Loudoun County (0-1)
at Loudoun Valley (0-0)
When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.
Raiders running backs Billy Sweeney and Dan Slack and Vikings running backs Tommy Schonder and Brock Bell against linebacking corps that appear to be the strength of each defense.
Loudoun Valley junior Clyde Kessler will be making his debut at quarterback for the Vikings. Loudoun County senior Patrick McDonough got his first start last week in a 16-13 loss to Musselman but is still learning after taking last season off to concentrate on baseball and basketball.
That should mean the majority of the offensive load for both teams will fall on the running backs, all of whom have significant varsity experience.
Schonder and Bell will be playing in their season opener. Schonder was the Vikings' second-leading rusher a year ago, totaling 587 yards and eight touchdowns on 105 carries. The small and shifty Bell is not only a great blocking back but also a big-play threat.
Sweeney looked strong in the Raiders' opener, totaling an area-best 117 yards on 17 carries (including touchdown runs of one and 50 yards), and Slack added 65 yards on 14 carries. But Loudoun County Coach Pat McManus said this Vikings defense is superior to the one they faced a week ago.
"Their defense is probably the best I've seen on film so far this year," McManus said of Loudoun Valley, which is led by senior linebacker Steven Harvey. "They have an explosive football team. They fly to the football. I saw their scrimmage against Harrisonburg, the state champions, and they couldn't do anything against them.
"We've got quality running backs, and our line is working hard and getting better. But this is going to be a big challenge for us."
These longtime rivals typically meet at season's end. But the Vikings' move out of the AA Dulles District and into the AAA National forced the schools to schedule this game early in the season.
Loudoun Valley Coach Bruce Sheppard said he is delighted to keep the tradition going -- and equally thrilled to get the season started.
"This has been the longest preseason I've ever been a part of," Sheppard said. "Having that bye week to start was difficult. We had a really hard, good, productive summer. But it seems like it's been so long now since we've even scrimmaged. Needless to say, we're more than a little anxious to get started.
"But I tell you, there's also a real concern to this game. I've always thought that teams make the most improvement from the first game to the second, and so they have the advantage over us in that respect."
-- ANGELA WATTS