Defense delivers another great effort


Every time Hylton got the ball in the first half of its 6-0 Group AAA, Division 6 state championship victory over Oakton, the large contingent of Cougar fans chanted “Jeffrey, Jeffrey” in reference to the Bulldogs’ flashy quarterback, Jeff Overton.

Perhaps, if they’d really been thinking, they’d have come up with a chant to rattle the Hylton defense. They needed it, because nothing Oakton did offensively on Saturday was effective.

To conclude a season in which much was made over the transition to head coach Lou Sorrentino from hall of famer Bill Brown, and during a year when Overton’s offensive exploits topped the bill, Hylton simply played superb defense.

The Bulldogs limited Oakton to 126 total yards, including just 48 rushing. Pat Day, Oakton’s Overton-like quarterback and top offensive threat, came into the game with nearly 2,000 yards of total offense. The Bulldogs harassed him whenever he dropped back to pass, and Day finished with (-13) yards rushing.

More importantly, aside from a first-half 42-yard field goal attempt, the Cougars never came close to scoring.

“We joked about it this week,” Sorrentino said. “We said ‘if you shut them out, you can’t lose.’ “

“A shutout in the state championship kind of sums up the whole season,” junior defensive back Deon Butler said. “It’s the greatest feeling to play a game like this in the biggest game of the season.”

Hylton’s defensive performance was so awesome on Saturday that despite scoring just one third-quarter touchdown, few Bulldogs claimed to be worried about the outcome.

“When we scored, we felt strong,” hard-hitting linebacker Endor Cooper said. “Once our defense has the lead, we’re not giving it up. All we asked our offense to do was score three points just give us three and we’ve got it from there.”

“I felt comfortable with [the defense] once we got the lead,” Sorrentino said.

The coach, who became only the second to win both a Division 5 and Division 6 state championship (he won a Division 5 title with Culpeper in 1999), said he felt the only way Oakton would score is if Hylton made a mistake by allowing a big play or giving up field position or momentum. And he wasn’t being cocky just honest.

“I really played it close to the vest because of that,” Sorrentino said. “Maybe too conservative but against our defense you’ve got to go the length of the field.”

Even after Hylton had seized the game’s momentum, it led just 6-0. One mistake a turnover, a missed tackle, a great play by any Cougar and the state championship trophy could have slipped from the Bulldogs’ grasp.

“It always crosses your mind,” Cooper said of that fact. “But you can’t let it bother you. You just play. You look forward.”

Oakton had some success early, getting to the perimeter on a few option plays and spreading Hylton out with short passes. But Hylton never let Day get loose.

“I think the biggest key was that we came in and didn’t let their quarterback beat us,” defensive tackle R.J. Dawson said.

“Our goal was to lock down Pat Day, to hit him all day,” Cooper said.

That they did. On one Oakton fourth-quarter possession, Cooper came through on a blitz from Day’s blind side and hammered the 5-foot-8, 168-pound quarterback. The next play, a second down, defensive end Jono Petrovitch chased Day down as he released a pass, which was incomplete. On third down, the opposite end, Dustin McManaman sacked Day for a 5-yard loss, setting up a fourth-and-21 punt.

Oakton got the ball back with 3:43 left in the game. Middle linebacker Jackie Watkins snatched a short Day pass intended for a tight end out of the air, giving Hylton the ball back with 2:57 remaining.

Watkins went to the sideline knowing that was a big play, but he said it was made on instinct.

“[Day] dropped back to pass, and I just jumped and caught it,” Watkins said. “I don’t even know what happened, I just jumped.”

Oakton burned its three timeouts and got the ball back once more, with 2:19 left. Petrovitch, who finished with a team-high 10 tackles, hurried Day into an incompletion on first down. Donovan Bates made a stop on a quick screen and then Petrovitch pressured Day again, with Overton nearly intercepting his pass. On a last gasp fourth-and-18 with 1:22 left, Cooper batted down a pass, and the celebration slowly began.

“They were real physical, they got to their assignments,” Day said. “It’s no shock they got to the state final. They just gave us nowhere to go.”

Of course, that’s been the M.O. all season for Hylton’s defense. Saturday’s shutout was the Bulldogs’ eighth, and that doesn’t include their 12-6 double overtime loss to Woodbridge, when the game was tied 0-0 after regulation. Hylton has given up just 56 points all season, an average of four per game.

Oakton’s defense was no slouch, disrupting Hylton on all but the seven-minute touchdown drive that started the second half. Day was very disappointed that his offense could not get moving.

“Anytime your defense holds the opponent to six points, your offense should win the game for you,” Day said. “They played well enough for us to win.”

But Saturday belonged to the Hylton defense, which got nine tackles from Cooper and eight each from Dawson and lineman Dennis Thompson. It was a unit that won with more than just athleticism.

“I don’t think they could handle our toughness,” Petrovitch said.

As well as tough, the Bulldogs were more disciplined.

In the second quarter, defensive back Jerome Quinata jumped a hitch route and got called for pass interference. Oakton tried a hitch-and-go on the next play, but Quinata played it perfectly, not falling for the trick at all.

“That’s stuff you’d like to say you really coach ’em up on,” said Sorrentino, who installed at Hylton the 4-4 defense he ran at Culpeper. “But you just have to give credit to the kids on things like that.”

The defense, which lost all-American linebacker Ahmad Brooks from last season (but gained his older brother Perry as a defensive line coach), started seven seniors. Linemen Dawson, Petrovitch, McManaman and Thompson, linebacker Bates and defensive backs Overton and Quinata are scheduled to graduate. Linebackers James Parker, Cooper and Watkins and cornerback Butler are each juniors.

Next year, though, is a long way away. Right now, Hylton can enjoy its third state championship in five years. The Bulldogs earned it with defense.

“It was a fitting way to end the season,” Sorrentino said.

Indeed it was.

Keith McMillan is a staff writer for the News & Messenger. Reach him at (703) 878-8053 or at [email protected]

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