monroe’s I-formation offense was a good prelude to Friday’s matchup against Central and noted that the key Friday night was “being tough” against a Falcon offense that wants to lean on its running game. Skyline, led by Dustin Gue’s area-best 62 tackles, is allowing 341.2 yards and 39.2 points per game.
“Coach Yew’s teams are gonna challenge you physically and you have to be ready to match it,” Gilbert said. “We understand what we’re gonna get, and we have to stop the dive and iso first, then everything else is gonna come off that. If we struggle to stop those two plays, it’s gonna be tough for us.”