The Hylton football team's offensive line may be one of the smallest in the Virginia AAA playoffs this year. But the members of that line, while acknowledging their shortcomings in height and weight, claim they more than make up for it in strength and emotion.
That claim was borne out in yesterday's 38-13 win over Princess Anne in the Virginia AAA Division 6 semifinals.
The Bulldogs' offensive line spent most of its time on the field yesterday afternoon opening huge holes for the backfield, which ran for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries. More important, it consistently allowed the offense to move the ball down the field.
"They were creating some pretty big openings for me," said junior halfback D.J. Walton, who rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and also returned a punt 68 yards for another score. "I was just finding them and going through them."
It was a critical performance for the offensive line for several reasons. First, the Hylton coaching staff devised a game plan that included a lot of cutback and misdirection handoffs, so it was important for the linemen to execute their blocking assignments.
It also was important for the line's five starters to bounce back from their performance in last week's 24-7 win over North Stafford in the quarterfinals. Even though the team rushed for 234 yards on 43 carries, Coach Bill Brown was disgusted with the line's play. That's because four carries accounted for 137 of those yards, while 24 times the team gained two yards or less.
Yesterday, Brown was pleased.
"There was a huge difference," he said. "I think it was obvious. They really put their heart into it this week in practice. We challenged them. But they're the kind of players that respond to that."
Sophomore right tackle Brock Thom agreed. He said the coaches sent a message this week when, for the first time this season, they had the team practice in pads on a Monday.
"Then we knew the coaches were really disappointed, and that we had to get in gear this week," Thom said. "Last week we came out flat. This week we were ready to play."
Thom is one of three new starters on the line this season. In fact, the entire right side is new, including guard Jason Conlon and center Sean Conlon. Senior left tackle John Brower and senior left guard Billy Reyers, who also are team co-captains, are the only holdover starters.
"The beginning of this year we were pretty inexperienced," Thom said. "With John Brower and Billy there, they helped us out, gave us some advice, and it's worked out."
Thom, at 6 feet 4 and 260 pounds, is the biggest among the five.
"I'm in second, but that's not saying much," said the 6-2, 240-pound Brower.
The Conlons--twin brothers who are juniors--are both 5-10, with Jason weighing 190 pounds and Sean 175.
"They average out to about 200 pounds, tops," Brown said. "That's a real testimony to what kind of kids they are, and what they are able to accomplish."
"They've got a lot of small people there, but they hold their own," senior quarterback Kenny Irby said. "They're very strong. They hold their own. They have two captains on that line. When [Brower and Reyers] get together and talk to the other linemen, they listen."