As Hylton’s approximately two dozen seniors and their families ambled down the track during pregame senior night festivities Friday, Coach Tony Lilly intercepted each player near midfield with a doting handshake — and a clear message.
“Stay focused,” Lilly reminded his upperclassmen as they walked by. “Remember, we still have a job to do.”
The coach, a former Denver Broncos safety, was so preoccupied with the impending kickoff against Forest Park that he unknowingly ran off to gather his team before the final senior —Ibraaheem Kargbo — had his name called.
Despite a slow start, the Bulldogs kept on task, beating an upstart Bruins squad, 28-12, in the final game of the regular season.
Both teams qualify for the Virginia 6A South playoffs. Hylton (9-1, 9-1 Cardinal District) will host a first round matchup, while the Bruins (7-3, 7-3) will likely be on the road.
In the win, senior running back Renardo Willis carried 29 times for 140 yards and scored three touchdowns.
Willis benefited from the defensive attention commanded by senior quarterback Travon McMillian out of read-option sets.
“Defenses are keying on Travon, and if he carries out his fake, they don’t know I’m getting the ball,” Willis said. “It’s wide open.”
Forest Park sophomore Eric Kumah — who transferred from Hylton in September — scored both of the Bruins’ touchdowns, including a 65-yard kickoff return with 3 minutes 4 seconds left in the first half.
“If it’s Forest Park, Eric Kumah by himself, Woodbridge or Potomac, it doesn’t matter,” Burrell said. “We’re going to come out and compete every game.”
The Bruins defense hung tough in the first half, limiting McMillian to 54 rushing yards on 14 carries. Hylton tweaked its approach up front at halftime, aiming to spring hefty blockers like Burrell to the second level.
“Their linebackers were very involved in the game,” Lilly said. “So we made a few adjustments in our blocking scheme, getting guys up on their backers, and running lanes really started opening then.”
Willis knew it was matter of when — not if — the windows for big gains would open.
“We just believed in the offensive line, telling them to keep driving their legs, keep doing their thing, and I was going to find the hole and make the play,” he said.
In the postgame huddle, Lilly told his team they hadn’t peaked yet. And he said that fact is encouraging.
“It’s just the little things,” Burrell said. “Strapping our helmets on, running on and off the field. If we’re that much more consistent and do the little things right, we’ll have a big turnout [in the postseason].”