James Wood didn’t secure last year’s win against Skyline until the final play of the game.
Against an improved Hawks team, the Colonels will probably have to be relentless until the final snap this year as well.
James Wood (0-1) travels to Front Royal to take on a Skyline team that has already equaled last year’s win total with a 2-0 start. The Hawks — who lost to the Colonels last year when Jackson Turner intercepted a tipped pass in the red zone on the final play — are 2-0 for the first time since 2012.
Skyline is averaging 42.5 points per game and has rushed for almost 500 yards after recording 519 total yards on the ground last year. The Hawks have been plenty impressive in the air as well, as transfer wide receiver Marion Haley (Warren County) already has hauled in six touchdown passes and also has a kickoff return TD.
James Wood coach Ryan Morgan said the Colonels have spent a lot of time working on tackling since giving up 533 yards in a 49-12 loss to Sherando in its season opener on Aug. 30 (James Wood was off last week). Morgan said Haley definitely has the potential to do damage if the Colonels don’t improve on the tackling front.
“We’ve got to make sure that we corral him and tackle him to the best of our ability,” Morgan said. “He’s somebody that can do a little bit of everything.
“They ran a jet sweep pass to him last week. They throw the ball deep to him on fade routes. A couple of weeks ago he caught a quick screen in the flat and took it 50 yards for a touchdown. Last week they threw a pass to him over the middle he probably caught about 10 yards downfield. He didn’t score on it, but he probably gained another 25 or 30 yards [after catching it]. They use him all over the field. If he gets some open room, he looks like he was shot of a cannon.”
Morgan said he’s impressed with the job first-year Skyline starting quarterback Blake Appleton, a sophomore, has done in distributing the ball.
Junior running back Darion Santucci (6-1, 240) rushed for 170 yards and 17 carries in the season opener against Independence, and the ability of him and speedy players like Logan Maiatico and David Carter will give the Colonels plenty to think about.
“They were just pounding [Santucci] up the middle [against Independence],” Morgan said. “He’s a big guy, bigger than you usually face, and he’s a tough runner. He doesn’t typically break runs, but he’s the type who’s going to wear you down. He does a good job of finding cutback lanes.”
Hawks coach Heath Gilbert said his team’s run game will be important tonight.
“James Wood last year played us with five guys in the box and we’re a read-option team, so we’re only blocking four of those five, and we still couldn’t [run],” Gilbert said. “We had like two yards rushing last year against them, so they were able to play six on our four in coverage.
“It was a great game plan for them because we weren’t effective enough to run the ball. Hopefully this year they respect our run more. If they don’t and they go five in the box, we better be able to run the football. If not, they’re gonna beat us.”
James Wood is led defensively by linebackers Sam Adkins (14 tackles) and Turner (11 tackles).
Adkins and Turner are two players that Morgan would love to see more of an impact from on offense this week. With its spread offense, James Wood is throwing the ball more, but in falling behind quickly against Sherando the Colonels didn’t have much of an opportunity to feature the two running backs.
Adkins had five carries for 1 yard and Turner had two carries for 26 yards, with one of those going for 27 yards. Overall, James Wood had 24 carries for 73 yards and lost 42 yards on sacks.
“We have to establish the run,” Morgan said. “We need to be physical. Our offensive line has been working hard on the past week and a half. The mindset is to establish the run and the passing game will come. But we’ll attempt to take whatever it is that other teams are willing to give us.”
Morgan said the Colonels wiil have to be wary of Skyline defensive lineman Will Wolf, who had two sacks last week.
James Wood was led offensively against Sherando by wide receiver Lavaughan Freeman (two catches, 72 yards) and wide receiver Jaden Ashby (five carries for 41 yards and a TD). Quarterback Carson Hoberg completed 12 of 25 passes for 143 yards and two interceptions.
— The Northern Virginia Daily contributed to this story.