FLS Varsity brings you the scores, stats and stories from Fredericksburg-area high school sports.
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL FEATURE: Difficult slates bonded teams
READ MORE: We’ve compiled some high school football capsules for you to preview each of tonight’s games involving Fredericksburg-area teams.
It was halftime of Mountain View’s season-opener at Varina when veteran head coach Lou Sorrentino realized the contest was an uphill battle.
The Wildcats trailed 29–0 at intermission en route to a 42–7 loss to one of the state’s traditional powerhouses.
Sorrentino had no wild expectations of a comeback, but he knew the remainder of the game would reveal the character of his players. So he challenged the team’s toughness at the break.
“I wanted to find out if we had some tough guys that are going to battle in the face of adversity or kind of find a place to hide,” Sorrentino said. “After the game, I thought, ‘We’ve got enough tough guys to win. We’ve got enough guys that have that heart.’
“It didn’t shake out that game, but I came out of there optimistic that our guys weren’t going to back down.”
Sorrentino’s confidence was rewarded with a 7–3 regular-season record. The Wildcats are the No. 6 seed in the 5A–North playoffs and they’ll host Potomac tonight in a first-round game.
They’re one of several Fredericksburg-area teams that were tested like never before in the regular season, as the Virginia High School League’s reclassification system took effect.
Coaches of those programs believe the difficult regular-season schedule hardened their players and prepared them for a deep postseason run.
“I’ve never in my career had that type of schedule,” said Colonial Forge coach Bill Brown, who has worked the sideline for nearly 30 years. “We had tough schedules when I was at Hylton, but I can’t compare anything to what we’ve had to face this year.”
Colonial Forge’s first five opponents—Highland Springs, Briar Woods, Hermitage, Massaponax and Patrick Henry–Roanoke—have a combined 43–7 record.
The Eagles (7–3) lost to Briar Woods and Massaponax, but ended Hermitage’s 39-game regular-season winning streak on Sept. 13 and defeated Highland Springs and Patrick Henry, as well.
They’ll host Thomas Dale tonight in a 6A–South playoff matchup. In addition to the first five games, the Eagles also had to play Stafford County foes Mountain View and North Stafford (8–2).
“We’ve been in the playoffs since Week 1,” Brown said.
Coaches said the primary benefit to a difficult schedule is that it tests players physically and mentally. But there are drawbacks, too.
North Stafford standout running back Von Purvis amassed more than 80 carries in back-to-back games as the Wolverines defeated Briar Woods and Mountain View. The Wolverines ended Briar Woods’ 32-game winning streak, and slipped past the Wildcats, 21–13.
Purvis was battling turf toe but couldn’t afford to rest until a game against Stafford (1–9) the following week.
“He was hanging on by a thread,” Wolverines head coach Joe Mangano said.
Sorrentino said “an underrated” issue during a run of tough opponents is the difficulty in keeping team morale high.
He said because each play is so critical, backups receive less playing time. He said that makes the games less fun for some players, parents, and even the coaches.
“In the past you’d have a couple of games on your schedule where you know we’d really have to play poorly to lose,” Sorrentino said. “You play a lot of kids in those games, so morale is up all the way around. Kids feel involved.
“When you’re playing a tough opponent, every snap counts. As a coach, you’re trying to play guys, but that’s not the time to give out playing time.”
The Wildcats, Wolverines and Eagles aren’t the only area playoff teams that ventured outside their district to face difficult opponents.
James Monroe defeated Essex 40–37 in overtime to hand the Trojans (the No. 1 seed in 1A–East) their only loss of the season. The Yellow Jackets (6–4) also endured nondistrict losses to North Stafford and Mountain View.
Caroline suffered a 50–20 loss to Dinwiddie (10–0), who is the No. 2 seed in 4A–South.
Coaches said whether they won or lost, those hard-fought games should serve them well this month.
“When you look up and down the [5A–North] region, I think it’s an advantage for the Stafford and Spotsylvania schools,” Mangano said.
“We played Briar Woods. We played Massaponax. We played Mountain View. We played Forge, and quite honestly even though James Monroe is 3A, they’re probably better than half of the 5A [–North] schools in the playoffs. So we look at our schedule and say, ‘Shoot, we’re ready to roll.’”
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Thomas Dale (6–4) at Colonial Forge (7–3), 7
Thomas Edison (3–7) at Massaponax (10–0), 7
Thomas Jefferson (4–6) at North Stafford (8–2), 7
Potomac (4–6) at Mountain View (7–3), 7
E.C. Glass (4–6) at Eastern View (9–1), 7
Pulaski (4–6) at Courtland (8–2), 7
Dominion (6–4) at King George (8–2), 7
Caroline (4–6) at Phoebus (9–1), 7:30
Spotsylvania (3–7) at Lafayette (10–0), 7
Armstrong (3–7) at James Monroe (6–4), 7
Middlesex (7–3) at Washington & Lee (6–4), 7
Colonial Beach (5–5) at Rappahannock (7–3), 7