When H.D. Woodson and Wilson meet on Saturday, both teams will line up with skill position playmakers across the field. Both teams boast dangerous quarterbacks in the Warriors’ Rashad Cooper and the Tigers’ Scott Buemel. H.D. Woodson has D’Andre Payne starting at cornerback, reciever and punt returner, and Wilson has a capable threat in the backfield in running backs in Larry Frazier and Abdul Adams.

But this game, like so many other DCIAA slugfests, will be determined along the line of scrimmage, according to Woodson Coach Steve Scott. He knows how fragile — and important — players in the trenches can be.

At one point earlier this season, Woodson’s lineman roster had been cut from 15 players to seven because of injuries, and nurturing health in the trenches has become a priority for Scott and his staff. They will need a full-strength effort Saturday against a Wilson defense that boasts talented junior defensive end Kareem McDonald on the first level, and linebacker Fred Anderson on the second.

“Whoever wins the war up front, that usually determines whose favor the game will be in” Scott said. “There’s nothing like a team that can line up over and over again, and you can’t do anything about it.”

H.D. Woodson (3-3, 2-0 DCIAA Stars) has won three straight, and it’s offensive line has been crucial in helping running back Jai Carson explode the last several weeks. Carson carried 15 times for 129 yards and a touchdown in a win over Ballou two weeks ago, and was well on his way to another 100-yard plus rushing performance against Coolidge last week before the game was postponed at halftime due to inclement weather. Cooper, who has thrown for 699 yards and eight touchdowns through six games, also proved effective with his feet against Ballou, averaging 10 yards a carry. Payne is the most dangerous player on the field for the Warriors, and through two quarters against Coolidge last week, he caught two passes for 111 yards and a touchdown to complement an interception on defense.

The physicality up front gives those players an opportunity to make plays, according to Scott.

“That’s always been our thing at Woodson. We’re going to be physical. You gotta be physical,” Scott said.

Wilson (5-2, 3-0) has also won three straight. The Tigers have held opponents to just 19 total combined points during the three game winning streak — and their defense made play after play behind the line last week in a win over Ballou. Linebacker Acey Calhoun recorded 11 tackles with one sacks, while junior linebacker Nathan Jones had seven tackles and an additional three assisted stops. Senior safety Matt Thorne added six tackles and two pass deflections for a unit that has been playing as well as any other in the city.

Calhoun, who is also a track star at the school, suffered a sprained ankle last week against the Knights and said Wednesday that he is unlikely to play Saturday. He has been thrust into a role of helping the linebacker core from the sideline this week, but against a talented H.D. Woodson offense, he is confident the Tigers can win at the line of scrimmage and free up space for defenders like Anderson and Jones to make plays.

“This is a huge game for us. We’re just trying to get to the top of the division,” Calhoun said. “So it’s either go hard or go home.”

Dunbar doubles down on special teams

Fresh off a 21-14 win over Anacostia, Dunbar (5-1, 3-1) will enjoy its second bye week of the season this weekend. It’s an important reprieve before next weekend’s showdown against H.D. Woodson, which could have major implications by the time the DCIAA playoffs roll around next month.

The Crimson Tide revamped their special teams against the Indians (2-5, 1-3), moving away from a classic punt return approach in favor of bringing all-out pressure at the line of scrimmage. Dunbar has a stable of speedsters at its disposal to return kicks, according to Coach Jerron Joe, but through its first five games of the season, the results had been pedestrian. That forced Joe, who at one point this season called fourth down punt returns “a waste of a down,” to change his philosophy and put those same quick athletes on the edge to block kicks. It took a full week of preparation leading up to the contest.

“It was the first time that we really went after the punt at practice,” Joe said. “The football gods rewarded us.”

The Crimson Tide blocked two kicks in the fourth quarter, one which was returned for a touchdown by linebacker and running back Monte Smith, and another that set up a 15-yard touchdown run by Malonta Patterson. It was a slight coaching adjustment in a season full of them, but one that could pay dividends down the stretch.

“When we went into the half [against Anacostia], I told these guys they have to be resilient,” Joe said. “I told those guys, you gotta fight. You’re one play away from turning this game around.”