Big Dawgs once again


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RICHMOND — It didn’t take long for Lou Sorrentino’s decision to pay off with a state championship.

With Hylton’s 6-0 blanking of Oakton in Saturday’s Group AAA, Division 6 final, the Bulldogs have a third state-title trophy to showcase with the ones won by coach Bill Brown in 1998 and 1999. Meanwhile, Sorrentino has a championship ring to go with the one he won in Division 5 at Culpeper in ’99. He’s the secondcoach in the state to win Group AAA titles at two different schools, joining Danny Meier, who won with Chantilly and West Potomac.

“Hylton’s been very good to me,” Sorrentino said after the final game of his first season in Prince William County. “A great football team was in place when I got here. Bill Brown and the kids have been great and I took the job because I thought we had a chance to win a state title.”

This year’s team was on the same University of Richmond Stadium sideline as those first two state champions. They dressed in the same locker room and wore the same white uniforms. But this was a group of players who weren’t in the ’99 win over Varina. Without a sure-fire Division I-A recruit, the Bulldogs went 13-1 and held opponents to four points per game.

Saturday, the Hylton offense ran just 13 first-half plays but still played Northern Region champion Oakton (10-4) to a scoreless tie at halftime. Then, just as in last week’s 22-8 victory over Thomas Dale in the state semifinals, the Bulldogs went on a time-consuming drive to score a touchdown at the start of the second half.

In the first half, Hylton managed only one play of more than six yards and that was a 15-yard gain during which senior quarterback Jeff Overton lost a fumble at the Cougars’ 12-yard line. On the first two plays of the second half, though, Overton rushed for 11 yards and Rashad Jones for 23 to set Hylton up at Oakton’s 45-yard line.

The drive continued until Hylton was faced with a fourth-and-two from the 12-yard line. Overton then ran for three yards behind all-region left guard Jono Petrovitch. Oakton’s Matt Lewis, who kicked the game-winning field goal in double overtime against Western Branch in a state semifinal, had missed a 42-yard attempt in the first half, but Hylton was close enough to go for a first down.

“The whole team and the coaches wanted to go for it immediately,” Overton said. “We were in good position. Why not go for it?”

After the Bulldogs converted the first down, junior James Parker ran for four yards and Overton capped the drive with a five-yard touchdown run behind Petrovitch and left tackle Thomas VanMeter.

“We decided at halftime to get back to our main plays and get after it,” said Petrovitch, a senior. “We just got after it, basically. All of us wanted to go for that first down; it was basically a group decision. We always come in and start strong in the second half. If we have a bad first half, we just call great plays and change things after that.”

Against Dale, the Bulldogs increased a 15-8 lead by taking 7:54 off the clock before Overton scored on the first possession of the second half. In the state championship, that first drive took 7:01 as it covered 13 plays and 79 yards.

John Coletta’s extra point was blocked, but Hylton’s defense ensured that the 6-0 lead would be enough. While Overton rushed for 88 of the Bulldogs’ 137 yards (going 0-for-1 for zero yards as a passer), Oakton rushed for just 48 yards and gained 126 overall. Junior linebacker Jackie Watkins’ interception with three minutes left helped put the game away.

In the battle of 1,000-yard rushing senior quarterbacks, Overton netted 101 yards more than Oakton’s Pat Day, who played for the last three weeks of the season with a broken finger on his throwing hand. Day threw for 78 yards, but lost 13 yards on nine carries. “Overton played a great game,” Day said. “It seemed like he was all over the field.”

Still, Sorrentino said, “Offensively, we struggled. We got real conservative and we did that because our defense is so good. If we’d lost 7-6, I’d take responsibility for that but our defense was so good we played close to the vest.”

Hylton became the first school in Virginia to win three Division 6 state crowns. The state switched from a three-tier system to a six-title alignment in 1986. “That’s something to say for a program in 11 years of existence that they now hold the record for Division 6 championships,” said Brown, the only head coach in Hylton history until Sorrentino’s arrival.

Brown, now an assistant principal at Forest Park High School, watched Saturday’s game from sideline. He had the best view of Overton’s touchdown for anyone not on the field. Brown makes no secret that he would like to return to coaching, but he takes none of the credit for this Hylton’s team title except for, of course, recruiting his successor.

“I felt like I had a lot to do with getting Lou Sorrentino to Hylton,” Brown said after Saturday’s game. “It took me a couple of phone calls, too. It wasn’t easy.”

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