* BACKFIELD IN MOTION: Hylton sophomore Ahmad Brooks is considered such a talent that area coaches sometimes mention the linebacker/receiver without even being asked about him. Brooks's name just seems to wriggle its way into conversation.
So it should come as little surprise that Hylton found a way to make the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Brooks a greater part of its offense Friday night by inserting him at fullback for the first time this season. Brooks gained 31 yards and helped block for his teammates, and his physical presence provided one more defensive worry in the Bulldogs' 20-0 Northwestern Region Division 6 semifinal win over Gar-Field.
Brooks, best known for his linebacking, has rotated in at receiver this season, and has caught nine passes. But because the Bulldogs depend on him so much on defense, they were reluctant to have him take on too great an offensive role.
"At the start of the season, we were getting cramps from playing on one side of the ball because we weren't in good shape," Coach Bill Brown said. "At middle linebacker, he's running to the ball every snap. To flip him over on offense at any position . . . until he got in great condition, that's extremely hard to do. We're asking an awful lot of him even at this point in the season."
The Bulldogs are quite deep at running back, and that depth continued to show itself Friday night. Junior D.J. Walton (94 yards) is a given, but his supporting cast has evolved. Greg Kantz, the starting fullback last year as a junior, could not play this season because of an injury suffered in lacrosse. Juniors Karibi DeDe and Jason Kaminski have stepped into the fullback spot.
Senior Chris Fields hurt his ankle at the end of a 14-yard run in the season opener at Petersburg--his first carry of the season--and has taken weeks to regain top form. He gained 55 yards in the region semifinal playing in place of senior Quintin Beltran, who was out with an ankle injury.
As effective as the backs have been, Brown still sees room for improvement.
"The kids are getting all these accolades for carrying the ball, but I think we could have blocked a lot better at the running back position," he said.
* STRONG DEFENSE: It is because of such a talented offense that the Hylton defense has been a bit of an afterthought, despite allowing just 102 points this season, many of them with the game well in hand.
"The offense has so many weapons and big-play capabilities, I think it's overshadowed our defense," Brown said. "The defense has been consistent all year long."
When Hylton played Gar-Field during the regular season, the Bulldog defensive linemen were unable to fend off the Indians' front line. That, in turn, tied up the linebackers and prevented them for making tackles. On Friday night, the Hylton defensive front kept things clear for linebackers Kaminski, Brooks and Melvin Butler.
Gar-Field gained just four first downs and 88 rushing yards on 27 carries.
"They played the same defense they did the first time, they just did it better," said Indians Coach Tony Labozzetta, whose team had moved the ball much more steadily in a 17-16 regular season overtime loss to Hylton.
Hylton's alignment Friday worked wonderfully against Gar-Field's running attack. But for the region championship, the Bulldogs will have to come up with something radically different to defend North Stafford's passing game.
"What we did [Friday] night would be a waste of time," Brown said.
* PINNED BACK: Hylton dominated the region semifinal both offensively and defensively. But much of that domination stemmed from the poor field position Gar-Field found itself in most of the game.
The Indians began their possessions at their own 25-, 11-, 24-, 20- and 20-yard lines, then at midfield (after recovering a fumble), and then back at their own 3- and 27-yard lines. Hylton's first two scoring drives were of 37 yards and 56 yards.
"The whole night we were down on our end," Labozzetta said.
That was due in great part to the lofty kickoffs of Hylton senior Andy Wilfong, as well as a couple of well-placed punts by senior Kenny Irby.
Wilfong "just gets them so high," Brown said. "If you do catch it, you know Ahmad Brooks, Karibi DeDe and Alex Mason are coming because you've seen it on film. I don't think that'd be a comfortable position to be in. It stays up there so long it's almost like a punt."
* BRIGHT FUTURE: Other than its offensive line and linebackers, Gar-Field entered the season with a lot of unknowns. Next fall, those two areas will be among the Indians' greatest concerns, but the skill positions will be more settled.
"At the beginning of the year, not many people probably expected us to do as well as we did," Labozzetta said of the Indians' 8-3 season. Two of the losses were to Hylton, the other to Annandale.
On offense, Gar-Field will return quarterback Ryan Smith, 900-yard rusher Jamar Atkinson, leading receiver Justin Smith, fullback Greg Johnson and kicker Scott Gvozdas, among others. Freshman running back Rasheed McClaude carried three times in the region semifinal.
* WINNING ON THE GROUND: North Stafford pulled out a 23-21 win over George Washington-Danville for the first playoff victory in school history. And perhaps most important, the Wolverines reminded themselves that they can win even without a calculator-abusing statistical night from senior quarterback Chris Ashinhurst.
Senior running back Allen Woodbridge carried 25 times for 97 yards and three touchdowns, and the defense, starting three sophomores and a freshman, came up with several crucial stops. In recent weeks, Ashinhurst had been rewriting record books, and games had been all but over by halftime.
"A lot of teams look at us as just a passing team," said Ashinhurst, who with his 147 yards on Friday established the state record for passing yards in a season. "We showed that Allen Woodbridge can carry this team as well as anybody else can."
Coach Chris Beatty said the Wolverines dropped some passes early and that perhaps Ashinhurst was not as sharp as usual. Those factors, combined with Danville being geared to stop the pass, prompted North Stafford to call on the Boston College-bound Woodbridge.
"Normally we go out and use the pass to set up the run," Beatty said. Friday "we kind of did it the other way."
Defensively, the Wolverines loaded up to stop the run, and did so effectively for most of the game. Freshman Tony Evans forced a fumble at the 1-yard line that resulted in a touchback for the Wolverines. Two other times in the second half, GW-Danville missed field goals.
Meanwhile, North Stafford senior Jeremey Bosken not only made a field goal that turned out to be the decisive points, he made two key tackles on kickoff returns.
"On one he dove straight into the guy," Beatty said. "There aren't too many kickers who will do that."
Bosken's field goal was his sixth of the season, a school record.
* GOOD CALL: For much of last week, Beatty kept hearing about what a mistake it was to spend Thursday night in Danville instead of driving 4 1/2 hours Friday, the day of the game.
"Everybody said that wasn't the thing to do," Beatty said. "It's amazing how many people can tell you what to do when they haven't been there to do it themselves."
"It was a good decision," Ashinhurst said. "We were able to rest. After riding on a bus for four or five hours, your legs are stiff and you're still tired, even if you slept on the bus."
The players spent most of Friday either in team meetings or watching football movies "The Program" and "Varsity Blues."
"At least we were still thinking about football," joked Ashinhurst of the cinematic choices that occupied the team's free time.
"We wanted it to be like the movies, to come out on top," Woodbridge said.
BY THE NUMBERS
2: Losses incurred this season by George Washington-Danville to Prince William/Stafford area schools, and also the point differential in those losses--9-7 to Gar-Field to open the season and 23-21 to North Stafford to end it.
3: Hylton players (Chris Fields, Delondre Simpson, Alex Mason) who intercepted passes in the 20-0 win over Gar-Field. The Bulldogs had more interceptions than completions allowed (two).
6: Interceptions Hylton quarterback Kenny Irby has thrown in his last 25 games. During that time, he has thrown for 2,202 yards and 19 touchdowns.
81-7: Combined score by which Brentsville had lost its three most recent playoff games before its 39-21 win Friday night over Buckingham County.
TWO FOR THE BOOKS
North Stafford senior quarterback Chris Ashinhurst Friday night broke the Virginia state record for passing yardage in one season, and his favorite receiver, junior Nate Ilaoa, broke the Virginia AAA record for receiving yards in a season. Ashinhurst also holds the single-season mark for completions, and Ilaoa is climbing the list for most catches in a year. (Source: Virginia High School League)
Northwestern Region Division 6
Hylton 20, Gar-Field 0
North Stafford 23, GW-Danville 21
Region B Division 2
Brentsville 39, Buckingham County 21
Madison County 48, Buffalo Gap 7
Northwestern Region Division 6
North Stafford (10-1) at Hylton (11-0), Friday, 7:30
Region B Division 2
Brentsville (8-3) at Madison County (8-3)
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Brentsville senior Justin Thomas rushed for 139 yards and caught four passes for 138 yards in a 39-21 win over Buckingham County in the Region B Division 2 semifinals. Thomas scored a touchdown in each quarter.
"He just made plays out of no plays. Most kids would have gotten sacked. He got first downs."
-- Gar-Field Coach Tony Labozzetta on the crafty scrambling of Hylton quarterback Kenny Irby