Hustling over from his team's win at Madison County on Oct. 26, Manassas Park football coach Jeff Lloyd had just arrived at the Brentsville-Strasburg game when he saw the lopsided score from afar. He thought to himself that the Tigers must be running into the same fate his team had encountered at Ram Stadium three weeks before, in its only loss of the season.
But when Lloyd drew closer to the field, he discovered that Brentsville, not Strasburg, was winning, and in quite impressive fashion, en route to a 29-19 victory over the defending Bull Run District champions.
"Most of the scoreboards have the home score on the right," Lloyd said. "Strasburg has the home score on left. I got in and, oh my goodness, [Brentsville was] flat out laying wood to them. You don't see that at Strasburg."
At that point, it was apparent that the Bull Run race was a three-team affair. Brentsville (7-1, 3-0), Manassas Park (8-1, 3-1) and Strasburg (7-2, 3-1) are vying for the crown, and the first two square off tomorrow at Manassas Park in the game that could determine the league champion.
The matchup is compelling even beyond the title implications. Brentsville and Manassas Park are nearby rivals in a scattered district that stretches from Falls Church to the Shenandoah Valley. But the local teams' district bond will dissolve after this school year when Brentsville moves to AA, though the teams will continue to schedule each other.
Brentsville (Division 2), which come tomorrow will be playing its third game in eight days, and Manassas Park (Division 1) cannot meet in the Region B playoffs.
"It's what a rivalry game should be about," Lloyd said, noting that three years ago Brentsville and Manassas Park entered the game with 7-2 records. Brentsville, which had already secured a playoff berth at that point, knocked off the Cougars, costing them a postseason bid.
The teams also feature contrasting styles. Manassas Park spreads the field to better allow sophomore quarterback Zach Terrell (1,292 passing yards, 15 touchdowns) to connect with a variety of receivers, which in turn helps spring senior back Price Ward (886 yards).
Brentsville, which has come on strong after losing seven games in five of the past six seasons, is about as no-nonsense as an offense can be, methodically plowing between the tackles or wriggling for yardage on the option, essentially turning the field into a two-lane country road, not the six-lane superhighway the Cougars prefer.
"It seems like through the year Brentsville has always been run, run, run and take time off the clock, and we want to put points on the board," Ward said. "It's going to be an interesting game."
Led by physical senior quarterback Sam Huff (545 rushing yards) and senior bruiser Wes Basham (636 yards), 23 of the Tigers' 28 offensive touchdowns this season have come on the ground, thanks in great part to senior tackles John Jackson and Ryan Cutsforth, junior tight end Jason Cook, sophomore guards Chase Waddle and Tommy Burke and junior center Jake Englehart. The team recently lost starting junior tackle Stephen Yanchuk.
"We have a theory here with the kids," said first-year Brentsville coach Dean Reedy, who spent 11 years as a Tigers assistant. "We just call it blue-collar football. We go to work all week long, and Friday's payday. . . . Their work ethic is the thing that makes it all work."
Or, as Jackson proclaims: "We play simple football. It's nothing complicated. You show them what you're doing and go at 'em. None of that other stuff."
Because of missed games during the sniper attacks, Brentsville has been forced to extend its season to Nov. 15. So a date with Clarke County awaits next week. But this is Manassas Park's final regular season game.
"We know it's a must-win game for both teams," said Ward, whose team might drop to a bottom seed in the Region B Division 1 playoffs with a loss. A win likely would net a home playoff game for the Cougars, who are looking for the first nine-win regular season in school history.
Manassas Park has not played at home since knocking off defending Division 2 state champion Washington & Lee on Sept. 27, and the Cougars have not played under the lights since the Strasburg loss, so Lloyd plans to practice at night a couple times this week to reacclimate his team to nocturnal game conditions.
Early in the week, Lloyd was still uncertain if he would have sophomore receiver A.C. Fitchett (20 catches, seven touchdowns) available. Fitchett has missed the past three games with a deep thigh bruise. And Brentsville likely will be without Basham, sidelined with a knee injury.
Even so, the Brentsville-Manassas Park rivalry generally is bigger than any individual standouts, and the final encounter as Bull Run opponents is unlikely to be any different.
Games in years to come are "going to mean a lot, but it's not going to mean as much because they won't be in our district," Ward said. "It will always be a rivalry game, but this year will be the biggest."