Battlefield junior lineman Brandon Dukeman says the reason his Bobcats, for the second consecutive year, were able to shake off a regular season loss to Hylton to knock off the undefeated Bulldogs in the playoffs is because they had a lot of time to improve between that three-touchdown loss Sept. 1 and the Virginia AAA Northwest Region Division 6 championship Saturday afternoon.
That’s all well and good. But No. 4 Hylton also had that same window of opportunity to improve, and probably did. Yet here the No. 11 Bobcats are again, after a 28-13 victory in Woodbridge, region champs for the third consecutive year, and winners of the game that really mattered against Hylton.
The Bulldogs’ only setbacks the past two seasons have been to Battlefield in the playoffs after beating the Bobcats during the regular season.
“I think we developed more as a team so everyone wasn’t really ready [the first time],” said Dukeman, a three-year starter. “This is our 12th game. Everyone’s ready to play. It’s just attitude.”
“We’ve gone through a lot together,” junior receiver-defensive end Nick Newman said. “We’ve gone through wins and losses. We’re a lot better team now.”
The Bobcats (10-2), with alumni on their sideline Saturday clad in back-to-back region champion T-shirts from last year, advance to host Oscar Smith at 1 p.m. Saturday in the state semifinals. Oscar Smith (12-1) won the Eastern Region title Friday night by edging Salem, 35-34.
Against Hylton (11-1), Battlefield senior running back Andrew Smith scored on a 43-yard run on his team’s first possession and returned a kickoff 84 yards to set up a score to start the second half.
Battlefield junior quarterback Ryan Swingle completed his first eight pass attempts, to five receivers, before throwing three interceptions in the final 3 minutes 39 seconds of the first half, one on a tipped pass and another that was like a long punt.
Until its final possession, Hylton’s only touchdown came off the first of those pickoffs, a 17-yard interception return by senior Chris Harris.
On its muddy home field, Hylton needed 27 rushes to bang out 77 yards, and Bulldogs sophomore quarterback Travon McMillian (27 offensive touchdowns) did not run or throw for a score in a game for the first time all season. In a 35-14 win over Battlefield on Sept. 1, McMillian ran for three scores.
Last season, the Bobcats lost to Hylton in late September and then posted a resounding 49-14 win in the region semifinals.
“Our goal at the beginning of the year is to make it to the playoffs,” Battlefield Coach Mark Cox said. “They understand that there are going to be some bumps in the middle of the road along the way. I think it hurts sometimes to not experience [defeat] during the year.”
Hylton has gone 21-2 the past two seasons, with both losses to Battlefield in the playoffs.
“On one hand, you run off 11 straight games, you’d kind of like that train to keep going,” Hylton Coach Tony Lilly said. “On the other hand, sometimes a loss gets you going.
“If the rest of my career here I go 11-0 and play in the regional finals, I’m not going to fight it, I can promise you that. . . . I’m proud of my guys. I’m real proud of them.”