For a few weeks this season, Hylton players did not necessarily feel like Hylton players. There was a 34-33 loss at Potomac in Week 7. A tepid 14-6 win over Gar-Field the following week. And a 24-7 home loss to Woodbridge in Week 9.
Only Monday night, after a relatively sound, 31-14 win at Forest Park, did the Bulldogs start to feel like pedigreed Bulldogs again, as they begin their quest for a seventh consecutive Virginia AAA Northwestern Region Division 6 title.
"We feel like we're rolling back into the playoffs. We got our swagger back," said senior offensive lineman Ara Der-Boghossian, echoing the sentiments of many teammates. "That whole Hylton past, and all the players who played here -- I think we lost track of that."
"This is a game we really needed," said sophomore running back-linebacker Tabian Johnson, who ran for 182 yards and three touchdowns at Forest Park. "It means a lot. . . . Now we feel like a team again. It was falling apart, I think."
No one has identified one standout factor for why Hylton seemed, as senior quarterback Tristen Simmons put it, like "one of those average teams that could win this week or win next week."
It could have been injuries to such key players as junior running back Courtney Anderson, senior defensive lineman Jamar Jackson or senior running back-defensive back A.J. Murray. Anderson, and perhaps others, are due back for the region semifinal home game against Woodbridge at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Der-Boghossian chalked it up to "problems inside the team." Coach Lou Sorrentino praised the team's effort during the lull but was not enamored with its execution. Senior receiver Carlos Segarra said the team was sparked by watching film from earlier in the season when the going was easier.
"The last couple of weeks, everybody wants to do their own thing," junior linebacker Aaron Adusei said. "Everybody wanted to be in the newspaper. Everybody wanted to do this, everybody wanted to do that. They weren't thinking about the team, they were just thinking about themselves."
If nothing else, playing Woodbridge for a third time this season should even further unite the Bulldogs. The teams were co-Cardinal District champions. Before the Vikings' 24-7 upset win at Hylton on Nov. 6, the Woodbridge players had the audacity to swipe the Bulldogs' pregame "We ready" chant.
"That's kind of insulting, and then they came out and beat us, which is even worse," Segarra said.
"It was shocking, because we weren't expecting them to sing it," Adusei said. "Everybody was wondering why they were singing it, but instead of coming back with it louder, we just sat back and let them sing it, and it made us look stupid.
"I was telling the guys, when we step out on the field, we better be the loudest team in the world. So everybody can hear us, and everybody will know that we're the Bulldogs. That's one thing we need to bring back -- loudness."