By John McNeilly
Special to Viva Loudoun
Culpeper (Nov. 24, 2013) – For the past two seasons, Woodgrove High School football fans have gotten used to Cornell-bound senior running back Josh Sweet pounding the rock into the heart of opposing defenses.
Friday night’s playoff game against the Eastern View Cyclones (10-2) in Culpeper was no exception.
On an unseasonably warm evening with light rain, and an electric playoff atmosphere, the Woodgrove Wolverines (9-3) used a heavy dose of Sweet, and a stellar defensive effort, to ground the Cyclones 49-7.
The playoff win advances No. 6 seed Woodgrove to the 4A North Regional semifinal against the second-seeded Salem High School Spartans near Roanoke. Salem (11-2) took care of Dominion on Friday, 52-26.
Sweet tore and twisted through the Cyclones defense the entire game, carrying the ball 35 times for 345 yards and six touchdowns. He also surpassed 5,000 yards for his career rushing total. A touchdown machine, Sweet now has 74 career TDs including 39 and counting this season.
“Our school’s only four-years old, but Sweet putting up that kind of a number is going to be hard to beat,” said Woodgrove head coach Mike Skinner. “People are going to be looking up at that for a long, long time. He’s special.”
Woodgrove scored early and often against the Cyclones’ defense.
The Wolverines took the opening kickoff and put together a seven-play statement drive that took less than two minutes off the clock.
Woodgrove then pooch-kicked the ensuing kickoff. An Eastern View player attempted to field the kick on a full run but was crushed, forcing the ball into a mass of Wolverines. The ball was recovered at midfield by Woodgrove junior linebacker Uzoma Kpaduwa.
“That was a planned onside kick, but our kicker actually hit it too hard,” said Skinner. “[senior] Collin Peterson hit the guy trying to catch it and knocked it loose, so it worked out.”
The muffed kickoff resulted in more than just a turnover for the Cyclones as they lost their leading tackler on the season, senior linebacker Logan Shurina, who missed the rest of the night with a concussion after the violent play, according to the Star Exponent.
Four plays later, again on another short rushing touchdown by Sweet, Woodgrove was up 14-0 with just over three minutes elapsed in the game.
The spirited Eastern View crowd was quiet. But not for long.
After Woodgrove’s kickoff, as Eastern View’s offensive unit lined up for its first play from scrimmage, the Wolverines called an immediate timeout.
“They came out in a formation we hadn’t seen before, so we took a timeout to make some adjustments,” said Skinner.
But, two plays later, Eastern View sophomore quarterback Josh Stallings hit senior standout wide receiver Rajee Brown over the middle on a full sprint. He tore down the sidelines for a 58-yard touchdown reception.
Eastern View was back in the game, 14-7.
“Blown coverage,” said Skinner. “But we settled down after that.”
But, ultimately, the Cyclones had no answer for Sweet’s bruising style of running. Rarely was he brought down by a single Eastern View defender, many of whom play both sides of the ball. Their defenders were often slow to get up after many of Sweet’s punishing, full-contact runs.
“We really came off the ball in that first half really well,” said Sweet, who rewards his offensive line after each game with McDonald’s the next morning at film sessions. “Our offensive line is a special group.”
By halftime Woodgrove led 35-7 and Sweet’s uniform was covered in dirt and grass. Sweet already had 32 carries for 303 yards and five touchdowns. The Wolverine’s offensive squad also recorded a record 19 first downs in the first half.
Sweet’s outstanding performance wasn’t the only key to the Wolverine’s win.
The Cyclones’ offense, a unit that averaged 34 points a game during the regular season, couldn’t break Woodgrove’s defense, whose schemes had to be adjusted on the fly as Eastern View gave them new formations not seen before. Skinner said his defensive squad made constant adjustments on the sidelines and at halftime.
Eastern View managed a couple productive drives, fueled primarily by short passes, elusive scrambling by Stallings, and improvised running by Evergreen District Player of the Year, junior running back Kendrick Kube. But, after scoring on their first-possession, the Cyclones never got close to the end zone again.
A rare fumble by Sweet on the goal line midway through the second quarter, with Woodgrove leading 28-7, appeared to give Eastern View momentum. The Cyclones managed a four-minute drive that looked promising before Woodgrove got the ball back on downs by sacking Eastern View’s quarterback at midfield on a fourth-and-10 attempt.
Sweet didn’t waste time seeking redemption for his rare miscue. He nearly broke a long run for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage, but was ridden out of bounds at the 1. He punched the next play in for a touchdown. With less than two minutes remaining in the second quarter, and the score 35-7, hope for a Cyclones’ comeback was essentially over.
The news got worse for Eastern View in the third quarter as the Star Exponent reported that Stallings had his night end with a concussion.
Woodgrove’s offensive line and running game was so dominant throughout the night the team only attempted one pass, a 24-yard completion in the second quarter.
“Best offensive line play I’ve seen in a long, long time,” said Skinner.
In a potential glimpse of the future, and a passing of the torch at the running back position, Woodgrove sophomore Charlie Clewis entered in the second half and rushed 10 times for nearly 100 yards, including the team’s final touchdown, a 21-yard gallop in the fourth quarter. As he ran back to the sideline, Sweet stopped Clewis, embraced him, and spoke helmet-to-helmet with him for a long moment.
As Coach Skinner headed to the barber’s chair Saturday morning to get the Mohawk haircut he promised his team after the regular-season loss to Loudoun County he would get if they won two straight playoff games, he commented on his team’s next opponent, Salem High School, a team that won six football state championships between 1996 and 2005.
“Well, we can simply look in the mirror. They’re a very similar team to us, with the same style of play and same type of players. It’s going to be a challenge. Their crowds get up to 8,000 to 10,000 fans. They’re the only show in town. It’s going to be fun,” said Skinner.
Sweet for his part, despite a bone-crushing 289 carries in the last eight games — an average of 36 carries a game — said he is ready to roll Friday against Salem.
“I’m all in,” said Sweet. “I’m feeling great. I’m feeling fresh.”
Post-game Thoughts with Woodgrove Head Football Coach Mike Skinner.
About Josh Sweet’s rare fumble on the goal line:
“Sometimes you just get tired and those things happen. You lose your grip on the ball. He had already had a great first half. Josh doesn’t do that often and his positives far outweigh anything else, no question about that.”
On Eastern View’s explosive offense and his defensive unit’s performance:
“That’s a good football team. We knew they were explosive. They’ve been averaging 34 points a game. Their running back was the player of the year in their district. And their quarterback and wide receiver won all kinds of honors. I certainly didn’t think we’d come out with a shutout, but considering how many adjustments our kids had to make, I’m pleased with only the one score.”
“[Eastern View] came out in all new formations we hadn’t seen before. So we were lined up in the wrong formation when that touchdown happened. But we made some adjustments on the sideline and at the half, and once our kids settled down, they really responded well. They hustled all night long and stuck with our scheme. All in all, they did a great job.”
On what the team’s second playoff win says about his two-year old program:
“It’s a lot of hard work. This doesn’t happen overnight. But we have great kids and a great community. The weight room program takes a year to stick, and everyone’s bought into it. These kids have a great work ethic. We had to also teach some things like how the team comes first, players second. I’m also a big being on-time guy and that was important to get across. Until you get those things established, you’re really not going to have a successful program. And so far the kids are taking care of their end of the bargain. They’re doing the right things in the classroom and on and off the field. I’m proud of them.”
Woodgrove 49, Eastern View 7
WG 28 7 7 7 – 49
EV 7 0 0 0 – 7
1 WG: Sweet 3 run (Harper kick)
1 WG: Sweet 4 run (Harper kick)
1 WG: Sweet 25 run (Harper kick)
1 WG: Sweet 3 run (Harper kick)
2 WG: Sweet 3 run (Harper kick)
3 WG: Sweet 6 run (Harper kick)
4 WG: Clewis 21 run (Harper kick)
WG: Sweet 35-345, Clewis 10-90, Koester 4-21, Kpaduwa 3-7, Washington 3-6.
EV: Kube 10-80, Yates 5-25, Stallings 6-13, Settle 1-(-4).
WG: Koester 1-1-0, 24 yards.
EV: Stallings 9-18-1, 151 yards; Yates 3-9-1, 36 yards.
WG: Mellor 1-24.
EV: Brown 4-120, Yates 4-30, Settle 2-16, Blocker 1-12, Stead 1-9.