It's not Hylton-Potomac of a few years ago, when each team was among the best in the state, but this season's version, set for tomorrow night at Potomac, offers its own rewards.
Of Potomac's 25 touchdowns, 16 have come from 20 yards or more, and seven have come from 50 yards or more. The Panthers (4-2) have scored 170 points in the past five games.
Hylton (6-0), after being susceptible to the big play early in the season with a completely rebuilt defense, has not allowed any points in 10 quarters and boasts a marked depth advantage over the Panthers, particularly along both lines.
That could make it difficult for the Panthers to sustain drives, which was their goal last week in a 50-21 win at Stonewall Jackson. They did that early to a degree, with seven-, eight- and nine-play touchdown possessions in the first half.
"We feel that we're getting closer to being able to control the football," Potomac Coach Ben Stutler said. "We accomplished that a little bit but made a couple mistakes and had long yardage [situations] and guys made plays. We had long runs and long scoring plays, but I'm not going to complain about that. If they happen, they happen. That's something I can learn to deal with."
If there's any defensive hand-wringing going on in the Hylton camp, it might be courtesy of Panthers sophomore Deante Steele, who accounted for five touchdowns against Stonewall -- two runs, two receptions and a kickoff return -- covering 246 yards. Junior Vaughn Walker (461 rushing yards this year) and senior Michael Vann (412) are other primary threats.
The Panthers try to get the ball to them in the open field with short passes from senior quarterback Mike McClain (six touchdown passes) that Stutler considers long handoffs. One of Steele's scores last week came on a third-and-29 screen play.
"They have 'big play' written all over them, and there's a lot of them," Hylton Coach Lou Sorrentino said. "That's a challenge for the defense. But we've been playing well and the guys seem to be settling in and we're using a lot of people."
Not only has there been settling -- 11 new defensive starters -- but rotating, as well. Sorrentino works in about 17 players on defense in a typical game, which helps keep the unit fresh, and most of them are not playing much, if at all, on offense.
Inside linebackers Aaron Adusei, a junior, and Tabian Johnson, a sophomore, have been mainstays, as have senior defensive end Travis Davis and senior defensive lineman Jamar Jackson.
"The big question I think was leadership and how these guys are going to do that had been backups in years past and now playing on Friday nights," Sorrentino said. "What we're seeing is a lot of guys contributing and not relying on any one guy and the competition is good. Guys are on their toes and alert and know they have a lot of good guys around them and competing with them."
Yellow Jackets Win First
With 16 players who earned varying degrees of all-Cedar Run District distinction last season now gone, it's no surprise that Osbourn Park has struggled after going 19-5 the past two years. But could the 0-5 start -- now 1-5 -- have caused the Yellow Jackets to wonder if those two seasons were just blips? And that they were reverting to times when they went 15-65 from 1994 to 2001?
"I think in the back of your mind you may always be worried about that," said fourth-year coach Brian Beaty, whose team notched a 21-14 overtime win over Osbourn last week. "We've won one game, so we're not out of the woods by any means. . . . If we get caught up in this person thinks that or [that we're going] back to the old way things were, you get in trouble. Sometimes you can think about it too much."
The Yellow Jackets had shown promise in the 0-5 start. They led Hylton, 21-10, in the second quarter. They led Stonewall and Potomac in the second quarter. And they were tied with Woodbridge in the third.
Osbourn Park led Osbourn by two touchdowns in the second quarter last week but Osbourn tied the game in the fourth. Junior Anthony Bratton, who earlier this season blocked two punts against Potomac, blocked an Osbourn field goal attempt at the end of regulation to force overtime, then caught a 10-yard touchdown pass on third down -- his second touchdown catch of the game and 21st reception of the season -- to put the Yellow Jackets ahead.
The defense, led in part by senior Andrew Lee, junior Brandon Osborn and sophomore Quillie Odom, stopped Osbourn on its four overtime plays.
The win took place with several former Osbourn Park players on the sideline, including 2004 graduate Zak Stair, now at the University of Virginia. Beaty said the current Yellow Jackets appreciated the support from the recent alumni.
"It's very important, that you're not in this alone," he said. "You have people pulling for you and hoping you can do your best. . . . Somebody who's already gone through that or maybe gone on to the next level coming back and cheering you on, that's huge."
Area kickers booted two more field goals last week, running the season total to 24. Woodbridge junior Eric Buckenmeyer connected on a 45-yarder against Gar-Field, the longest in the area this season. . . .
Three Potomac players, including senior defensive end Myron Rowell, wear different numbers at home and on the road because three jerseys went missing while the school was torn up for construction. Stutler thought Rowell had an "unbelievable" game in the win over Stonewall, with as many as 17 great plays, including sacks, solo tackles in the open field, caused fumbles and fumble recoveries. . . .
Brentsville has lost four straight after a 2-0 start but is hoping it can regain the form it showed in the first half against unbeaten Manassas Park, the first loss in the skid. "I'm still waiting for us to hit that peak," Tigers Coach Dean Reedy said. "It's there. We've shown elements of it." . . .
All four area AAA games last week featured series winning streaks. Here's how it played out: Woodbridge snapped its 12-game losing streak against Gar-Field. Potomac won its 10th straight over Stonewall. Osbourn Park beat Osbourn for the ninth consecutive time. Hylton is now 7-0 vs. Forest Park.