FRONT ROYAL — Skyline got a much-needed win last week and now the Hawks are looking to build on that success tonight.
The Hawks host William Monroe in another key Class 3 Northwestern District football contest. The game is also homecoming for Skyline.
“We came off a big win this week and before that we had three losses in a row,” Skyline sophomore quarterback Blake Appleton said before Monday’s practice. “So it was a district win. It was a big win not just for me, but the coaches, the team, just to get everybody back on the right track. So I’m excited for this week.”
The Hawks (3-3, 1-0 Class 3 Northwestern) pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 35-21 victory over Central last week to snap their three-game losing streak. Appleton was a big part of that as he ran for a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass in the final quarter.
Appleton said the whole team played well, not just him, but he said he enjoys making plays in critical situations.
“I was excited,” Appleton said of his play in the fourth quarter against Central. “I just know that big-time players make big-time plays. So I try to do what I can, try to be clutch when it matters.”
The Hawks have a young squad, but Appleton said that shouldn’t limit what the team is capable of this season. Appleton said he’s trying to make the most of this season no matter how young he is.
“A lot of people say juniors and seniors usually start, it’s not usually a sophomore starting,” Appleton said. “So it’s definitely a great experience and I take it as an opportunity to better myself, better my team. Just because we’re a young team this year doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a good year.”
Skyline head football coach Gilbert said the win over Central was a big confidence booster for the team, especially after losing three straight games.
“You lose three games in a row, you worry about where their confidence is and how much they are still believing in themselves,” Gilbert said. “So getting the victory just helps build them up. It’s hard for a kid to see even though we’re not winning these games ,we’re still doing some positive things. But it’s outcome based. They want to see the scoreboard in their favor. So as a coach we can see those things, but it’s hard for a player to feel good about what direction we’re headed, even though we’re losing.”
Gilbert said that William Monroe is very similar to Central in terms of formation, which will be good for his team since they had some alignment mistakes against the Falcons last week. This week’s game will be a good opportunity for his team to correct the mistakes they made last week and show improvement.
The Dragons (2-4, 0-1 Class 3 Northwestern) are led by senior running back Dupree Rucker, who had back-to-back 200-yard rushing games earlier this season. Senior quarterback Jared Knights and junior wide receiver Logan Barbour are a formidable combination in the passing game.
“Offensively they have a really talented running back (Rucker) — he’s the key,” Gilbert said. “Their passing game is effective. One of their wide receivers does a great job of high-pointing the ball. So he goes up and gets it. The offensive line, defensive line, those guys are two way-starters. So they have a good group of linemen that we have to be ready to combat. They’re going to be fresh for four quarters. They have a big fullback (senior Philip Shifflett). I see some similarities with our guys in some things that they do. They like to run the dive stuff and off tackle runs.”
The Hawks have been solid this year defensively, but have played a tough schedule against quality teams and are giving up 37.8 points per game. Senior linebacker David Carter has led the way with 52 tackles and junior defensive lineman Will Wolf has six sacks.
Skyline’s offense has been led by Appleton (77-of-132 for 962 yards passing and 11 touchdowns), but he has plenty of playmakers around him. Junior wide receiver Marion ‘Budder’ Haley has an area-best 36 receptions for 538 yards and nine touchdowns. Junior Logan Maiatico has 23 catches for 267 yards and two touchdowns. Maiatico has also run for 326 yards on 48 carries and three touchdowns. Skyline’s running game has been led by senior Darion Santucci with 360 yards on 59 carries with five touchdowns.
Gilbert said the Hawks ran for over 200 yards against Central, but also had around 50 yards in penalties on holding plays, which negated some big plays.
He said he feels like the play of the offensive and defensive lines will make a big difference in all of the Class 3 Northwestern District games this season.
“It’s going to come down to the team who can execute the best, who can win in the trenches,” Gilbert said. “I felt like that was a big difference for us against Central, especially in the past. And we were able to run for more years and hold them to less rushing yards. And in the end, it turned out to be the difference in that game.”
Gilbert said that William Monroe’s defense is going to be a big test for his offense. He said he believes that the Dragons have at least five players on defense that should be considered for the All-Class 3 Northwestern District team. Gilbert said that the Dragons are very aggressive on defense and like to bring pressure.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Gilbert said. “They can run, they’re tough. They have a mindset of attacking with their zero coverage and getting in your face. So Blake (Appleton) (and wide receivers) Budder (Haley) and Logan (Maiatico) and Ethan Caperton and Anthony Domino they’re going to have to make plays against this pressure.”
If the first week of district play is an example of what is to come, the Class 3 Northwestern District is up in the air with many close games ahead. The Dragons lost to Brenstville by 3 points, while Warren County beat George Mason by 4 points.
Gilbert said homecoming week can be a distraction, but he wants his team to enjoy it while also staying focused on the Dragons.
“I want the kids to have fun,” Gilbert said. “I want them to experience everything. We want our seniors to have this win, so anytime they come back, they remember that they represented their school and their community and they won their homecoming game. I want them to be proud of that. Hopefully they don’t get too over the top with it, especially on Friday. It’s going to be capped off with a pep rally (Friday) and once school is over, now we think about football only. It’s fun for them dressing up, decorating hallways, having powder puff games — guys coach that. Being a main leader, doing whatever they’re doing, it’s great. It’s great high school community fun and spirit. I’m all for it.
“But when it comes to Friday night, we need to be all about Monroe, because they’re not going to be worried about that. They’re just coming here to kick our butt. So we have to have our mind right.”