There are many around the area surprised by Stonewall Jackson going from 0-10 two years ago to 2-8 last season to a whopping seven wins so far this fall.
Second-year Raiders coach Loren Johnson is not one of them.
"No disregard to anybody else, you reap what you sow," he said. "This whole offseason we just put a lot of time in and a lot of hard work, and with the number of kids returning, we thought we had the potential to be playing in the playoffs. You don't say you're just planning to be mediocre. If I said that, what kind of coach would I be?"
Stonewall (7-2, 4-1) plays at Potomac (6-3, 3-2) on Friday and could win the Cedar Run District championship with a victory, which would mark their first outright title since snaring the Commonwealth District crown in 1984.
Potomac, however, has beaten Stonewall 10 straight times.
The Panthers, upset losers at Osbourn Park last week, blistered Stonewall, 50-21, on Oct. 15, the Raiders' only loss in their past eight outings. In that game, Potomac sophomore Deante Steele turned two short passes into 68- and 38-yard touchdowns, scored on 30- and 45-yard touchdown runs and returned a kickoff 65 yards for a score.
Stonewall played that night without junior starting quarterback Ricky Milbourne.
"Potomac just beat us, period," said Johnson, whose team has allowed just 33 points since that loss. "In every aspect of the game they just beat us. They beat us on offense. They beat us on defense. They beat us on special teams. . . . I said the week before, if you give Potomac an inch, they'll take a mile, and they did."
Stonewall, 16-44 the previous six seasons, is still acclimating to its winning ways. Senior running back Chris Garrett commented to Johnson on Tuesday that it feels weird to win.
Johnson's response: "Why?"
Hylton Slips Again
Hylton (7-2) has lost twice in the past three weeks, to Potomac and Woodbridge, equaling the number of regular season defeats they have endured the past six seasons combined. The Bulldogs, already in the playoffs, have won the past six Virginia AAA Northwestern Region Division 6 titles.
"It's a big thing," senior quarterback Tristen Simmons said. "We had a team meeting [Monday]. Not only did the coaches talk to us but the players got to talk to us as a team and see how everybody feels and how to get better and make sure we're not running into this slump during the playoffs. We have to make sure we get our stuff down pat."
The Bulldogs have experienced key injuries, particularly at running back. And the passing game has not always clicked as it did last year when Simmons repeatedly threw to Deon Butler and Dominique Mitchell, both of whom graduated. Hylton did not score an offensive touchdown in the 24-7 loss to Woodbridge on Saturday.
"We have a great offense and I feel like we can always march down the field . . . but everybody wasn't on the same page," said Simmons, who recently took an unofficial visit to Howard University. "When we're in practice we do a great job and make sure we have our timing down, but it's always a different thing when it's a game situation. Teams are going to give you a different look.
"We have to get ourselves together. It's not play-around anymore. We're fortunate we're already in the playoffs and not depending on these last two games. We probably wouldn't be in the playoffs because we're not playing like champions."
Hylton, which this week fell out of the Top 20 for the first time in years, concludes the regular season at Forest Park, where junior running back Ryan Lee is coming off a 325-yard game in the Bruins' first-ever win over Gar-Field.
Osbourn Park (3-6) is well aware that the spoiler role is not nearly as enjoyable as winning, as the Yellow Jackets did while going 19-5 the previous two seasons.
Even so, the 14-7 home upset of Potomac on Friday was plenty gratifying.
Senior quarterback Addison Carr, the starter earlier in the season, threw a touchdown pass to sophomore Jerome Williams with 20 seconds left and an overtime touchdown to sophomore Derek Ziese. Senior Brendon Mason recovered a fumble on Potomac's overtime possession.
"[Carr] came in and did a good job," Osbourn Park Coach Brian Beaty said. "He missed some passes early but kind of settled down and completed nice passes with the wide receivers making nice adjustments and going up for the ball. Those are big passes, and both of them he put exactly where he needed to put them."
Potomac had scored 152 points in its previous four games.
Strong Arm Tactics
The touchdown pass that Woodbridge junior Alex Brown threw to senior Tommy Carter on Saturday night in the win at Hylton counted for six points, just like all touchdowns. But the fact that this one came on a deep throw -- Brown pump-faked short then hit Carter down the right sideline -- made it even more meaningful than the short balls that three Vikings receivers had turned into touchdowns the previous week.
"[Throwing for] a touchdown on one of the best defenses in the state is uplifting," said Brown, a running back before this season. "I was really happy. . . . I've gotten really comfortable. My passes are a little bit more on point now."
"I think it helps him a lot," Woodbridge Coach Keith King said. "He's thrown some deep balls early in the season and just aired it out and overthrew people by 20 yards. We kept saying, look, it's great to have a strong arm, but if you can't throw it to somebody, it doesn't do us any good. . . . I think he's developing a lot as a quarterback."