Opposing defenses have a difficult choice to make when facing Oakton: Who do you try to stop?
Kelly Brooks-Muse did the damage in a season-opening win at Madison, snagging three touchdown catches. In a 55-7 win over Herndon last week, Mike Wandey stepped up with 160 rushing yards and two scores on just 10 carries. And all throughout the Cougars’ impressive 6-0 start, quarterback Kyle Downer has been dominant, throwing for 552 yards and nine touchdowns and running for 578 yards and 11 scores.
“We’ve done a great job of spreading the ball around so that teams can’t just key in on one thing,” Downer said. “Most of our points have come in the first half, which shows how much confidence we’ve built as a team.”
Oakton has outscored its last four opponents by a combined margin of 170-14. That’s as much a credit to the team’s defense, which has returned two interceptions for touchdowns and recorded two shutouts.
But up ahead is what Cougars Coach Jason Rowley calls “the gauntlet,” a four-game slate against Virginia AAA Concorde District foes all with at least a .500 record.
First up is a Homecoming matchup with Chantilly. The Chargers enter as the underdog after dropping their first district game last week to Westfield and losing starting outside linebacker Danny Farrell for the season with a broken collarbone. Still, Rowley expects nothing to come easy against a Chantilly option offense that possesses firepower similar to the Cougars’.
“Defending against their running game will be our main focus,” Rowley said. “Their quarterback, Sonny Romine, does a good job with the ball in his hands and they have a lot of weapons. I don’t know if we can stop them, but we will have to slow them down.”
No. 7 Westfield (6-0) and West Potomac (5-1) will get a brief break from their district schedules when they meet this Friday in Chantilly, but it’s still no time to rest for two squads looking to continue their hot starts. For Westfield, the onus will once again be on its defense, which will be called upon to slow Wolverines running back Demornay Pierson-el.
West Potomac Coach Jeremiah Davis is hoping for another big game from his wideout-turned-tailback, who has rushed for 1,036 yards and 20 touchdowns. But doing so could be a challenge against a Bulldogs’ defense that held its ground versus Chantilly last week, stuffing the Chargers’ rushing attack on their final drive to seal the win.
“Games like this are the ones that help us continue to grow up as a team,” Bulldogs Coach Kyle Simmons said after last week’s victory. “And with teams like West Potomac and Oakton up next, we have to keep getting tough and show that we have what it takes to be champions.” ...
After slow starts to the season, both Lake Braddock (4-2) and Robinson (3-3) enter their Friday contest riding win streaks. Home-field advantage could play a factor, as Robinson has yet to win on the road this season, but perhaps more important will be the can-you-top-this battle between two of the area’s top juniors.
For the Rams, tailback Joe Wilson is the unquestioned catalyst. The junior has rushed for 1,427 yards and accounted for all of Robinson’s offensive touchdowns during the last three games. But even if Wilson puts together his usual gaudy stats, Rams Coach Trey Taylor is challenging his defense to repeat last week’s second-half performance, when his unit held Centreville to one score and recovered the decisive fumble in overtime.
But slowing down quarterback Caleb Henderson will present an entirely different task for Robinson. The junior has kept defenses off-balance all season with his dual-threat ability, passing for 1,428 yards and 13 touchdowns to go with seven rushing scores.
The first half of Broad Run’s schedule was more of a wringer than the gradual build-up to the district slate that many teams enjoy. But after taking their lumps during a brutal three-game stretch that featured games against Ashburn unbeatens No. 2 Stone Bridge and No. 8 Briar Woods and a much-improved Woodbridge team, the Spartans (3-3) hope those early tests have prepared them for the next four weeks of AAA Cedar Run competition.
Last season, the Spartans built momentum against the same non-district competition, but with a younger, more inexperienced roster this fall, they struggled to get an early foothold. But Broad Run is coming off a pair of wins — the second a 34-20 victory against Patriot last week that included a surprise cameo from Robert Griffin III — and appears to be rounding into form.
“We’ve had our opportunities to grow up and mature a bit, and now we get to the point of the schedule that really matters,” Broad Run Coach Matt Griffis said. “But these teams will be tough.”
The crucial stretch run begins Friday at Osbourn — a team the Spartans beat by a touchdown in 2011, but one that features a number of players capable of exposing a defense that has struggled to get off the field at times this year.
“We just have to prevent the big plays, make them sustain drives,” Griffis said. “They’re electric. They have good athletes and in a second they can change the pace of the game with a big run or a big play.”
The Spartans hope to counter with their own ball-control offense, led by junior running back Corey Hilberath, who broke out with 178 yards and three touchdowns against Patriot. But rather than hand the ball to Hilberath another 27 times, Griffis wants to re-establish balance in his attack by giving emerging sophomore quarterback Brady Reitzel more opportunities to make plays down the field.
At the moment, the Spartans are one spot out of the Northwest Region Division 5 playoff field. But with the full district schedule remaining, they know precisely what they must do to return to the playoffs for sixth straight season: win.
“We’ll be able to gauge the rest of the district, put the pieces together and see where everybody stands,” Griffis said. “We’re about to find out what kind of team we have.”