As the Falls Church football team trudged to a 6-24 mark during the last three seasons, Jaguars Coach Said Aziz could see the light at the end of the tunnel. His optimism stemmed from his first weeks as the football coach in 2010, when he observed a budding group of freshmen on the junior varsity team.
“They were a really strong class and even though they took their lumps on varsity as sophomores as they learned to compete at the next level, you could see them developing,” Aziz said. “With the same core now being seniors this year, I expected the team to be better.”
Better has taken the form of best, as in the Jaguars, at 3-0, are off to their best start in more than a decade. Their undefeated run has featured strong play on both sides of the ball, with the offense averaging 38 points per game and an improved defense forcing eight turnovers.
Running back Dieon Dupont, whom Aziz says is “very dangerous in open space,” has anchored the Jaguars with 282 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Dupont’s success on the ground led McLean to stack the box in last week’s game, helping the Highlanders jump out to an 18-0 lead.
At halftime, the Jaguars adjusted, drawing on the experience of their 23 seniors and the arm of quarterback Adam Daly to rally them. During a second half that saw the Jaguars outscore McLean, 22-3, Daly threw for the majority of his 267 yards and two of his three touchdowns. Jordan Coneys served as Daly’s favorite target, catching eight passes for 132 yards and one score.
“In years past, we might have given up, being down 18-0, but the vibe is totally different and we’re a lot more confident as seniors and as a team,” Daly said. “The defense really stepped up, too. We’ve put big numbers as an offense before, but the key this year is the defense.”
Just how far the defense has come will be greatly tested Friday when the Jaguars travel to face Yorktown. The Patriots feature M.J. Stewart, an All-Met running back and UNC commit, who has shredded defenses for 621 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. The task of limiting Stewart’s touches will fall on both the defense and offense, which must avoid the turnovers that could lead to another daunting deficit.
“Limiting our mistakes is important because Yorktown is so well coached and will capitalize on errors,” Aziz said. “It’ll be a challenge, but it’ll be a good challenge for us as we look to keep building.”. . .
For most of Robinson’s 2-1 start, the Rams have been without top running back Joe Wilson. Since spraining his ankle and straining his Achilles tendon during the first half of a season-opening loss to No. 4 Lake Braddock, the senior has missed two games and did not return to practice until Wednesday.
“I thought I had just rolled my ankle, but the next morning I woke up and started to feel it in my Achilles,” Wilson said. “It’s gradually getting better, but it’s been a slow process. There’s still some pain when I push off and jump.”
Playing without Wilson, who still rushed for 117 yards in one half of play and amassed 2,358 yards along with 32 touchdowns last season, has been an adjustment for the Rams. But according to both Wilson and first-year Coach Dan Meier, it’s been a good one.
In Wilson’s absence, senior running back Ayvn Johnson has totaled 287 yards and four touchdowns, while quarterback Jack Rowlett threw for a career-high 149 yards on just 12 pass attempts in last week’s win against Mount Vernon.
“We may have baited ourselves into a corner by game-planning to depend a lot on Joe, so when he went down, we had to go to other means to moving the ball and scoring points,” Meier said. “We’ve been able to identify some things we can do well so that when Joe comes back, we’ll be that much stronger.”
While he expects Wilson to be back “sooner rather than later,” Meier said Wilson is doubtful for Friday’s game at Herndon. As the Rams’ top player continues to heal, Meier hopes to see the rest of his team continue to make strides on the field in critical facets of the game.
“After the first loss, we needed to be more crisp in our execution and eliminate mistakes,” Meier said. “It’s still early but I’ve been pleased with our steady improvement since then.”