Osbourn Park enters the regular season finale on a three-game winning streak that has pushed its record to 7-2. The defense has allowed seven points in the past nine quarters. In a 10-7 win over Stonewall Jackson last week, senior Anthony Bratton, the team's star receiver, shone at running back, providing a new offensive look.
The Yellow Jackets are playing their best ball of the season. But even if they knock off first-year varsity program Battlefield on Thursday -- most teams play Thursday this week because Veterans Day is Friday -- they would be a long shot to reach the playoffs, even with an 8-2 record.
Osbourn Park is fifth in the Northwestern Region Division 6 power ratings, trailing Hylton (9-0), Osbourn (8-1), Franklin County (7-2) and Woodbridge (7-2). The top four advance to the postseason.
Franklin County and Woodbridge, two potentially vulnerable teams in terms of power points, would be considered favorites to win their Week 10 games. Franklin County hosts Patrick Henry-Roanoke (3-6) and Woodbridge hosts Gar-Field (2-7), and even if one or both lose, that would not assure Osbourn Park of a berth. If Franklin County wins the Western Valley District -- the Eagles have a one-game lead on Halifax -- it would advance to the playoffs regardless of its power rating.
If Osbourn Park is left out of the playoffs, Coach Brian Beaty hopes the disappointment will not trump a fine season, particularly on the heels of a 3-7 finish in 2004.
"Of course we want to be in the playoffs," Beaty said. "That was always our goal. But from the season we had last year to how the kids have worked . . . when you're realistic, you can't be upset with it. We all need to just appreciate the work that's been done. We can't stress over things we have no control over."
Osbourn Park's two losses have been 55-0 to Hylton -- the Bulldogs returned four interceptions for touchdowns in the second quarter -- and 23-21 to Osbourn, the closest any team has come to beating the Eagles with junior quarterback Brandon Hogan in the lineup since the season opener.
Osbourn secured its berth Friday by rallying for 10 fourth-quarter points to pull out a 30-26 win at Culpeper. The Eagles are in the playoffs for the first time since 1992, when it played in the AA classification.
With a home win tonight over Fauquier (4-5), Osbourn could assure itself of hosting a region semifinal. Coach Steve Schultze thought a loss could possibly drop his team to fourth, which would force the Eagles to play a semifinal at seven-time defending region champion Hylton.
Regardless of the seeding, it's quite the turnaround for a team that for so many years was just trying to keep its players interested this late in the season.
"The kids about a week or two ago were saying this time last year they didn't even feel like coming out and practicing, and now they're coming out and enjoying it and having fun," Schultze said. "It's a pretty good feeling. It's been a battle to get this program and these kids and this community to believe we're a winning program and for it to finally happen and win the Cedar Run is really special."
Four of Osbourn's wins have come by a total of 17 points. The latest close call was at Culpeper, where Hogan accounted for 346 offensive yards and four touchdowns but fumbled three times and threw an interception. The Eagles also gave up a kick return for a score.
"We never panicked, and I don't think our kids ever panicked," Schultze said. "But I don't think we were playing the caliber of ball we wanted to play. I think we've lost focus in our practices looking too far ahead, so we're really committed to focusing on Fauquier and playing well."
Like Osbourn Park, Woodbridge's two losses have been to quality opponents -- Highland Springs (7-2) and Hylton. But take away a Week 5 win over a Hogan-less Osbourn team, and Woodbridge's conquered foes are 17-37.
The Vikings are in a situation where finishing third in the power ratings would enable them to avoid meeting Hylton in the region semis for the second straight year. But Coach Keith King said he is not concerned about the matchups.
"I think either way you look at it, you have to win both to win the region," he said. "If it's Hylton first, it's Hylton first, and if it's Osbourn first, it's Osbourn first. Both are good teams.
"It's been a good season, but it will only be a good season if we win this last game and make the playoffs. Our goal was to make the playoffs this year, and anything short of that would not be a good season."
In Division 5, Potomac (4-5) is fifth in the region power rankings, but in part because of a strong schedule, trails fourth-place Halifax (7-2) by only nine-tenths of point despite the disparity in records. Halifax closes the regular season at E.C. Glass (6-3). Potomac hosts Freedom (1-8).
"I would say it's a possibility [to reach the playoffs], but it's a big stretch at this point," first-year Potomac coach Tony Lilly said Monday night. "I don't think [Halifax] losing and us winning would be enough. I think it would have to come down to some teams we've beaten to win, and some teams they've beaten to lose."
The Panthers' motto of late has been "finish strong," fitting because the team has not been at full strength all season after injuries and player suspensions.
"That's very difficult to kind of put that team jell together when there's a constant change and a constant dropoff," said Lilly, who has just eight seniors on his current roster. "That's one of the things that we'll have to address throughout our offseason in helping the kids to understand how detrimental that can be. When you look around at some of the really good teams around here, all the teams that are having success have a lot of kids on the team who are role players. They're all not superstars."