When it comes to offense, the Yorktown game plan is far from a secret — and that’s just fine by Coach Bruce Hanson. After all, relying on the legs of junior running back M.J. Stewart has helped push the Patriots to 22 straight district regular-season victories and made them a strong contender in the Virginia AAA Northern Region.
But this year, there’s an added ingredient to Yorktown’s winning formula: Fullback Arturo Brown. The senior has totaled more than 100 yards in each of the Patriots’ three games this fall.
“It helps to have a dual threat, and we’re going to give them the ball as much as we can and hopefully get some yards,” Hanson said.
Racking up yards — and points — hasn’t been a problem for the Patriots thus far. Stewart and Brown have combined for 739 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on a squad that’s averaging nearly 51 points per contest.
Yorktown’s string of success, though, will be tested Friday when it travels to National District rival Hayfield (2-1) for what Stewart calls “the biggest game of the year.”
“I’m not saying the rest of our district is weak, but Hayfield is a tough team and it’s a game that everybody wants to see,” said Stewart, who is averaging 11.2 yards per carry.
Coming off last week’s 24-17 loss to Madison, Hayfield will be looking to bounce back behind its own high-powered offense. Hanson told his team this week that it must minimize the Hawks’ big-play ability, especially through the air. In other words, he will once again be leaning on Stewart, who also plays defensive back for the Patriots.
Both teams enter Friday’s rematch in Leesburg with perfect records and playoff aspirations, and on the same night Stone Bridge and Broad Run are set to clash in the rivalry nicknamed the “Battle of the ’Burn,” it’s the “Battle of the ’Burg” that could be the best ticket in Western Loudoun.
“To be honest, I think last year’s result surprised some people because no one really thought we were that good. That win kind of put us on the map,” Tuscarora Coach Mike Burnett said. “But now we have to show that we can win big games. Friday is the first step.”
To do that, the Huskies must slow Loudoun County senior running back Matt Arneson, who already has 521 yards and five touchdowns this season. A year ago Tuscarora limited County to just 61 yards on 28 carries — a total the Raiders must significantly boost to open up their offense.
“We have to keep them honest, and we have to force them to stop both elements of the game,” Loudoun County senior quarterback Jake Lokey said. “We’ve thrown a couple new plays in and we have a bunch of good pass plays, but establishing the run game makes it a lot easier on me.”
Lokey’s primary target through the air is 6-foot-1 senior wide receiver Brad Szoka, who already has six touchdowns this season, including a pair of punt returns for scores.
“He’s made some big plays for them and he’s very fast,” Burnett said. “And in a game that that you’d anticipate being a close game, one or two plays could change the whole game. So he’s a kid that you have to contain.”
Defensively, the Raiders must deal with a punishing Tuscarora ground attack built around sophomore Noah Reimers (54 carries, 413 yards, 8 touchdowns) and led by a bruising offensive line anchored by tackles Darius Anderson (6-4, 275) and Anders Peterson (6-5, 230).
For both teams, more is riding on this rematch than just a 4-0 record in the third installment of this budding rivalry.
“I think this game will let other teams know that Loudoun County is no joke — that we belong on the list of teams to watch out for,” Lokey said. “Everyone in Leesburg going to be at this game, and when it’s over, they’re going to be talking about it all week.”
And ‘everyone’ includes Lokey’s family, which will have split allegiances on Friday night. Lokey’s father, Eric, is the Raiders’ quarterback coach and will be on the home sideline, while his brother Caleb — a sophomore wide receiver on Tuscarora’s junior varsity team — will be cheering on the Huskies from the visitor’s side. As of Wednesday night, Lokey’s mother, Maureen, was still torn.
This season, the Stone Bridge offense has more closely resembled the high-octane Bulldogs of old.
While Stone Bridge averaged more than 30 points per game last season, there seemed to be some lack of versatility in what it could run. This fall, however, the Bulldogs have installed spread, single wing and empty backfield formations that keep opponents guessing.
The biggest key: Personnel. With senior Rassaun Goldring (166 yards rushing, four total touchdowns) and juniors Sterling Dailey (187 yards rushing, one touchdown) and D’Ante Yarborough (252 yards receiving, three total touchdowns), Stone Bridge (3-0) has the athletes that can break a big play at any time. And quarterback Ryan Burns, a Stanford recruit, has looked more comfortable in his second season as the starter.
“Last year, if teams gave us things we had guys able to take advantage with an eight or 10-yard gain,” Bulldogs Coach Mickey Thompson said. “Now it’s going to go. We have the athletes to break it. I think that’s the difference for us.”
Burns has been able to practice in a limited role, and Thompson said he expects him to play. If Burns can only go in some formations, however, the athletes allow Thompson to rotate players in and maintain the same play calling. Thompson’s son, freshman quarterback Joe Thompson, would likely step in in some formations if Burns is out.
With his team’s fiercest local rival on deck, Thompson said whoever gets the call at quarterback will be ready.
“I don’t see the hype that it had before, but I think the kids are excited in school, players are excited to play in it,” Thompson said. “Once they get there, it’s going to be fine. Right now we’re bored with the festivities and practice, and we’re ready to play the game.”