FRONT ROYAL -Sometimes high school football teams use their annual homecoming game as motivation. Other times the activities of the week become a distraction.
Unfortunately the latter seemed to be case for the Skyline Hawks, who lost their homecoming game Friday 41-27 to the William Monroe Dragons.
The Hawks were whistled for 110 yards of penalties, including several personal fouls, and others at the most inopportune time.
“It’s mind boggling,” Skyline coach Heath Gilbert said. “We’ve been rocking our ‘unnecessary penalty club’ all year and it’s frustrating that we keep doing it. We just kept hurting ourselves with penalties and we can’t just keep up giving up that kind of yardage.”
Gilbert installed the ‘unnecessary penalty club’ at Skyline several years ago as a way to curb silly penalties, making the offenders and the team do extra drills during practice to help discipline the infractions.
But against the Dragons on Friday, several ‘unnecessary’ penalties led to the Hawks disappointing defeat.
A key example came in the third quarter.
With the Hawks trailing 27-17 at the half, William Monroe (3-4) took the opening second half kick and held onto the ball the entire quarter, reeling off five first downs.
The Hawks (3-4) appeared to have the stop they needed early in the drive, forcing a fourth-and-six at the Dragons 40.
William Monroe lined up to punt, but the Hawks inexplicably jumped offside to give the Dragons a short fourth-and-one.
The Dragons pulled the punt team off and decided to go for the first down, which they picked up when Dupree Rucker rambled for 10 yards.
The Dragons overcame two holding penalties on the drive and converted a pair of long third down situations into first downs to keep the Hawks off the field.
As the quarter ended, the Dragons had a first-and-goal at the Skyline six.
“In my 21 years as a coach, I’ve never seen anything like that,” Gilbert said of the Dragons possessing the ball the entire quarter. “We had a stop and then the special teams made a silly mistake. It’s frustrating when you jump offside like that. We need to more disciplined.”
Three plays later in the fourth quarter, Dragons quarterback Jared Knights plowed across the goal line to make the score 34-17.
Possessing the ball for the first time in the second half with 10:14 left in the game, Skyline struck quickly as sophomore quarterback Blake Appleton found receiver Logan Maiatico behind the Dragons defense for a long completion.
Maiatico juked out a pair of William Monroe defenders and took the catch to the house for a 65-yard touchdown.
The Hawks got a break on the Dragons next possession when they recovered a fumble on a high snap over the punters head.
Starting at the Dragons 13, Skyline could net only six yards on the ground and had to settle for a Doug Cummings 24-yard field goal to cut the lead to 34-27.
Skyline forced a punt on the Dragons next possession but a 51-yard boot left the Hawks to start the potential game-tying drive from their own 23.
Disaster struck on the next play as Appleton, under heavy pressure, forced a throw down the middle that was intercepted by Brandon McDonald.
Taking over with 3:25 left in the game, the Dragons put the game away as Dupree rushed five times for the remaining 46 yards, capping if off with a 13-yard score.
Dupree hurt the Hawks the entire game with his quick acceleration and shifty moves. The senior ran for 230 yards on 36 carries and four touchdowns.
“I thought we were prepared — we had our best practices of the year this week on defense,” Gilbert said. “I thought we matched up well. It’s disappointing that we didn’t (stop them).”
Skyline took the opening possession of the game and marched downfield as Appleton capped the drive with a 15-yard TD pass to Marion ‘Budder’ Haley.
The Dragons responded on their first drive, marching downfield behind the running of Dupree, going 61 yards in six plays.
Dupree struck again early in the second quarter with a 23--yard TD run to make the score 14-7 William Monroe.
Disaster struck again on the next Skyline possession. Forced to punt from their own nine yard line, William Monroe blocked the punt and recovered it in the end zone to take a 21-7 lead.
Appleton helped the Hawks cut the score to 21-14 when he again found Maiatico for a 28-yard touchdown pass.
Once again the Hawks defense couldn’t stop the Dragons on their next possession.
A pair of personal fouls and a dubious pass interference call against the Hawks allowed the Dragons to move downfield and Dupree once again capped off the drive darting across the goal line for a 4-yard score.
The Hawks outgained the Dragons 296-289, but the penalties and mistakes were too much to overcome.
“This game was so special for our seniors on senior night and homecoming,” a frustrated Gilbert said after the game. “We wanted it for them and the team. We knew every game would be tough.”
With Region 3B wide open for playoff positioning, each of the remaining three games for the Hawks will carry equal importance.
Up next for Skyline is a road trip to George Mason, then Brentsville the following week.
The Hawks season finale will be at home against arch-rival Warren County.
“We know how important each game is, we can’t go into the tank,” Gilbert said. “We need to go down there and get a win.”
Appleton was 10-for-18 for 201 yards, with three touchdown passes and the lone interception.
Haley set the Hawks’ all-time record for receptions in a season for Skyline, grabbing five passes for 85 yards.
Maiatico caught three passes for 101 yards and two TDs.