Haven't we been here before at the midway point of the football regular season? Hylton perched at 5-0, Manassas Park at 6-0. Both teams were undefeated at this point last season. But this fall is not exactly a repeat.
Hylton, winner of the past six Virginia AAA Northwestern Region Division 6 titles, struggled at times defensively early this season, and even trailed in two games. But the Bulldogs are on a well-worn winning path. The players who replaced all 11 defensive starters from last season have settled in nicely, and senior quarterback Tristen Simmons and junior running back Courtney Anderson lead an offense that also has ably replaced the receivers it lost.
Hylton Coach Lou Sorrentino is perhaps most pleased about his team's steadiness, a trait he was unsure about after conflicting performances in two scrimmages.
"Developing the consistency has been big," said Sorrentino, whose team has worked in six new assistants and endured a series of key injuries. "You usually find that more in veteran teams. And [also] being mentally tough enough to stay in the games [we've trailed] and not fly off the handle. I think our guys have done that.
"Sometimes teams are 5-0 and they've always been out in front and not been in close games or been behind. That's not been the case with these guys. That's a sign of a mentally tough team."
The Bulldogs' defense, which allowed three touchdowns of 56 or more yards in the first two games, shut out Woodbridge last week. Hylton is 81-5 the past six-plus seasons.
Did Manassas Park Coach Jeff Lloyd think his team would win its first six games after heavy graduation losses forced him to insert several untested players into the starting lineup?
"Absolutely not," said Lloyd, whose team pulled out a one-point home win over Brentsville -- one of three victories against AA schools -- and then won Friday at Bull Run District rival Strasburg, the first triumph there for Lloyd in his seven-year tenure. "I thought we'd be competitive, but I'd be lying if I thought we'd be undefeated.
"I think the seniors that we have have been decent leaders and I think the kids playing now have gotten so accustomed to winning they expect that from themselves and know as coaches we expect that from them. They don't want to let their teammates down or the people who have come before them down."
Manassas Park is 48-14 the past five-plus years, with 20 straight regular season wins.
Here are other highlights and story lines from the first half of the 2004 season:
Biggest surprise I: Just two years removed from an 0-10 record, Stonewall Jackson (4-1) is on a four-game winning streak, its first since 1996. The only team to beat Stonewall was Hylton in the season opener. The Raiders dropped their last five games of 2003 after a 2-3 start, but Coach Loren Johnson expects no such downturn this season. "With our senior leadership it's not a concern that we'll fade," said Johnson, who in part credits team camp at North Carolina State for his team's strong showing this fall. "Right now I think as a team we've just bonded a lot faster than anybody thought a group of young men could. These guys gave up themselves all summer and they're showing it."
Biggest surprise II: Two-time defending Division 6 region finalist Osbourn Park is 0-5, with four losses by 17 points or more. The Yellow Jackets' 13-game Cedar Run District winning streak ended two weeks ago with a loss to Stonewall. Sixteen players who earned some sort of all-district recognition in 2003 graduated.
Best chance at 10-0: Hylton and Manassas Park both have legitimate shots at posting second consecutive 10-0 regular seasons. Hylton's remaining five opponents are 9-11, including two games against Forest Park (1-4). No team has come within 17 points of Hylton the first half of the season. Manassas Park needs just four more wins to go 10-0. The Cougars' remaining opponents are Cumberland (2-3), Clarke County (3-2), Madison County (2-3) and George Mason (2-3).
Most valuable player: Manassas Park senior quarterback Zach Terrell has thrown for 1,158 yards and rushed for 774, accounting for 15 touchdowns. He also starts in the secondary, punts and returns kicks for the Cougars.
Best individual performance: Terrell scored four different ways in a win over Page County on Sept. 17 -- 80-yard kickoff return, three touchdown passes, 100-yard interception return and a 13-yard run.
Toughest remaining schedule: Forest Park's next five games are against teams with a 12-8 record, including two games against Hylton (5-0). Forest Park has lost four straight since its season-opening win over Osbourn Park, giving up 156 points during that time.
Best games: Too many close finishes to pick one. This past weekend alone featured two overtime games. Gar-Field seniors Christian Riddle and Mark Logan stopped a Forest Park running back just short of the goal line on a two-point conversion attempt in the second overtime to emerge with a 30-29 win. And Stonewall Jackson senior Josh Baird blocked an extra-point attempt in overtime in his team's 35-34 win over Osbourn. Of the non-OT variety, Manassas Park hanging on for a 19-18 win over rival Brentsville would have to rank somewhere.
Best coaching job: Second-year Stonewall coach Johnson, who could be on the verge of leading the program to its first winning season since 1997. The Raiders have not reached the playoffs since 1996, the longest postseason drought of any area team other than Osbourn. Three of the Raiders' wins have come by eight points or fewer, including one in overtime; they have scored 118 points the past four games.
Best freshman: Stonewall freshman running back Ryan Williams has carried 45 times for 422 yards and five touchdowns and has caught eight passes for 151 yards and two scores. Those are four-game totals; he missed the opener. His productivity has come as no surprise to Johnson. "You have to understand, nobody's watched him work out all summer like I have or watched him at camp like I have," Johnson said. "We've seen this kid."
Steadiest running backs: Woodbridge senior Andre Bratton has rushed for at least 114 yards each game, with a high of 258. Forest Park's Ryan Lee has rushed for 165 yards or more in four of five games. His season low is 96 yards.
Most balanced backfield: Junior Vaughn Walker (394 yards), senior Michael Vann (331) and sophomore Deante Steele (252) have taken turns carrying the Potomac ground game. That same trio also has 18 of the team's 29 receptions.
Best transfers: Hylton junior receiver Marshall Dill and Woodbridge senior fullback Derrick Holt would be two. Forest Park transfer Dill has emerged as the favorite target of Hylton senior quarterback Tristen Simmons, catching 16 passes for 359 yards and four touchdowns. No other Hylton receiver has more than six catches. Holt, who attended Woodbridge two years ago but was at Gar-Field last season, has carried 81 times for 510 yards and six touchdowns and has helped spring backfield mate Bratton. Osbourn senior Thomas King, who formerly played at Manassas Park, leads the Eagles with six catches.
Most controversial game: Potomac scored a touchdown midway through the third quarter at home against Osbourn on Oct. 1 and kicked the extra point for an apparent 17-0 lead. But after the teams lined up for the kickoff, the officials reversed the touchdown call, dropping the score back to 10-0. Osbourn won, 13-10, in overtime. The Northern Virginia Football Officials Association later sent Potomac an apology for changing a call when it was too late to do so. The reversal corrected a bad call -- the Potomac touchdown should not have counted in the first place -- but the only time the reversal could have been made was before the extra point was kicked.
Most versatile offensive player: Osbourn sophomore Brandon Hogan has rushed for 516 yards and thrown for 234. He has four rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown.
Deepest receiving corps: Brentsville senior quarterback Chooch Oristian's 29 completions in the first four games went to 12 receivers. Coincidentally, the Tigers have no passing touchdowns this season. In this same category, Gar-Field sophomore quarterback Savion Frazier has completed passes to 10 receivers, among them senior Brandon Bell, who caught 10 balls last week against Forest Park. Stonewall junior quarterback Ricky Milbourne has completed passes to nine receivers.
Best receiving tandem: Manassas Park seniors A.C. Fitchett and Joe Greene have combined for 33 catches for 795 yards -- 24.1 yards per catch.
Greatest offensive disparity: Woodbridge has totaled 100 points in its three wins and seven points in its two losses. The Vikings have thrown five interceptions and one touchdown pass.