With more than half of the high school regular season football schedule complete, some of the district races involving Loudoun and Fauquier county teams have become clearer. Others, including the AA Dulles District, are more muddled.
"Honestly, I'm making myself step back from that a little bit and not even worry about the big picture," said Liberty Coach Tommy Buzzo, whose team lost its first AA Northwestern District game in more than two years last Friday. "We need to get to doing things right within our team before we worry about anything else. I still think the chance for us to control our own destiny is very good, but we need to get back to doing things right first. It's do or die now for us."
Friday's loss to Sherando turns Saturday's game at Handley (5-1 overall, 3-0 league) into a must-win for the Eagles (5-1, 2-1) if they harbor hopes of earning a third consecutive Northwestern District championship and the automatic playoff berth that comes with it.
The scenarios are much simpler for Stone Bridge and Loudoun Valley, which have burst onto the scene in their first year of Class AAA football.
Stone Bridge's overtime victory against Madison this past weekend, its second straight overtime win, leaves the Bulldogs with a 5-1 overall record and 3-0 in the AAA Liberty District. The other seven teams in the district have at least one district loss. That means winning out over McLean, W.T. Woodson, Marshall and South Lakes, who have a combined National District record of 4-8 heading into this weekend, would guarantee Stone Bridge a trip to the Division 5 playoffs.
"I like where we sit right now, but it's not exactly like we've been bowling over people," Bulldogs Coach Mickey Thompson said. "We've been struggling every game, so our confidence level isn't as high as you might think. We've still got a lot of work to do, especially on offense. We've played the last two weeks in really sloppy conditions. But our offensive output better pick up when we get on a dry field."
Loudoun Valley, also in Division 5, is 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the AAA National District and, much like Stone Bridge, controls its playoff fate. Unlike the Bulldogs, the Vikings' toughest district opponents await. Falls Church (4-2 overall), which Loudoun Valley will play this weekend, and Edison (6-0), which it hosts Oct. 28, are unbeaten in district play at 3-0.
"Obviously, these next two weekends will tell the tale for our district," Vikings Coach Bruce Sheppard said. "The thing for us is that I never really feel like I know an opponent until I've been on the field with them, and that's the disadvantage to being the new guy. But still being in contention to win the district is what's most important, and that's where our focus is."
Fauquier, which moved up to the AAA Cedar Run District this season, remains in contention for its district title at 3-3, 1-0, but that's not a unique position. Falcons Coach Greg Hatfield finds himself in the same situation as the six coaches in the AA Dulles District, knowing there is still much to sort out.
With four weeks remaining in the Cedar Run and Dulles district races, all six teams in each district are in the mix. The champion from each district will earn an automatic berth into its respective regional playoffs.
"For us, I really think it's going to come down to the last two weeks," Dominion Coach Mike Dougherty said. "It's definitely too early to say who's going to be where, because every team with one win could easily have a loss in a week or two. The truth is, I think a team at 3-2 is probably going to win the district because for the most part you can go right down the line, and any team could beat any other on a Friday night.
"I would be a fool to think it's because we're all that good. I think it's the opposite. As a whole, the district level of play is down a little bit from last year. Some teams are faster than others, and some are bigger than others . . . but on the whole I think we're even. And it's going to be whoever gets the breaks in the next four weeks that wins it."