Gone are the days when Yorktown would run its opponents into the ground. The wing-T offense that propelled the Patriots to so many successful years has nearly gone by the wayside, and M.J. Stewart — their trusty running back who rushed for 3,270 yards and collected 56 offensive touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons — is now a sophomore defensive back at the University of North Carolina.
Nowadays the Patriots are slinging the ball around more than anybody in Northern Virginia. Senior quarterback Stephen Glagola averages 32 pass attempts per game, the third-highest mark in the D.C. area.
Longtime Yorktown Coach Bruce Hanson has facilitated the philosophy overhaul, though not without some reluctance.
“Don’t get me wrong: I’d like to be running the ball,” said Hanson, now in his 31st year with the team. “But we feel like this is what we have to do to win.”
Yorktown lacks the kind of dynamic tailback that used to propel its rushing attack, and it also lacks the necessary size up front to create consistent openings in the running game. What the Patriots don’t lack is a reliable stable of wide receivers. Matthew Paredes often lines up in the slot alongside fellow senior Zane Killgo, while juniors Drew Maddox and Stevie Picot pose threats on the outside. Yorktown frequently lines up five-wide, sometimes leaving an empty backfield.
“I like [the change on offense] because I can get the ball and make some plays myself, but it also spreads the field so defenses never know who we’re going to throw it to,” said Paredes, who is seventh in the area with 45 receptions this season. “All of our guys are good enough to catch the ball and run with it.”
Their adoption of the passing attack isn’t the only significant change to hit the Patriots this fall. For the first time since 1995, Yorktown (3-6) will finish the regular season with a losing record. That’s not to say the Patriots are a bad football team; five of their losses have come against teams currently boasting winning records, and they’re one of only two teams to beat Wakefield this year.
Yet despite the lousy record, Yorktown will squeak into the 16-team 6A North region playoffs if it defeats Washington-Lee Friday night.
“It’s been a tough road, a lot of injuries,” Paredes said. “But we’re all excited and ready to go because we can still get to the playoffs.”
Washington-Lee’s offense, meanwhile, has dealt with some turbulence of its own this year. After enjoying three years of consistent play from quarterback Sam Appel and then an excellent season from quarterback Ronnie Fecso last year, the Generals (4-5) found the cupboard empty when both of their projected 2015 signal-callers got hurt in the offseason. They tried senior wide receiver Henry Casey at the position during two scrimmages and the season-opening 30-10 loss to Westfield, then inserted their most versatile athlete, Ceneca Espinoza, under center despite no formal training at quarterback.
Finally, in the wake of a 1-4 start and with nothing clicking against Langley, Coach Josh Shapiro threw Andrew Malone, a former linebacker who played only two games at quarterback on the junior varsity squad this year, in for the second half. The rangy junior threw for 152 yards and a touchdown in a 23-20 overtime win.
“His first pass was like a 10-yard hitch, and he put it on the numbers,” said Shapiro, whose team can also make the playoffs with a win Friday. “We were just like, ‘Whoa, okay, let’s keep this going.’”
Playoff implications aside, Friday’s battle will decide the annual Arlington County champion. Yorktown would claim the unofficial title with a win, while a Washington-Lee victory would make it a three-way tie this year alongside Wakefield.
“That’s a big deal to us,” Hanson said. “Both teams have the same sort of motivation going into the game as far as that’s concerned.”