All season, Hylton football Coach Bill Brown predicted a return to the Virginia AAA Division 6 state championship--for Varina, the team the Bulldogs beat, 21-13, to win the 1998 state crown.
"I thought they would be [back], and I hoped we'd be," said Brown, whose team has back 12 starters, five fewer than the Blue Devils.
Hylton (13-0) and Varina (13-0) are the only Division 6 teams left standing. They will meet at 4 p.m. today at the University of Richmond Stadium, a 22,611-seat natural-grass site about five miles from Varina High School.
With a 30th consecutive victory, Hylton would become the second team to win back-to-back Division 6 titles since the classification's inception in 1986. Annandale won titles in 1993 and 1994. Gar-Field, in 1990, is the only Prince William County team other than Hylton to win a state title.
Just as Brown expected Varina to return to the title game, Blue Devils Coach Gary Chilcoat expected the same of the Bulldogs. When Hylton opened the season at Petersburg, near Richmond, Chilcoat could not attend the game because he had to scout another team. But he talked to friends who watched the Hylton-Petersburg game.
"They were saying that Hylton wasn't as powerful as they had been," said Chilcoat, a Varina assistant since 1990 who took over the head coaching job this season. "I said, 'I promise you at the end, they'll be there.' "
Varina, the Central Region champion the past three seasons, has outscored opponents 494-99 thanks in great part to 4,190 rushing yards, 1,870 courtesy of senior Lamont Abrams (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), who operates behind an offensive line that averages about 260 pounds a man. Senior fullback Adam Lutz (5-10, 225) is another key blocker. Abrams has scored 24 touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Michael Robinson (6-2, 210), in his first year starting at that position, has rushed for 774 yards and 13 touchdowns and thrown for 920 yards and 10 touchdowns. Robinson, who has been offered a scholarship by Virginia Tech, is a three-year starter at defensive back.
Other top Blue Devils include linemen Jonathan Lewis (6-2, 270), Brian Baker (6-0, 275) and Craig Lobrano (6-4, 270) and Central Region Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Lewis (6-1, 180), a linebacker. None is a senior. In fact, Varina starts just four 12th-graders, and the junior varsity team went undefeated, as well.
In the state championship last year in Norfolk, Varina appeared to pull ahead in a tie game early in the fourth quarter on a 47-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper. But a clipping call negated the run. So instead of leading by a touchdown, the Blue Devils stalled, and the Bulldogs scored on their next two possessions, eight- and 10-yard touchdown runs by D.J. Walton, who also had an interception.
"That [penalty] came at such a pivotal point in the game it was like we got hit in the stomach with a fist," Chilcoat said. "It took a lot of air out of us."
Varina scored with 49 seconds left to make the score 21-13 but failed on a conversion run. Karibi DeDe recovered the subsequent onside kick to seal the win for Hylton.
Varina trailed Centreville by two touchdowns in the first quarter of the state semifinal last week, but pulled out a 23-17 win when Robinson scored on a 23-yard run with 2 minutes 33 seconds left, his second 23-yard touchdown jaunt of the game.
The state semifinal marked only the second time all season the Blue Devils had trailed.
19 at Petersburg 15
30 Friendly (Md.) 6
19 Dunbar (D.C.) 14
21 at Osbourn Park 7
35 at Stonewall 14
31 Woodbridge 6
31 Oakton 9
17 Gar-Field 16 (OT)
34 Osbourn 7
14 at Potomac 8
20 Gar-Field 0
24 North Stafford 6
38 Princess Anne 13
45 Hopewell 13
45 at Douglas Freeman 0
41 at Hermitage 0
34 Prince George 0
34 Highland Springs 3
34 at Lee-Davis 6
49 Armstrong 6
48 at Kennedy 6
23 Atlee 6
49 Henrico 21
28 Lee-Davis 0
41 Patrick Henry 21
23 Centreville 17
CAPTION: Hylton defenders wrap up Varina's Stanley Cuffee during last year's AAA Division 6 final in Norfolk, where the Bulldogs earned a 21-13 victory.