Hylton endured a late-season lull in which it lost two games in three weeks and for the first time in years seemed legitimately vulnerable to Prince William County competition.
After a 35-20 home win over Woodbridge yesterday afternoon in the Virginia AAA Northwestern Region Division 6 semifinals, the Bulldogs have dropped the vulnerable part and are now just legitimate, as always, and in the hunt for a seventh straight regional title.
"We're feeling real good about ourselves," said senior quarterback Tristen Simmons, who threw for 138 yards and found three receivers for touchdowns. "It's going to be hard to bring us down."
The Bulldogs (9-2) weathered two first-quarter fumbles around their 20 and a number of Woodbridge gadget plays to avenge a 24-7 loss to the Vikings (7-4) two weeks ago.
Besides Simmons's touchdown passes, including some key third-down completions, the return of junior Courtney Anderson (55 yards) from a shoulder injury also boosted the Hylton offense.
Woodbridge, which led 20-14 late in the third quarter before the Bulldogs scored two touchdowns in the span of 21/2 minutes, was making its first playoff appearance since 1997.
Trailing 28-20, the Vikings took possession at the Hylton 40 with 2 minutes 52 seconds left. On third and nine, Bulldogs senior Travis Davis forced a fumble that junior linebacker Aaron Adusei returned 57 yards for the clinching touchdown.
Woodbridge senior running back Andre Bratton (184 yards) topped 100 yards for the 11th time this season. He also ran the final 69 yards on a 75-yard hook-and-lateral play that went for a touchdown early in the third quarter.
Hylton will host Stonewall Jackson in the playoffs for the first time since 1996, either Friday or Saturday in the region championship game; a decision on the date is expected tomorrow. Hylton handed the Raiders (9-2) a 24-7 loss in the season opener.
Stone Bridge Rolls
Stone Bridge scored moments after recovering an opening onside kick, and junior running back Shamar Knight-Justice rushed for a career-best four touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs to a 42-7 victory over visiting Louisa in a Virginia AA Region II Division 4 semifinal in Ashburn.
Knight-Justice led the Bulldogs' surprisingly ground-based attack, racking up 142 yards on 21 carries. His scores capped consecutive possessions, the third coming from 36 yards to put the Bulldogs ahead 28-7 in the final seconds of the first half.
"The line blocked like crazy today, best they did all year," the 5-foot-8, 171-pound Knight-Justice said. "We had to play our best because we want to live up to what the team did last year."
Stone Bridge's victory moved the Bulldogs (11-0) one step closer to defending their back-to-back region titles. They will host Harrisonburg (10-1) Saturday at 1:30 in the region final. The Blue Streaks defeated Liberty, 28-27, on Friday.
"We usually throw the ball a whole lot more," said Stone Bridge quarterback Sean Ryan, who completed 2 of 10 passes with a touchdown and interception. "But with the running game going the way it was, there was no need to go with the five-wideout [offense]."
The Bulldogs' defense, meantime, held Louisa's 2,000-yard running back Rontray Houchens to a season-low 68 yards on 17 carries.
Stone Bridge set the tone early. Senior Brian Calloway recovered an onside kick on the opening kickoff, then four plays later hauled in a 23-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to give the Bulldogs a lead they would not relinquish.
"We're an aggressive team, and that onside kick fit our personality," Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson said.