The past two seasons, No. 2 Hylton won every regular season game only to lose to Battlefield, a team it had beaten each of those years, in the playoffs.
So the question that Hylton Coach Tony Lilly asked himself last offseason was: Did we just win a bunch of games, or did we get better each week?
He leaned toward the former. So as pleasing as the Bulldogs’ 10-0 season-opening home win over No. 8 Battlefield was Friday night, the real victory will come in the days and weeks ahead. Hylton is not playing for Weeks 1-10. They’re preparing for Weeks 11-15.
“Every practice we’re trying to get better,” said junior quarterback Travon McMillian, who connected with senior Cameron Pulley on a 72-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass late in the third quarter for the game’s only touchdown. “[Before], we won games just because we have talent. But if we keep getting better throughout the season, then I think we’ll become a really good team.”
Battlefield (1-1) — which was shut out for the first time since Sept. 8, 2006, a span of 73 games — had its chances. In the first half, the Bobcats drove from their own 20 to the Hylton 7-yard line. On third down, senior quarterback Ryan Swingle’s pass into the end zone glanced off the hands of senior Nick Newman and into the hands of Hylton sophomore Sam Thomas.
In the second half, Battlefield started one possession at the 50 and got to the Hylton 35- and 32-yard lines on other fizzled drives. This even though Hylton lost starting senior defensive end Chris Phillips to a knee injury on the opening kickoff.
On the lone scoring possession of the first half, Hylton drove from its 39-yard line to the Battlefield 6, all on the ground, all courtesy of senior running back Josh Redfearn and McMillian.
The Bulldogs had third-and-goal from the 2, but a false start penalty pushed them back, and McMillian had to leave for a play when he inadvertently trotted off the field when consulting with the sideline. So he was not on the field for the crucial third down, a stuffed Redfearn run.
So Hylton settled for a 24-yard field goal by senior Xavier Mensah with 8 minutes 54 seconds left in the first half.
Hylton, which racked up 90 penalty yards, advanced to the Battlefield 15-yard line when McMillian connected with freshman Eric Kumah for 27 yards, but the first-half clock ran out before the Bulldogs could get set to run another play.
Hylton senior defensive lineman Andre Scrubb, an All-Met baseball player, recovered a fumble on fourth down at the Bulldogs’ 33 after Battlefield had picked up three first downs on the first possession of the game.
“We’re going to come in every Saturday morning and we’re going to evaluate our tape and we’re going to make a determination did we get better and what things can we correct to get better,” Lilly said. “With an emphasis that we’re playing our best ball when we get into the playoffs.”