During the postseason, the most crucial catches for Hylton have not been the ones made by its wide receivers but the ones made by its defenders. Yesterday the second-ranked Bulldogs (13-0) intercepted three passes for the third consecutive game, all three of which led to touchdowns in a 38-13 Virginia AAA Division 6 semifinal victory over Princess Anne (10-3) of Virginia Beach at home in Woodbridge.
In extending its winning streak to 29 straight, the defending state champion advances to play Varina of Richmond in the title game at 4 o'clock Saturday at the University of Richmond.
Senior defensive back Delondre Simpson had two of the three interceptions, and senior linebacker Melvin Butler had the other, returning it 54 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Simpson's first pickoff was crucial because it thwarted a drive in the final minute of the first half. He stepped in front of senior Whitney Powell, who was running a slant pattern, near the goal line and returned the ball 64 yards to set up a 23-yard field goal by senior Andy Wilfong that gave Hylton a 10-0 lead as time expired in the first half.
"It's uncharacteristic for us, but this week we said we needed to back off the corners a little bit and let them throw the ball underneath because they love to throw the ball deep," Hylton Coach Bill Brown said. "I watched them beat Bayside with two deep passes. So we played off a little bit. They were taking advantage of it in the first half, and then as they backed us up, you run out of real estate. You have to come up on them. You can't play off them down on the goal line."
Playing closer to the receiver, Simpson was able to intercept the pass.
"That was a bad call by me, and the guy made a great play," said Princess Anne Coach Jeff Ballance, who quarterbacked the Cavaliers when they made their last state semifinal appearance in 1979. "We were successful with it a couple times, and then he jumped right on it."
But that was only the beginning of the end for the Cavaliers, who early in the first quarter had lost senior running back-linebacker Kendrick Howard with a separated shoulder. In the second half, Hylton held Princess Anne on its first possession and then scored midway through the quarter on a four-yard run by junior D.J. Walton. Less than two minutes later, Butler scored on his interception. Three plays after that, Simpson recorded his second pick and returned it 27 yards to the Princess Anne 34.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, senior Quintin Beltran scored from one yard out. The unraveling continued just four plays later, when Walton returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown. That made it 38-0 with 9 minutes 49 seconds left.
"If we execute like that every week, it would be easy," Walton said. "When we work hard in practice, it looks easy all the time."
Game summary on Page D17
CAPTION: Hylton's Quintin Beltran eludes Princess Anne defense in Bulldogs' 38-13 win in Virginia AAA Division 6 semifinal. Hylton faces Varina in title game.