Before the start of the season, H.D. Woodson Coach Greg Fuller vowed that his Warriors would unveil a new wrinkle to an already impressive offensive unit that had advanced to the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association championship game last season: a passing attack.
Fuller put the ball in quarterback Derric Daniels's hands and has not regretted the decision. Behind the leadership of Daniels, the 10th-ranked Warriors have won nine straight games and will make their second consecutive appearance in the District public school championship game. They have a chance to deny an unprecedented fifth straight title to Dunbar, which defeated H.D. Woodson in last year's Turkey Bowl, 16-14.
Daniels, a 6-foot-1 senior, has completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,819 yards and 20 touchdowns. But perhaps his greatest improvement this season has been his maturity in reading defenses and making the proper decisions of when and where to throw the ball.
As a result, H.D. Woodson's passing game has complemented perhaps the best running game in the league, which has allowed Richard Fitzhugh and Dujuan Stover to rush for more than 1,000 yards apiece in each of the past two seasons. Daniels, who threw only two touchdown passes last year, has connected often this season with standout wide receivers Paul Kellum (35 catches for 853 yards, 12 TDs) and Roland Minor (30-670, nine TDs).
Daniels "has matured a lot," Fuller said. "He has recognized what opposing defenses are doing to him, and in some cases can call his own plays."
In its 26-6 semifinal victory over Wilson on Saturday, Daniels struggled in the first half and completed only three passes with an interception. Yet, Daniels recognized that the Tigers' defense was not pressuring him when he rolled out to set up for a pass. So he suggested to Fuller that he run bootleg-oriented plays. Fuller obliged, and Daniels scored on runs of 33 and 18 yards in the third quarter to break open a scoreless game.
Daniels said he feels much more confident entering today's championship game than he did last season, when he struggled by completing only four passes for 45 yards.
"I could have audibled a lot of plays last year, but I hesitated and played it safe," Daniels said. "It was my first time . . . but I feel like everybody on this team is determined to win this time. We really want it."
At the same time, Woodson (9-1) certainly has not abandoned its potent running game. Fitzhugh has run for 1,226 yards and Stover 1,046 this year, with a combined 18 touchdowns.
"Teams just can't focus on our running game any more," Daniels said. "We mix it up so many different ways with the run and pass. . . . Most defenses are confused and off-balance."
-- Judith Evans