FRONT ROYAL – After falling to a physically superior Brentsville squad on the road last week, Warren County’s football team is hoping that the playing field is a little bit more even tonight.

The Wildcats return home for a 7 p.m. homecoming contest against Meridian (formerly George Mason), still seeking their first win after an 0-5 start to the season. Warren County’s latest setback, a 35-0 defeat, came at the hands of a team that head coach Jerry Sarchet said on Tuesday was simply bigger, faster and stronger than the Wildcats.

“Meridian matches up better with us size-wise,” said Sarchet, whose team is seeking its first win at home since beating Meridian in October 2019. “The issue we had with Brentsville upfront was they were 40, 50 pounds heavier than our kids. We match up more favorably (this week), so we’ll see how it goes.”

The 2021 fall season has been a struggle so far for Warren County (0-1 Class 3 Northwestern District), which hasn’t scored a point in three games and has been outscored 124-18 this fall. Sarchet said his players have handled the rough start well, noting that “they keep coming back” and continuing working, a sentiment shared by junior lineman D.J. Rizzo.

“It’s hard being 0-5,” Rizzo said, “but I think as a team we’re still so inspired to get that first win and I think this week is gonna be a really big motivation just because it’s homecoming week and we’re playing against (Meridian). Last year our game against (Meridian) didn’t go so well (a 48-8 Mustang win in Falls Church in March), so we have that kind of revenge spirit and I think we’ve used that for every other game that we’ve played. I think that’s what keeps us motivated – and the support from our fans.”

Meridian (4-2, 1-1), which opened Class 3 Northwestern District play with a 23-20 loss to Brentsville two weeks ago, is looking for its second district win over a Front Royal school in as many weeks after piling up the points in a 61-40 win over Skyline last Friday, a game that Sarchet said appeared to just get away from the Hawks. (Skyline lost QB Blake Appleton to a demoralizing injury in the second quarter after building a 12-0 lead.)

The Mustangs capitalized on five Skyline turnovers in that victory and also returned the Hawks’ onside kick for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Meridian, which runs the double-wing under head coach Adam Amerine, finished with 409 yards of offense – including 254 rushing – and scored three offensive touchdowns of 26 yards or longer.

“Their skill kids are very good,” Sarchet said, adding that the Mustangs experienced some turnover along their offensive line since the spring season. “Last year their offensive line was probably the second-best in the district after Skyline. But now they’ve turned over their offensive line, but yes, they have skill kids. It’s gonna be interesting because the game, where it really happens, where the tone is set is upfront, and I’m confident about our front being able to handle their front. Now, our skill kids matching their skill kids? Our front’s just got to do their job.”

Warren County’s defense, which has held three of its five opponents to 21 points or fewer, will have plenty of experienced weapons to account for in Meridian’s offense.

Eight different Mustangs carried the football against Skyline and four of them – seniors Graham Felgar (69 yards, two TDs), Patrick Whitaker (51 yards), Griffin Harrison (46 yards, two TDs) and George Papadopoulos (35 yards, one TD), whom Sarchet called one of the best players in the district – rushed for at least 35 yards.

Felgar, who also recovered a fumble in the end zone for a score against the Hawks, added touchdown catches of 59 and 33 yards last week as senior quarterback Evans Rice, a four-year starter, completed 4 of 6 passes for 155 yards. All four of Rice’s completions went for at least 30 yards.

Sarchet said Warren County’s defensive backs have to read their keys and can’t get caught peeking into the backfield, while the Wildcats’ defensive line needs to put pressure on Rice.

“We have to have a lot of eye discipline this week,” Rizzo said. “They do a lot of stuff in the backfield that could confuse us, but I think that we’ll be fine as long as we keep our eye on the ball, keep our eye on the players that are eligible.”

Warren County’s single-wing offense, which hasn’t scored since the fourth quarter of a Week 2 loss to Hedgesville (West Virginia), underwent some tweaks last week as sophomore tailback P.J. Dellinger took over the primary passing responsibilities. He completed 3 of 10 passes for 56 yards in the loss to Brentsville and was also the team’s leading rusher with 67 yards on 16 carries.

“He’s always been in the mix,” Sarchet said of Dellinger. “He just hasn’t thrown the ball as much. Last year he was our wingback. Earlier in the season, we had both he and Nick (Foltz in the backfield), but we’re just looking to take some pressure off the offensive line having to protect so long. He’s able to move in the pocket more and get out there and do some things.”

Sarchet said that although the score didn’t show it last week, the Wildcats – whose leading rushers this season are Dellinger (198 yards) and two freshmen, Gavin Dodson (153) and Christian Weller (78 yards) – showed improvement on offense and cut down on the mistakes and penalties that had plagued them through the early part of the season.

He added that he wants to see the Wildcats play with passion this week.

“It’s homecoming, so they’ll be excited,” Sarchet said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Meridian. They’re real disciplined and they kind of just stay with it. And they’re 4-2 for a reason.”

Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com