Tuscarora's kick returner Adrien Stinger, right, holds the ball out as he reaches the endzone after returning a kickoff for a touchdown earlier this season against Briar Woods. (Richard A. Lipski/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
Game to watch: Woodgrove (6-2) at Tuscarora (7-1), Friday, 7 p.m.

The annual Woodgrove-Tuscarora football game serves as a progress report for two programs still working to establish themselves in the Virginia AA Dulles District and Region II. The two western Loudoun schools opened their doors in August 2010 with sparkling new facilities but facing identical challenges that come with building a football program from scratch.

The Wolverines and Huskies are forever linked, but Tuscarora’s rapid ascent to the postseason last year left Woodgrove playing catch-up.

Friday night in Leesburg the Wolverines will look close the gap and prove to themselves that they can win a big game against a fellow playoff team.

“For a new program, we’ve viewed every game as a big game,” first-year Woodgrove Coach Mike Skinner said. “We’re still kind of getting to that point where we can play in these types of games, but we’ve got to turn the tables. At some point we’re going to have to step up to play with these guys. This game is going to be a good gauge for us.”

The Wolverines stormed out of the gate this season with five straight wins by an average margin of 46 points. Junior running back Josh Sweet gashed defenses and Woodgrove’s big, physical fronts dominated the line of scrimmage. But against perennial playoff contender Loudoun County and two-time defending state champion Briar Woods, the young Wolverines wilted.

Tuscarora, which advanced to the Region II Division 3 semifinals last season and already owns a win at Loudoun County (7-1) this season, will provide another stiff test.

Like Woodgrove, the Huskies lean heavily on a workhorse running back — sophomore Noah Reimers — but they also possess a speedy, change-of-pace back in senior Adrien Stinger. Over the last two weeks the Huskies have given junior transfer quarterback Nick Azzarita more chances in the passing game as they try to establish better offensive balance before the postseason.

“When we started the year, I felt like we were very good offensively, but we were one dimensional,” Tuscarora Coach Mike Burnett said. “We’ve gotten Adrien involved much more on the perimeter attack, and Nick has really settled in as our quarterback. As you get into big games, you have to have that balance, and you have to be able to make big plays.”

Both teams thrive when they can ride their running backs on lengthy, clock-eating drives, but Burnett said one big play on defense or special teams could decide Friday’s contest.

The Huskies swept the Wolverines in their first and last games of 2010 and won last year’s installment 43-28. But this is a much deeper, more experienced Woodgrove team that is eager to prove itself on a bigger stage.

“We’re the measuring stick against each other,” Burnett said. “We started our programs at the exact same time with the exact same resources. We feel we’re ahead of the game if we can beat them, and they want to to prove that they’re right there with us.”

Game to watch: Potomac (5-3) at No. 10 Hylton (7-1), Friday, 7:30 p.m.

For a team that hasn’t gotten to play a home game this season because of field renovations, Potomac (Va.) certainly finds itself in an agreeable spot Friday night despite having to climb onto another bus.

The Panthers (5-3, 4-0 in the Virginia AAA Cardinal District) play at Hylton (7-1, 4-0). They have a shot at winning the district title yet have the comfort of knowing that they have locked down a Northwest Region Division 5 playoff berth, their first since 2007.

So the team without a house is playing with the proverbial house money. In some recent seasons, the Panthers have needed to beat Hylton, winner of 17 consecutive Cardinal games, to qualify for the playoffs.

“They’ve had to go through a lot to get here,” said Potomac Coach Jerry Roadcap, whose team has won three straight. “They deserve a shot and they’ve earned it. To play for a district championship is really big for these kids. They can go and let it all hang out and just enjoy the experience.”

With All-Met senior lineman Donta Wilkins and a strong supporting cast, Potomac has stopped the run all season and in recent games has gotten standout rushing performances from junior Torrey Dixon, who has 562 yards the past two weeks.

Dixon’s production has coincided with an offensive tweak that’s spurred the running game.

“He’s got a chance to see his blocks set up a little bit better and he’s been making the right choices,” Roadcap said. “Instead of hitting the sideline, he’s heading upfield. He’s got confidence now that that’s the way to run.”

The Panthers currently have the third-highest VHSL power points ranking among Division 5 teams in the Northwest Region. If they get to host a postseason game, it will be played at Freedom-Woodbridge High, less than three miles from Potomac.

Around the Northwest Region

Woodbridge (5-3), which took a lead in the final minute last week against Hylton only to give up a kickoff return for a touchdown in a gut-punch of a 20-15 loss, missed the playoffs last season with a 6-4 record. The Vikings host Forest Park (3-5) on Friday and then host No. 16 Stonewall Jackson (8-0) in the regular season finale. Woodbridge has nine consecutive wins against Forest Park, which had a bye last week. Forest Park will have to wait at least another year to post the first winning season in the school’s 12-year varsity football history.

Two tough games stand between Stonewall and an unbeaten regular season. The Raiders, who have trailed in the second halves of the past two games, play at Broad Run (4-4) and at Woodbridge. Broad Run currently holds the sixth and final Northwest Region Division 5 playoff berth. The Spartans’ losses have been to No. 7 Briar Woods, Woodbridge, No. 2 Stone Bridge and Battlefield — teams with a combined 27-5 record.

Osbourn Park (4-4) has a shot at its second winning season in seven years. The Yellow Jackets host Gar-Field (2-6) this week and Hylton next. Gar-Field senior Shakeem Copeland has rushed for 315 yards in losses the past two weeks.

Battlefield (6-2) hosts North Stafford (7-1) in a game that pits the three-time defending Northwest Region Division 6 champion Bobcats against the reigning Division 5 region champs.

Osbourn (4-5) will conclude its regular season, and perhaps season period, Friday at Freedom-South Riding (3-5). Osbourn has beaten Hylton and Potomac and led Stonewall in the third quarter but might be left out of the postseason for the first time since 2007. The Eagles are the seventh-rated Division 6 team in the region; six qualify for the playoffs.

Could be a tough loss for Freedom-Woodbridge (1-7) to bear if first-year varsity program Patriot (2-6) rolls in and beats the Eagles. Freedom is 10-68 since fielding its first team in 2005; Patriot the last two games has come within two touchdowns of Broad Run and led Stonewall late. The Pioneers were idle last week. Freedom-Woodbridge’s lone win was 25-22 over Freedom-South Riding, a team Patriot beat, 57-0.

Around Loudoun

Loudoun County responded to a frustrating home loss to Tuscarora on Sept. 21 by shifting its focus from a run-heavy attack to a wide-open spread offense. The Raiders are 4-0 since and senior quarterback Jake Lokey is thriving with the ball in his hands. County hosts Leesburg rival Heritage on Friday, a team that has given up 43, 54 and 51 points in its last three contests. If the Raiders win, they will play Briar Woods with at least a share of the district title on the line in next week’s regular season finale. ...

No. 7 Briar Woods (8-0) had its bye last week and hosts Loudoun Valley on Friday in Brambleton. The Falcons took their bye in Week 1 last season and then dropped their opener against Broad Run before reeling off 14 straight victories to capture a second straight state championship. But several of the team’s top players — including running back Cory Colder and linebacker Matt Rolin — have fought through injuries this season, and an extra week of rest should re-energize them for another playoff run....

Despite its 2-6 record, Potomac Falls is still alive in the Region II Division 4 playoff hunt. The Panthers (17.25 power points) close out their schedule with a pair of winnable games against Sterling rivals Park View and Dominion, but they will need Powhatan (4-3, 20.14) or Liberty (4-4, 20.13) to falter in order to sneak in as the eighth and final seed.