Much fuss has been made about Osbourn Park qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 1988, the longest drought of any Prince William County football program, not including third-year school Forest Park.
But compared with Franklin County, Osbourn Park is a postseason veteran. The Rocky Mount school has been open since 1950, third-year coach Billy Miles said, and is making its first playoff appearance.
"Those kind of things are a combination of a lot of things," said Miles, who was offensive coordinator on the Salem teams that won three Virginia AA Division 4 state titles from 1996 to 1999. "Some is misfortune, some is our own doing and some of it's just the way the ball bounces sometimes. The kids we have in the program right now believe in our system and work extremely hard to be successful."
The Eagles, whose nondistrict schedule consisted of five AA teams, two of which reached the playoffs, are a 15-13 loss to Liberty-Bedford from being undefeated.
A lack of playoff experience is not the only thing Franklin County and Osbourn Park have in common. When Miles first caught glimpse of Yellow Jackets senior running back Roland Hilliard (1,234 yards), he commented to an assistant about how much Hilliard reminded him of Eagles senior LeBryan Patterson (school-record 1,321 yards this season). Hilliard is listed at 5 feet 8, 175 pounds; Patterson is 5-9, 175.
Other top Franklin County players include senior center Matt Nichols, senior linebacker William Turner and junior wide receiver-defensive back Pat Preston, a Division I prospect in Miles's estimation.
The Eagles face a 4 1/2-hour bus ride and must prepare for the Yellow Jackets' single-wing offense, a look Franklin County has not encountered this season.
"The biggest difficulty is getting your own scout team to run the thing," said Miles, whose team finished the regular season a week before Osbourn Park, giving it an extra week to prepare. "You have to be able to simulate it in practice, and you're never able to simulate it as well as the other team does it."
Other than a 49-0 loss to Hylton, Osbourn Park has given up 13 points all season and has notched seven shutouts. Senior quarterback Doug Suliga has completed 65 of 133 passes for 737 yards and five touchdowns. Junior Andrew Dykstra has 30 catches for 344 yards.
The Yellow Jackets, who had not finished with a winning record since 1993, are making good use of their $92,000 facilities upgrades, including an improved playing surface. The 9-1 regular season finish also has not hurt sales at the school's "Spirit Shack," where souvenir blankets, umbrellas, bags, shirts, toboggans, ear warmers and mittens are emblazoned with the school logo.
"We really feel blessed about the things going on at Osbourn Park," second-year coach Brian Beaty said. "From our coaches . . . and players and administration and community, everybody's been on the same page."