Loudoun Valley (2-0) at Stone Bridge (1-1)
When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.
The speed of Loudoun Valley's backfield, including RBs Brock Bell and Tommy Schonder and WR Ryan Sheehan, against an aggressive Stone Bridge defensive front led by senior end Nate Hawkins.
Stone Bridge, coming off its first regular season loss since October 2002, has spent this week tweaking its offense to better fit the athletic abilities of junior QB Terrence Glenn. The Bulldogs will test their new schemes against a Loudoun Valley defense that has yielded six points in its first two wins, over Loudoun County and Park View.
But it's the other matchup -- Loudoun Valley's offense vs. Stone Bridge's defense -- that has both coaches most intrigued.
"They've been able to control both games they've played so far, and a lot of that has to do with the speed they get to the corner," Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson said of the Vikings. "Their backs are quick and explosive, so you can't give them a seam. I think it'll be a good test for our defense because I think we're quicker there than we've been the last few years. So the speed of their offense against the speed of our defense will decide the game, in my opinion."
In addition to speed, Stone Bridge also brings an attacking defense that relies heavily on blitzes.
"They key [against the Bulldogs] has always been being disciplined against their offense," Loudoun Valley Coach Bruce Sheppard said. "And now with what they're doing defensively -- jumping around and blitzing and moving so much -- you have to be disciplined on that side of the ball as well. They're definitely taking the stance to try and get you confused and get you out of position. And you can't be hesitant."
The Bulldogs have history on their side. Stone Bridge (AAA Liberty) and Loudoun Valley (AAA National) have met five times since 2001 as members of the AA Dulles District, including a regional playoff pairing in 2003. While the margin of victory has not been overwhelming, the Bulldogs have won each time. Stone Bridge even rallied from a 13-point, third-quarter deficit in that Region II semifinal for a 21-13 win.
That fact has not been lost on the Vikings, who have made no qualms about this being a very important game for their program.
"Our kids are coming from a position in their time here at Loudoun Valley that the road to the championship has had to go through Stone Bridge," Sheppard said. "We've been playing second fiddle to them for years. And even though we're out of the league and we have both moved up to AAA, we know they still represent one of the best programs around. Our kids consider them a rival, and it's very important to any team playing against their rival to have a win. And the fact that we haven't been able to finish that task has been a tremendous frustration."
Even more frustrating for the Vikings is the possibility Sheppard may not be on the sideline. Sheppard was ejected from last week's game against Park View after two penalties were assessed against the Loudoun Valley sideline. The penalty for an ejection is an automatic suspension from the next game, and if his appeal is not granted, Sheppard will be unable to attend the game tomorrow night.
"I've never gotten a flag in 27 years," said Sheppard, who said he disagreed with the decision made by the officials and with the implementation of the rules. "So there are a lot of things I've prepared for, but I wasn't prepared for that.
"Our kids and our coaches will do just fine. They don't have to look to me for all the answers. They know what we do. But it'll kill me not to be able to be there."
If Sheppard is unable to attend, assistant Bruce Pugh will stand in as head coach.
-- ANGELA WATTS