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head to head

Thursday, November 18, 2004; Page LZ10

LOUISA COUNTY (8-2) at No. 9 STONE BRIDGE (10-0)

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.


Khalil Conteh, Stone Bridge face Louisa's single-wing offense. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)

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Key Matchup

Louisa County running backs Rontray Houchens and Tank Christmas -- and the Lions' version of the single-wing offense -- against a Stone Bridge defense that is led by linebackers Khalil Conteh and Stephen O'Brien.

Louisa County second-year coach Mark Fischer said he got hooked on the single-wing offense after watching a documentary titled "Still Running" in 2001. Featured in that video was Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson.

"He's a movie star," Fischer said. "And I'm one of his disciples. Seriously, they do football right up there . . . and we're just striving to get our program where they already are."

Fischer seems to have succeeded in duplicating the system, with Houchens (2,163) and Christmas (1,043) having combined for 3,206 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns this season. And though Stone Bridge is very familiar with running the single-wing, it's not often that the Bulldogs must defend it.

"It'll be easier for us to duplicate it in practice, but it's still a pain to prepare for," Thompson said. "Now I know what everyone else goes through when they face us. It forces you to make some changes, and that takes a little extra time. But the key for our defense will be getting in their backfield and getting them before they get started. That's our focus."

Outlook: There's no doubt Houchens's rushing numbers are impressive. He totaled 324 yards in Louisa County's victory over Fluvanna in a must-win regular season finale that locked up the Lions' first AA Jefferson District title and their first playoff berth in 31 years. But Fischer also knows those numbers are a bit deceiving considering the caliber of play in the Jefferson compared with that in the Dulles District.

"Stone Bridge is so loaded, really, that they're out of our league," Fischer said. "If we can stay healthy and not get totally embarrassed, it'll be a good day for us. Don't get me wrong. This is a great opportunity for our kids, our team and our school. This is the first time since these kids have been alive that Louisa has been in the playoffs. So we've got nothing to lose. We're taking the approach to go out there and have fun. But we've got a long way to go before we'll be at their level."

Thompson isn't buying into Fischer's claim to be the heavy underdog, saying that once the playoffs have started, no team can be underestimated. But even Thompson must admit the Bulldogs' potent passing game should cause significant trouble for the undersize Lions. Stone Bridge senior Sean Ryan (school-record 2,502 yards of total offense) has thrown for 1,944 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. His favorite targets -- tight ends Brian Calloway (6-feet-4) and Ed Wang (6-6) and wide receiver Andrew Ryan (6-0) -- have combined for 100 catches, 1,495 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns.

"Pick your poison with those three," Fischer said. "I think I'm going to have to put my corners on each others' shoulders to even try to cover Wang because my tallest [defensive back] is only about 5-5.

"But what really makes their team special is their quarterback. Not many high school kids I've seen -- and I've seen a ton of them -- can look off a defensive back the way he can. He'll look hard, hard, hard to the right and then throw a rope to the left. And his release is so smooth and effortless. Everything is on the button with him. He's the real deal."

-- Angela Watts


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