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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Bulldogs rematch apropos for Eagles
READ MORE: Check out this week’s highs chool football playoff preview capsules compiled put together by Stever Franzello with some help from the rest of us in the office.
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With a murderers’ row of opponents on Colonial Forge’s regular-season schedule, there was no time to fixate on a potential playoff rematch with C.D. Hylton.
But even as the Eagles went through a gauntlet of opponents—from Briar Woods to Hermitage and the assortment of Commonwealth District powers—Hylton still occupied space in the back of their memories.
“It’s been on our minds,” junior Gary Jennings said of last year’s 23–13 playoff loss to the Bulldogs. “If you were here last year, you know.”
Colonial Forge finally gets its chance at retribution after being swept by C.D. Hylton in two matchups last season, the second coming in the region championship game. The Eagles (8–3) will visit the Bulldogs (10–1) tonight in the second round of the 6A–South region playoffs.
“It’s huge for me, and I know it’s huge for the team because it’s been heavy in our hearts since last season when they beat us in that regional championship and swept both games we played,” said Colonial Forge senior quarterback Damen Daniel, who missed last year’s playoff game with a knee injury. “It’s going to mean a lot to this school and this program.”
The Eagles are 0–3 against the Bulldogs, all since 2011. They failed to score more than 16 points in any game, a trend they hope to break tonight.
Colonial Forge has built its success on defense all season—the Eagles are allowing 17 points per game and have recorded four shutouts—but its offense has gained some potency in recent weeks.
Colonial Forge has scored more than 30 points in each of its last three games, including a 47–26 first-round playoff win over Thomas Dale last Friday. The Eagles have averaged 296 rushing yards in their last three contests, all victories, since struggling on the ground in a homecoming loss to Mountain View.
“We already knew we had a good defense, but I think in these last three games our offense has really come alive, and that’s a great feeling going into the playoffs,” Colonial Forge coach Bill Brown said.
The Eagles have benefited from the elevated role of Jennings, who has been a jack-of-all-trades all season but has stepped into a timeshare of sorts at quarterback with Daniel.
The speedy Jennings offers a change of pace and also gives a breather to Daniel, who has seen increases in playing time at linebacker while also battling a nagging thigh bruise.
The results of the new arrangement have been telling. In the last two games, Jennings has completed 10 of 12 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 201 yards and five scores.
“Every time I come out and go on defense and he goes in on offense, I’m confident he’s going to get the job done and make the right reads and good decisions,” said Daniel, who said he has seen steady improvement this week from his injury.
Brown said the plan for tonight is for both Daniel and Jennings to see time at quarterback.
“My thought process is we’re going to use both,” Brown said. “We have a game plan for both of them. If one of them can’t go, then that part of the game plan is gone and we go to the other game plan. They both can do very similar things, but they are both a little better at one thing or another.”
Brown brings his Colonial Forge team back to the school he helped build into a football powerhouse in the 1990s.
Brown, who was inducted into the VHSL Hall of Fame in 2001, started the program at Hylton and was there for 11 years. He won Group AAA, Division 6 state championships with the Bulldogs in 1998 and ’99.
“I coached so many great kids there,” Brown said. “[San Francisco 49ers linebacker] Ahmad Brooks, I watched him the other night almost murder Drew Brees—which was a clean hit for everybody who wants to know—but it’s a really important time for me, those years that I spent there and the associations that I have.”
The significance of this matchup isn’t lost on the players. They vividly remember what it felt like to lose to the Bulldogs on the big stage, and with their experience against top-notch competition the last couple of seasons, the Eagles feel they’re better equipped to face a similar challenge this week.
“It’s a real big game. They’re one of our rivals,” Forge senior Daniel Ezeagwu said. “It means a lot since we played them twice last year and couldn’t get it done, but I think this year we’ll definitely get it done.”
Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442