Last week marked the first time in three years that Connor McNulty hadn’t suited up for a Friday night football game in September. Instead, he and his Westfield teammates used the rare bye week to get in another practice, maximizing the extra time to prepare for No. 6 Lake Braddock while intensifying McNulty’s itch to return to game action.
“Practice filled the gap a little, but there’s nothing like a game, and we are especially excited for this one,” the senior linebacker said. “The first two games were great opportunities, but this game is a new level and a gauge to show what we can do against a strong team.”
During the No. 10 Bulldogs’ 2-0 start, McNulty and the defense have displayed their grit, forcing five turnovers and placing an offense with several new starters in a position to succeed. But in an effort to unsettle dual-threat Bruins quarterback Caleb Henderson, Westfield’s defensive unit may take on a different look come Friday.
“As a former defensive coordinator, I know that once quarterbacks began to throw and run, you wanted to pull your hair out because it’s like defending an extra guy,” Bulldogs Coach Kyle Simmons said. “Our plan is to mix it up some, keep them guessing and try to throw off some of the timing of their offense.”
With the target on Henderson, Bruins running back Trevor O’Brien could again emerge as an X-factor. In Lake Braddock’s win against then-No. 3 Stone Bridge two weeks ago, the senior took advantage of the defense’s focus on Henderson and rushed for 133 yards and three scores.
Westfield also hopes it can continue its ground success behind physical tailback Tyler Thrasher-Walker, who has amassed 315 rushing yards and five scores in two games. The Bulldogs’ discipline will play a role in this, said Simmons, who would like to see his team cut down on the 20 penalties accumulated in the first two games.
“We need all three downs most times to move downfield, so penalties that lead to second and fifteen put us in a bind,” Simmons said. “Having an extra week to pre
pare gave us more time to address those things and got the kids rested. Now we’ll see if we’re ready for what should be a good challenge.”
As the two teams with the highest points per game averages in the area, one could assume that Friday’s matchup between Chantilly and South County will come down to whichever team scores last. But with each roster featuring strong athletes on both sides of the ball, neither coach is interested in conceding points, let alone victory, to their formidable opponent.
“We’ve got to be able to stop their athletes,” South County Coach Gerry Pannoni said. “Our defense has drastically improved from last year, so we’re capable, but we can’t miss any assignments against their good athletes.”
“They are real aggressive with their front eight, so the outcome is going to be based on our ability to control the line of scrimmage,” said Chargers Coach Mike Lalli, whose team has averaged 51 points in two games. “If we can do that, we can position ourselves to stop their offense.”
Rooted in the triple-option, South County’s rushing attack has totaled 730 yards and helped the team put up 56 points in each of its first two wins. In their victory against Hayfield prior to last week’s bye, the Stallions saw three of their players top the 100-yard mark, led by quarterback David Symmes’ 173 yards and two scores.
“I think we still left about 14 points on the field with things like penalties,” Symmes said. “Our backfield is pretty lethal, and it’s been key to us getting off to a good start, unlike the last couple years. But against a team like Chantilly, I don’t think we can get away with them scoring a bunch of points or get on a roll.”
The Stallions’ defense, led by roving linebacker Edward Kargbo, will have several Chargers to keep an eye on Friday. Raeshawn Smith, who is also a shut-down defensive back, exploded for five touchdowns in the opener, making him one of seven Chargers who have reached the end zone through two games.
Having an extra week to prepare for Chantilly’s firepower is a welcome advantage for Pannoni, who has stressed the game’s magnitude to his players often during practice.
“Now that we’ve moved up from Division 5 to Division 6, this is a game where we can make a statement against a strong Chantilly team that contends every year,” Pannoni said. “This is our chance to show whether we belong in the discussion of Division 6 contenders.”