This was supposed to be Matt Rolin’s year.
Briar Woods’ senior linebacker committed to the University of South Carolina over the summer and entered his final season with the Falcons with his sights set on a third consecutive state championship.
But a sprained ankle kept him out of three of the Falcons’ first four games, including a Week 2 win against Ashburn rivals Broad Run. Rolin returned for one half of last week’s win against Potomac Falls and declared himself back to 100 percent just in time for Friday’s clash of Virginia AA Dulles District unbeatens in Leesburg.
“It was tough to be on the sideline watching, but I just had to stay positive,” said Rolin, who had never missed a game in his high school career. “I’m really looking forward to getting back out there for the full game Friday.”
Without its top tackler, the Briar Woods defense held its own, limiting its last four opponents to 25 combined points, but Rolin’s return coincides with the Falcons’ toughest test yet.
“We’ve got to step it up on defense. They score a lot of points, but I think we can stop them,” Reimers said after the Huskies won at Loudoun County last Friday. “And offensively, we’ve just gotta keep churning out yards.”
That was the strategy last season when the Falcons held Tuscarora’s run game to 58 yards on 25 carries in a 38-0 rout. Briar Woods is giving up only 52.6 rushing yards per game and 2.0 yards per carry through five weeks, but the Falcons know this is a bigger, stronger and more experienced Huskies team than the one they beat up last September.
If Briar Woods can limit Tuscarora’s effectiveness on the ground, the Falcons like their chances to extend their win streak to an area-best 20 games. Junior quarterback Nick Azzarita has attempted only 20 passes this season, and up until now, the Huskies have rarely been forced to throw the football, a trend Briar Woods aims to reverse.
Junior lineman Nick Merletti (6-4, 245 pounds) will try to neutralize 6-4, 275-pound right tackle Darius Anderson and while Rolin and senior linebacker Cam Serigne — a 6-foot-3, 245-pound Wake Forest tight end recruit — look to plug the running holes.
“We’re going to shut down the run game and we’re going to make them pass,” Rolin said. “We know that our defense and secondary is better than their passing game. They’ve got some big guys up front, but I think we match up size-wise pretty well, and Coach [Charlie] Pierce has a pretty good gameplan for us.”
Dan Powers knew long ago what the rest of the AAA Northern Region is starting to realize: Madison’s defense is tough to crack. Practice after practice, the Warhawks senior quarterback has seen the same swarming blitzes and stingy secondary that’s helped Madison win its last three games and in the process hold opponents to an average of 12 points per contest.
“We have a lot of returning starters on defense and our linebacker corps is extremely strong,” Powers said. “Our defense has really held us in there, and that helps us get more opportunities on offense.”
Two weeks ago in a 24-17 victory against Hayfield, the Warhawks recorded seven sacks and blocked a punt in the end zone for the decisive touchdown. Then last week, the unit picked off a pass and recorded a safety en route to a 29-6 win versus McLean. Powers’s top two performances of the young season came in those wins, as he threw for 356 yards and two scores.
Every bit of this defensive prowess will be needed when the Warhawks travel to Liberty District rival Langley on Friday. The Saxons boast a strong weapon in running back Philip Mun, who has recorded 611 yards and nine touchdowns behind the stout blocking of senior lineman Jack Howerton.
Slowing down Mun is a challenge that Warhawks Coach Lenny Schultz knows won’t be easy, but he’s not afraid to place this assignment on his fierce set of defenders.
“Our four guys up front plus our linebackers have to win that battle and be tough because Langley is big,” Schultz said. “Much of this game will come down to how well we can hold our own at the line of scrimmage.”
In beating teams that have gone a collective 5-14, Stonewall Jackson has not faced much adversity. The Raiders could face some Friday, hosting No. 13 Battlefield in a game that might determine the Virginia AAA Cedar Run District championship.
Battlefield (3-1), the three-time defending Northwest Region Division 6 champion and coming off a bye week, has beaten Stonewall (4-0) the past five seasons, including by a combined 145-24 the past four meetings.
“The challenge is something we haven’t faced yet, and that’s potentially being behind,” Stonewall Coach Mike Dougherty said. “That, to me, will be our test: What do we do if we’re behind a good team? Will we do what we’ve done in the past and wait for the game to end, or do what I think this group will do and get their act together?
“If we want to be a playoff team, we’re playing one this week. It’s big, but it’s not make or break either way. We’re not going to get rings ordered if we win and we’re certainly not going to collect the equipment if we lose.”
Dougherty, whose team this week gets back two injured linemen who got hurt early in the preseason, is quite pleased with the development of junior quarterback Greg Stroman, who has thrown for 661 yards and 10 touchdowns with just one interception. He also has rushed for 326 yards.
“He’s the heart in us right now,” Dougherty said. “I trust him. It’s odd to say that of a 16-year-old kid, but I trust him. It takes a lot for a player to get that from coaches. I believe in him and his teammates believe in him. We go as he goes.”
For Robinson Coach Trey Taylor, Friday’s contest with South County feels all too familiar. Not only are Taylor and his Rams facing off against Gerry Pannoni, whom he coached under at W.T. Woodson, but both squads enter the game desperate for a win after starting 1-3 — as was the case in 2011. Last season, South County pulled out a 13-10 victory, adding momentum to what would become a 10-game win streak and an appearance in the AAA Division 5 final. Meanwhile, things went a bit south for the Rams, who lost three straight before finishing strong enough for a playoff berth.
Robinson enters fresh off a near-upset of No. 8 Westfield last week, when a late four-point lead evaporated in a 24-21 loss. Taylor said limiting turnovers and clamping down on defense will be key to thwarting a South County offense that can put up points in a hurry. But the Rams have their own scoring machine in tailback Joe Wilson, who has totaled 656 rushing yards and nine scores in his last two games. . . .
How out of character was T.C. Williams’s 73-0 season-opening shutout over Wakefield? In the subsequent weeks, the Titans gave up 55 points to Westfield, 40 to previously winless Robinson and 60 to previously winless South County. Now the Titans face Lake Braddock, a team that has scored 115 points against T.C. the past three years. . . .
Brentsville (0-5), outscored 234-14 this season, has earned its bye week. The Tigers’ first five opponents — Kettle Run, Woodgrove, Tuscarora, Skyline and Stonewall Jackson — are a combined 21-0. The Tigers’ next five opponents, including a second game against Kettle Run, are 18-5, with three of those losses being to teams on the Brentsville schedule. . . .
What to make of Osbourn? The Eagles blanked 2011 playoff team Brooke Point, 40-0, in the opener. Then got blasted 39-7 by Mountain View. Then squeaked past Forest Park, 17-13. Then upset No. 12 Hylton, 23-13. And last week lost to Osbourn Park, 30-26, a team it had beaten seven times in the previous eight meetings.