Madison Coach Chuck Sell, the master of deception on the football field, has spent every night this week trying to come up with the ultimate maneuver.
"Staying No. 1, that's going to be a trick," said Sell, in his 10th year at the Vienna school and a man who is known in Northern Virginia coaching circles for his innovative and razzle-dazzle play-calling.
"This is the first time since the school was built (27 years ago) it has been ranked first and we're going to fight like crazy to stay there. Everyone out here is excited, including the coaches. I told the kids the rankings keep going through the playoffs and to stay on top we have to keep playing well. We plan to hold onto that top spot."
Madison's first trip to the top of the rankings could last awhile, particularly if it defeats ninth-ranked South Lakes (6-1) tonight in the Virginia AAA Great Falls District game at South Lakes (8 o'clock). Both teams are 4-0 in district play.
"I would think the winner of this game would win the district, although South Lakes would have a tougher road than we would," Sell said. "We play Langley (3-3-1) and Marshall (1-6) while South Lakes would have to beat both us and Herndon (5-2) to win it."
Madison, which won the district last year before losing, 7-6, to eventual region champion Fort Hunt, stumbled once this year in a 19-16 loss to Lee. The Warhawks, big and mobile, also are considered the best team in the Northern Region.
All-Met quarterback Tim Hecht, who has completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,060 yards and 14 touchdowns, and 6-foot-3, 205-pound tailback Doc Basil are two major reasons the Warhawks are averaging more than 300 yards and 34 points per game. In the last three games, Madison has won by scores of 74-15, 39-6 and 41-0.
"We've got a lot of confidence going into this game," said Hecht, who has only two interceptions, both coming in the season opener. "This is the one that counts. We've been throwing a lot more lately and I hope we continue to do so. If we do what we do best, we should win."
South Lakes, which lost to Robinson, 17-0, four games ago, will be the best defensive team Madison has faced. Still, Sell is positive his team will score.
"Our offense, with Hecht, Basil, fullback Len Schultz and end Nick Greiner, is very good and I think we might be better offensively than South Lakes," Sell said. "Their end (Norris) Davis is great and their quarterback (David) Ritchie could give us trouble if we let him scramble around back there. Our defense wasn't that good early in the year, but we changed a few things and it's gotten better."
Linebacker Ritchie Petitbon, nose guard Dave Ryan and defensive ends Steve Richberg and Schultz, the latter Madison's only two-way player, started to play the run better and the improvement came almost instantly.
Sell says Basil has been his most pleasant surprise of the season and "the difference on the team."
The 6-3, 205-pound senior, a bit tentative last season, has been effective running both inside and outside. He has rushed for nearly 700 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
There are several other key games around the area this weekend.
Tonight, 13th-ranked Chantilly (6-1, 3-0 in the Potomac District) can move a step closer to that crown by beating visiting Fairfax (2-5, 2-1), 10th-ranked Friendly (5-1, 4-1 in the PG AA league) plays host to Oxon Hill (4-2, 4-1) and second-ranked H.D. Woodson (5-1, 3-0 in the Interhigh East) plays at Spingarn (3-3, 2-1).