Oakton senior Curtis Eward knows the Cougars soon will find out how strong their defense is and whether their offense is up to the task of defending the AAA Concorde District title.
The No. 15 Cougars are undefeated (4-0) entering a three-game stretch that begins on Friday against No. 12 Centreville, followed by No. 8 Westfield and top-ranked and 2004 Northern Region AAA Division 6 champion Robinson -- the latest addition to the newly realigned Concorde District.
"We've been training for this all season and looking forward to the competition in our district," said Eward, a 6-foot-1 defensive end. "We have four of the better teams in the Northern Region in our district. We had to train a lot harder."
With seven players returning as starters on defense, the Cougars have held opponents to an average of 10.8 points per game. Eward leads a defense that has 10 sacks with a team-high three. The secondary has six interceptions, including a team-high three by senior cornerback Donald Murphy. In its 26-7 victory over Chantilly on Friday, the defense yielded 19 rushing yards and 67 passing.
The Cougars have seven players with double digits in tackles, including senior free safety Sean Purcell (23), senior linemen Brian Sweeney (14) and Thomas Rupp (13) and cornerback Jackson Kibler (11).
"Defensively, you have four or five guys who have played together at least three years as starters," Oakton Coach Joe Thompson said. "These are highly experienced players who have played with each other since they were freshmen. Defensively, we take a team approach."
The Cougars also have benefited from a blue-collar offense that revels in long drives behind a bruising backfield with 6-3, 222-pound senior running back Keith Payne (68 carries for 463 yards and six touchdowns) and tailback Taylor Naleppa (39 carries for 280 yards and two touchdowns). Oakton is averaging 29 points per game.
"We came in knowing that we have a district title to defend," Payne said. "We've been having a lot of success running the ball and will do whatever we have to do to be successful. We have to step up and take advantage of our time to leave something behind at this school."