Back on Sept. 13, Hylton’s visit to Osbourn Park looked like anything but a preview for a regional football final.
The Bulldogs, as they have throughout the 11-game series with OP, had their way. Hylton junior defensive back Deon Butler intercepted a pass on the third play from scrimmage, giving the Bulldogs the first snowball in a 49-0 avalanche.
Incredibly, the Yellow Jackets have scored in only one of their last six games against Hylton. Osbourn Park (10-1) will get another chance in Friday night’s Division 6, Northwest Region championship game as the host Bulldogs (10-1) seek a fifth straight regional trophy.
“That night, everything went our way,” Hylton coach Lou Sorrentino said of the first Hylton-Osbourn Park meeting. “But I haven’t changed my mind about Osbourn Park because I already thought they had a good team early in the year; that’s why I was real pleased with that win.
“We haven’t seen them in a long time. It’s not like Gar-Field or some of other district opponents. I looked back at the Osbourn Park film and it seemed like it was a different season.”
Osbourn Park went on to win the Cedar Run District title with a 6-0 mark in the district. Hylton, meanwhile, went 5-1 in winning the Cardinal District — with the only blemish a 12-6 double-overtime loss at Woodbridge.
Having earned the school’s first playoff win last Friday night against Franklin County, Osbourn Park certainly would like to alter the history of its lopsided rivalry with Hylton. In the 11 matchups, the Bulldogs have a 312-35 advantage.
Both teams were 1-0 when they met in September. That night, OP running back Ronald Hilliard gained 63 yards on 17 carries, while quarterback Doug Suliga went 10–for-24 with two interceptions and just 49 yards passing.
Hilliard, a 5-foot-6, 160-pound senior, has rushed for 1,266 yards this season (115.1 per game). He was the Cedar Run’s leading rusher and offensive player of the year.
“He runs hard,” said Butler, an all-Cardinal District defensive back. “To be a little guy, you might mistake him to be weak but he’s a strong back who can run you over.”
As Hylton’s 4-4 defense goes up against OP’s Single Wing offense, Butler said the Bulldogs’ focus is to limit Hilliard’s output.
“We need to definitely stop Roland Hilliard early and try to force them to the air,” Butler said. “Then we can try to stop their passing. They’ve had a good year throwing the ball too, but the run is really where they get started.”
Hylton’s defense, which has seven shutouts, has not given up a point in regulation in its last five games. Both Woodbridge touchdowns came in overtime after the teams had played to a 0-0 tie.
Offensively, though, Hylton has gone six straight games without scoring more than 14 points. The Bulldogs made enough big plays Friday night in a 14-0 win over Gar-Field.
“I think we’re pumped up,” said senior wide receiver Brandon McEachin, who had a 48-yard touchdown run in the first OP game and made a key 27-yard reception in the regional semifinal. “OP’s a good team. Our defense is playing good, and now I think our offense is ready to get to that level. We should have a good game because we’ve had a good week of practice.”
Senior quarterback Jeff Overton has been in better health this week since missing last Thursday’s practice with an injured back. He was fine by the Gar-Field kickoff, as he scored a touchdown and had a pivotal 41-yard run.
“The first time [against Osbourn Park], we went right after them,” Overton said. “All our running backs played hard and did a great job. That’s what we’ll have to do this time, too.”
Junior defensive lineman Chris Winston, Hylton’s leader in tackles for a loss with 10, remains doubtful for this week’s game because of a knee injury. Sorrentino said junior linebacker Endor Cooper (broken finger) would probably play and that senior defensive lineman Dennis Thompson (shoulder) was questionable.