From their offensive philosophies of pounding opponents with the run to their championship pedigrees and their mirroring mascots, No. 5 Stone Bridge and No. 9 Westfield enter Friday’s anticipated matchup with plenty of similarities. As a result, both coaches acknowledge that attention to detail, especially in the lesser heralded facets of the game, will prove critical in deciding the outcome in Chantilly.
After surrendering 66 points in its first two games, Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson said he reshuffled his defensive players in hopes of finding better execution. The result has been three turnovers and 20 points allowed in the Bulldogs’ last two wins
“We’re getting a little more comfortable defensively and not missing assignments, and I think that’s helped us be more consistent on offense,” Thompson said. “But Westfield is a sound, very well-coached team, so we’re going to have be even better.”
Westfield running back Tyler Thrasher-Walker has rushed for 614 yards and eight touchdowns, making him the focal point of the Stone Bridge (3-1) defense. Whether wide receiver Devon Burns (nine catches, 90 yards) can get going could be a welcome bonus in expanding Westfield’s offensive capabilities.
Thompson said he would also like to open up the field more behind the arm of quarterback Joe Thompson, Mickey’s son, but that will be dependent on Stone Bridge’s success on the ground. Sterling Dailey has eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark and scored at least twice in all four games. Awaiting him on Friday will be Westfield’s bruising defensive line that prides itself on its depth. Last week, the unit helped the Bulldogs (3-1) hold talented Fairfax rusher Nick Scott to 20 yards in a 41-0 win.
“Stone Bridge’s offensive line is of course huge, but the fact that we’re so good up front defensively I think gives us something to help combat their strength,” Westfield Coach Kyle Simmons said. “With the way both teams play, it should be a hard-fought game and another good test for us.”
Though Langley returned half of its offensive starters from last year’s playoff team, the Saxons entered this season with a hint of uncertainty. Questions swirled as to how they would replace 1,846-yard rusher Philip Mun and how they would handle a tough opening slate against perennial powers like Chantilly, Stone Bridge and Yorktown.
But after emerging from the four-game gauntlet with a 2-2 mark and a new backfield workhorse in Tyler West (664 yards, four touchdowns), Langley finds itself in the discussion of 6A North region contenders.
“We’d of course love to win all of our games, and we lost a couple tight ones, but we knew we had a tough schedule,” Saxons Coach John Howerton said. “We’ve shown signs of playing strong, and that comes from having an experienced quarterback and a strong senior group.”
Three-year starting quarterback Nick Casso has been consistent, whether it be with his arm (four touchdown passes in a loss to No. 5 Stone Bridge) or his legs (155 rushing yards, four scores in win against then-No. 20 Chantilly). He’s also found a favorite target in Garrett Collier, who has 22 catches. Their efficiency, along with West’s quick adaptation to the team’s single-back offense has resulted in the Saxons averaging nearly 30 points per game.
As Langley enters the brunt of its Liberty District play with Friday’s game at Marshall, Howerton hopes to see more strides from his defense in its switch from a four-man front to a 3-4.
“We don’t have a lot of depth, so we’ve had to make a few adjustments,” Howerton said, “but I feel like we’re catching up to where we need to be.”