The two Fauquier County football coaches who remain in the playoffs have addressed history very differently during preparation for their next opponents.
Kettle Run’s Jeff Lloyd is trying to ignore it. Liberty’s Sean Finnerty is trying to idealize it.
On Friday, the fourth-seeded Kettle Run Cougars (9-2) will face No. 1 Skyline (10-1) in Front Royal during the semifinals of the Group AA D-3 Region II playoffs, while the No. 5 Liberty Eagles (7-4) will play No. 1 Briar Woods (11-0) in Ashburn during the D-4 playoffs.
Kettle Run has 3-1 record against Skyline in their short history, while Liberty is 2-1 against Briar Woods. Most recently, the Cougars dominated Skyline, 28-6, Sept. 28 by holding the Hawks to negative-6 rushing yards and 41 passing yards. That was Skyline’s only loss this season and a program-record performance for the Kettle Run defense.
“The disadvantage is you don’t want your kids to be overconfident,” Lloyd said. “Make them realize this is a different game and September is a long time ago. That September game doesn’t carry a lot of weight now.”
Meanwhile, Liberty last played Briar Woods in 2010, when the Eagles won a regular season meeting, 13-10, and lost a playoff semifinal game, 7-0. The Briar Woods Falcons went on to win the Region II D-4 championship and the AA D-4 state championship in 2010. They repeated that feat in 2011.
“We brought that up quite a bit just to show how the first year they won a state championship and were the best team in Virginia, we beat them,” Finnerty said. “Just to let our kids know this Briar Woods team isn’t untouchable. We … almost beat them in the playoffs too.”
This season, the Eagles will try to slow a Briar Woods team that has averaged 41.5 points per game. The Falcons have 2,289 rushing yards with four runners that average more than 5 yards per carry and have more than 250 yards each. That group is led by running back Cory Colder (835 yards, 13 touchdowns) and quarterback Trace McSorley (300, 4).
“If we can shut down their running game and make them have to throw to beat us I think we’ll be in good position,” Finnerty said. “But at the same time, you’re saying, ‘Putting the ball in Trace McSorley’s hands all game isn’t a good play.’”
McSorley has completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,789 yards, 24 touchdowns. He has only two interceptions. Three receivers have five touchdowns each and more than 300 yards, led by Cam Serigne (665, 5).
“Because of just how potent their offense is, you’d think we wouldn’t be able to win by scoring two touchdowns, but it is a very real possibility that our defense can limit what they do,” Finnerty said. “I’m not going to sell our defense short.
“I know a lot of people might be picking the other way, but I think it’s going to be a close game,” he said.
Defensively, Briar Woods has 14 sacks and 17 interceptions. The 6.3 points per game the Falcons allow has fueled their undefeated run this season.
“That’s obviously in the back of your head, but you look at the Xs and Os and say, ‘Our game plan looks pretty good and it should work pretty well against Briar Woods,’” Finnerty said. “As a coach you feel confident. … At the same time, that’s what every coach has thought the last 25 games, but Briar Woods has so much skill and talent they’re able to come out on top.”
Briar Woods hasn’t lost since its first game of 2011 and has a 25-game winning streak. However, linebacker Matt Rolin, an Under Armour All-American game selection and future South Carolina Gamecock, left the Falcons’ quarterfinal game with an injury. That could benefit Liberty’s run-focused game plan Friday.
Meanwhile, Kettle Run will try to replicate a Sept. 28 performance against Skyline in which it ran for 246 yards and threw for 109.
“We were very physical and we were able to run the football pretty well against a very good defense,” Lloyd said. “That’s who we are.”
While the Cougars held Skyline quarterback Aaron Jeremiah to negative-16 total yards on nine carries and three completions, he carried the Hawks the rest of the season.
“I don’t know if we’ll repeat it because I think they are better football team now, but defensively we’ve been pretty good,” Lloyd said.
Jeremiah has passed for 827 yards and eight touchdowns while running for 551 yards and eight touchdowns. Running back Dayvon Haight leads the Hawks in rushing with 938 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“If you allow them to get the run game going, then they become very difficult … with the play-action pass,” Lloyd said.
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