Westfield running back Evan Royster sifted through clothes at the Lord & Taylor in Fair Oaks Mall last week when an older man approached him. The man introduced himself and congratulated Royster on a good season. Then he posed a question that would follow Royster for the next week.
"So Evan," the man said, "can you do better than that [Lucas] Caparelli kid?"
It was then Royster realized he would compete in two contests tonight at 7:30 when Westfield (9-0) visits Robinson (8-1): He hopes to propel the Bulldogs to a win in a game that will determine the first seed in the Virginia AAA Northern Region Division 6 playoffs, and he also hopes to outshine Robinson's Caparelli in a duel between two of the area's most productive running backs.
"All week, everybody has been comparing us," Royster said. "That's all I hear about. I guess this is kind of the head-to-head challenge to see who can do better."
Neither player has much to prove. Royster (168 carries for 1,809 yards and 26 TDs) is the Washington area's second-leading rusher; Caparelli (138 carries for 1,160 yards, 13 catches for 484 receiving yards) is the area's second-leading scorer with 27 touchdowns.
Their drastically different styles consistently generate the same result: dominating wins. Royster, a bruising, one-cut, between-the-tackles runner, has watched almost every fourth quarter from the bench with Westfield enjoying a big lead. Caparelli, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and usually makes big plays on runs to the outside, has helped Robinson win five games by 40 points or more.
"I don't feel tired because I get to rest late in games," Caparelli said. "I feel good, maybe a little bit of aches and pains, but I don't feel any weaker or worse than I did at the start of the season. I'm ready for anything."
More important, though, Caparelli said he's prepared for a Westfield defense that has spent all week preparing for him. The Bulldogs hope to force Caparelli to run inside, where his speed would be limited.
Robinson, meanwhile, thinks it can limit Royster by bringing him down with the first tackle, something the Rams have focused on in practice this week.
"I wish I knew a sure way to stop a runner like [Caparelli]," Westfield Coach Tom Verbanic said. "He's just a tremendously impressive back who does a great job in the scheme they use. Those types of guys are pretty rare, and when you get two runners like that in one game, that's a pretty fun matchup."