Their names evoke awe among the finest defensive backs in the state. Make that the country.
Landstown senior wide receivers Damon McDaniel and Percy Harvin are two of the top rated high school pass catchers in the nation, combining for 158 catches, 2,910 yards and 36 touchdowns this season. Colleges such as Florida, USC and Virginia Tech litter the lists of schools they are considering attending next season.
The names of the key members of Oakton's secondary, however, evoke mostly questioning stares. Seniors Sean Purcell, Mark Davis and Donald Murphy are fairly anonymous players in the Virginia AAA Northern Region. There's nary an all-Concorde District player among them, save Murphy . . . as a kicker.
On Saturday, the No. 5 Cougars (11-2) will face Landstown (13-0) for the AAA Division 6 state championship at University of Richmond Stadium. Landstown is the defending state titlist and hasn't lost a game since the 2003 championship against Westfield. Oakton has never won a state championship, losing in its only appearance in 2002 against Hylton.
Needless to say, if the Cougars are to win, the secondary will play a big role.
"It's definitely a challenge, but it's a challenge we look forward to," Davis said. "It's an honor to go against people like that. It's something you can take pride in."
Although the stats and recruiters may say otherwise, the matchup is not as one-sided as it seems, particularly given the Cougars' recent defensive effort.
Three times after taking an 19-14 lead midway through the third quarter against L.C. Bird in last Saturday's state semifinal, the Skyhawks drove into Cougars territory. But all three times Oakton repelled them.
Most dramatically, senior linebacker Jackson Kibler picked off a pass by Skyhawks junior quarterback Jonathan Hughes with just under a minute remaining at the Cougars' 1-yard-line. Before that, Hughes had been intercepted only four times all season.
Harvin, who almost single-handedly beat Robinson in last year's championship with 292 yards of offense and four touchdowns, and McDaniel may not be at full capacity. Harvin is getting over a hip injury, although he didn't show it in scoring three touchdowns in the Eagles' 25-14 win over then-No. 2 Hylton in the semifinals.
McDaniel's injury is more serious. He is suffering from turf toe, a result of making a tackle in the Eastern Region final, and he caught just two passes last week. McDaniel is not expected to practice leading up to Saturday's game.
Still, Oakton isn't taking any chances. Coach Joe Thompson is installing at least five new defensive looks and plans to disguise the team's coverage schemes.
"All our cover guys are real smart football players," Thompson said. "We've adjusted week to week with them and they've had no problems with it. This week it's just a little more."
Said Davis: "We're going to have the element of surprise. I think it will mix them up a little bit. If we disguise it they might think we're out in one defense, and we'll come out in something else."
One name Landstown is sure to know already is that of Oakton 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior running back-linebacker Keith Payne, a Virginia recruit. Payne will spend time shadowing Harvin.
"We've got Keith Payne up in his face," said Purcell, who had a game-sealing fumble recovery against L.C. Bird. "If we can get in his head a little, I think we can shut him down a little."
If all goes as planned, by the end of the game Landstown will be very familiar with the names of Oakton's defenders.
"It's going to take the same thing that we did on Saturday," Purcell said. "Our defense has got to play as a unit. We can't come out and be scared that it's the No. 1 recruit in the nation. If our defense comes out and plays like it did the past two weeks, we can pull off a win."