It's the kind of unsolicited, ego-bruising comment that Hylton opponents are accustomed to hearing from classmates during the week leading up to a game against the Bulldogs: You're going to lose. You'll never stop so-and-so. They're a lot better than you guys.

Only this week, it's the Bulldogs who have the naysayers in their ears, in stereo, just about everywhere but in the locker room or on the practice field.

This despite the fact that they are fresh off their eighth straight Virginia AAA Northwestern Region Division 6 title, unbeaten in 12 games this season and the home team at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in a state semifinal against Landstown (12-0) of Virginia Beach.

With a 98-8 record since 1998 and three state titles, how did the Hylton Bulldogs become the Hylton Underdogs?

"I think we're the only ones that probably believe we can win," junior receiver Fred Massa said. "We know we can do it, but everybody's counting us out, so we just have to go out and show them."

"Most people in our own school are even doubting us," senior linebacker Tony Keiling said.

The doubters have their reasons. Last year, Robinson beat Hylton, 41-0, in the state semifinals; the following week, Landstown thumped Robinson, 47-20, in the state championship.

The Landstown Eagles, winners of 26 in a row, have reached the past two state title games; Hylton senior running back Courtney Anderson is the only player still around from Hylton's 2002 state championship team.

And Landstown boasts not one, but two of the most highly recruited receivers in the nation. ESPN, in fact, ranks Percy Harvin and Damon McDaniel as No. 1 and No. 2 in the country at their position. Harvin has narrowed his college list to Miami, USC, Florida and Florida State. For McDaniel, it's Miami, Virginia Tech, Florida State, LSU, Ohio State and Florida.

"All day, everybody's talking about Percy Harvin," Keiling said.

Some have seen Harvin in action. Against Robinson last year in the state championship, he scored four touchdowns, racked up 382 total yards and intercepted three passes. In the state basketball championship, he scored 27 points in a loss to Woodside (and scored five of his team's eight points in overtime in a quarterfinal win against Potomac). At the state outdoor track meet, he won five gold medals in Virginia's most dominating individual performance since 1936.

Harvin notwithstanding, there is a plus side to being considered underdogs: It eases some of the pressure. Hylton Coach Lou Sorrentino talked last week about his team's meeting "the Hylton challenge" of living up to the program's rich history.

As far as some observers are concerned, the Hylton challenge this week is to make a game of it. But that notion does not wash with the Bulldogs themselves.

"I don't know if we feel like underdogs," Sorrentino said. "I think we are, from a state perspective. If you're the defending state champs and undefeated, you have to be the favorite. It's been a long time since we've been in that role.

"Sometimes underdogs have a chip on their shoulder and have something to prove. There's something refreshing and different about being the so-called underdog or not being the team that people have been talking about throughout the entire state. You almost feel a sense of, hey, let it all hang out."

Sorrentino experienced that sensation to a much greater extent in 1999 at Culpeper, when his team knocked off four-time defending state champion Hampton in the Division 5 semifinals and went on to win the state crown the following week.

Hampton was even more established than Landstown, and Culpeper was not the known quantity that Hylton is.

"You heard a lot about Hampton, but you didn't know how good they were," Sorrentino said. "You hear a lot about Landstown, but you don't know [how good they are] until you line up and play. If you're any type of competitor, you like that challenge."

Landstown's Percy Harvin excels in football, basketball and track. "All day, everybody's talking about Percy Harvin," said Hylton linebacker Tony Keiling.