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Watson, offensive line carry Falcons past Hawks

Central fullback Chris Conner (31) runs past the Skyline defense on Friday night in Front Royal. Conner helped lead the Falcons to a 43-0 win over the Hawks. Courtesy photo/Ken Pullen

FRONT ROYAL – It’s no secret that the offensive line is one of Central’s biggest strengths. On Friday night, the Falcons’ offensive line showed just how dominant they can be.

The Falcons ran the ball for almost 400 yards en route to a 43-0 non-district football victory over Skyline.

Central running back Shane Watson was the biggest benefactor of the offensive line. The senior ran for 257 yards on 21 carries and had three rushing touchdowns.

“I would just like to thank my line and everybody else that blocked,” Watson said. “The wide receivers got their blocks. The linemen got their blocks and we did great. We played hard and I believed in every player and we did good.”

One play that illustrated the dominance of Central’s offensive line came on the first play of the Falcons’ second drive.

Central running back Shane Watson (22) weaves his way through the Skyline defense on Friday night in Front Royal. Watson ran for 157 yards in Central's 43-0 victory over Skyline. Courtesy photo/Ken Pullen

Watson ran 28 yards to the Skyline 37-yard line, but the offensive line got behind Watson and helped push Skyline’s pile of tacklers down the field for over 10 yards on the play.

“That happened last year (against Skyline) and that’s kind of ironic that it happened again,” Central coach Mike Yew said. “Shane is low to the ground, so it’s hard for people to get low on him. And if they hit him high, he’s got great balance and he just keeps up. And the next thing you know you got 10-to-12 guys in a scrum and they’re going down the field.”

Watson said it was a lot of fun being in the pile and having his teammates to help him keep going.

“It’s amazing,” Watson said with a smile. “You just hear everybody screaming and you’re dragging people. Nothing like it, there’s nothing like it. It’s definitely a once in a lifetime feeling.”

Central was playing without one of its starting offensive lineman, Ezra Smith, who was out due to illness. Central senior Zach Helmick stepped in and the group didn’t miss a beat.

Central senior offensive lineman Jacob France said he was happy with all the unit performed.

“It’s amazing,” France said. “I’ve got to give credit to (offensive linemen) Grayson Manning, Declan Franklin, Zach Helmick and Camden Zirk. You know we all showed up here knowing that if we win the battle up front, we win the game, and I think we proved that that’s the truth.”

Central scored on its first six possessions of the game and it wasn’t all just with the running game. Central starting senior quarterback Zeb Dyer threw for 53 yards, while junior quarterback Kelan Hoover threw for 25 yards. All-purpose threat Kyle Clanton scored a 17-yard touchdown run on a reverse and five different players had catches. Eight different players carried the ball, including junior Chris Conner (8 carries for 71 yards and 2 touchdowns).

Yew said it was important for the Falcons to spread things around and get everyone involved.

“Everybody knows that we have a pretty good offensive line and a big bruising tailback, but we also have Kyle Clanton,” Yew said. “And we’ve got to make sure that Chris Conner’s getting involved. That T.J. Williams is getting involved. That Nick Houghton’s getting involved. That Christian Spitler’s getting involved. The more we get those guys involved the better we’re going to be. And people will have to game plan for us better.”

Central’s defense held Skyline to less than 100 yards of offense. Central also got a safety in the fourth quarter as senior defensive lineman Neddy Portillo sacked Skyline quarterback Chase Tasker in the end zone.

Yew said he was happy with his defense, which was short-handed due to injuries to linebackers Zach Abrams and Hunter Mullins. Yew said that both of them might be back practicing next week.

Skyline coach Heath Gilbert said that his team has to put the loss behind them and get ready for the next game.

“This is one step, we have nine more to go,” Gilbert said. “This is not going to define us. We’re going to keep battling. We’re going to get better.”

One bright spot for the Hawks was the play of wide receiver L.T. Barber. The junior three receptions for 67 yards.

Gilbert said he was also proud of the way his players battled through the whole game. Late in the third quarter, the Hawks stopped the Falcons’ offense for the first time with a goal-line stand. Skyline senior defensive back Austin Hickman also kept Watson from scoring another touchdown by bringing him down at the Skyline 3-yard line on a 57-yard run.

“I feel like our kids didn’t quit and lay down,” Gilbert said. “They were outmatched at times with some situations and we didn’t quit. When Austin Hickman runs (Watson) down and we get a goal-line stand and hold ’em out. Where it would have been easy to just be like ‘oh gosh, just let ’em score.’ And that wasn’t their attitude, so that was positive.”

Skyline plays at Broadway next week. Central plays at Shenandoah County rival Stonewall Jackson.

The Falcons got exactly the kind of win they were hoping for and are feeling good about the season ahead.

“We came ready to play, and that’s what I expect the rest of the season,” Watson said. “I’m so pumped, it’s exciting. Senior year and just coming out first game and just smacking ’em. It’s just great.”