There’s no doubt about it

WOODBRIDGE — To take a fourth straight Northwest Region, Division 6 football crown, Hylton needed to win with seniority.

With contributions from four-year and less-than-one-year starters alike, the Bulldogs sailed to a 35-0 regional championship triumph over visiting George Washington-Danville. Hylton, winners of all 12 of its games this year and 51 of 53 in the last four seasons, will travel just south of Richmond to play Thomas Dale in a Group AAA state semifinal next Saturday afternoon.

“I though athletically, this team had the potential. But I wasn’t sure we had the leaders,” Hylton coach Bill Brown said. “I say this every year, and I really believe it if you don’t have senior leadership, you will not have a very good team.”

Seniors were involved in all five Hylton scores on Friday night. The first of those was a 75-yard return of the opening kickoff from Ahmad Brooks. Lined up as an up-man at the right hash mark, Brooks fielded a true hop and dashed across the field to give the Bulldogs a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

“They haven’t been going my way on kickoff returns, but I wanted to get the ball so I could show everyone how it’s done,” Brooks said, with a chuckle. “As a sophomore, I ran back two. It felt good to get another chance.”

Midway through the second quarter, Hylton scored on Bryan Smithen’s 5-yard run. Though the Bulldogs advanced into GW territory on each of their five first-half possessions (and all 10 for the game), they only led 13-0 as halftime approached. Then on a 3rd-and-30 play, linebacker Ben Harrison intercepted a Jonathan Fulton pass and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown. Harrison then ran in the 2-point conversion to give Hylton a more comfortable 21-0 advantage.

“We were looking for a pass and I knew where the receiver would be,” Harrison said of his interception. “I moved into his zone and looked for the ball.

“This was a good win for us. I feel like we polished all of the stuff we were messing up at times this year. We’re executing better, holding on to the ball and committing less penalties.”

Linebacker B.J. Hall and defensive lineman Chris Winston, a senior and a sophomore, also had first-half interceptions. Brooks made two tackles for losses in that half and three in the game (including a play in which he forced a fumble in the third quarter). Overall, Hylton forced four turnovers and committed two. The Bulldogs were penalized four times for 47 yards, compared to eight for 52 for GW.

Through the first three quarters, Hylton allowed just two first downs and 62 yards. The Eagles (10-2) had picked up more than eight yards on only one play a 26-yard pass from Fulton from Antonio Fitzgerald.

The Hylton defense has allowed just 69 points all season while posting five shutouts, including the last three in succession. “I think our defense has played well from day one; that’s been the one constant we’ve had,” Brown said. “Ahmad is in the middle, but we have some kids who can play. It’s not all on him.”

“They were pretty good and we were pretty bad,” GW coach Everett Woods said. “We weren’t mobile and our defense was stagnant.”

In the second half, senior Chaz Davis threw two touchdown passes. He connected with junior Jeff Overton on a 26-yard play in the fourth quarter, after finding Jamaal Lewis on a 6-yard diving touchdown catch in the third quarter.

“A kid like Jamaal Lewis, who wasn’t even a starter at the beginning of the year, has been an inspiration for us every week, every practice,” Brown said.

Lewis, who played sparingly on the 1999 Hylton team that successfully defended the school’s first state title, hadn’t caught a touchdown pass all season. “It was a good pass and we had great protection on the play. We expect to dominate through the playoffs, but only time will tell.”

A week before the GW game, Hylton’s defense stifled Brooke Point in a 49-0 first-round playoff win the largest postseason margin of victory in the school’s 11-year history. This week was a similar landslide.

Even if Hylton were to win at Thomas Dale next weekend, it will not play another home game this year. The state championship will be played at the University of Richmond’s stadium on Dec. 8.

For Brooks, a starter at linebacker since his freshman year, the fact that this was his last home game did enter his mind during the win over GW. He did more than run back a kickoff and make several key defensive stops; Brooks also ran four times for a game-high 93 yards.

“I’ve played so many big games here, and it’s such a thrill to be a Hylton Bulldog,” Brooks said. “This team’s the littlest of the four [who have all won regionals], but we have more heart, more courage. I’m not saying it’s the most talented group, but it is a really good team.”

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