Through chatter or silence, the football rivalry between Gar-Field and Hylton comes through loud and clear.
“Until this week, we had a ban on bringing up Gar-Field,” Hylton coach Lou Sorrentino said. “They hear about these games from enough sources and from the community all the time.”
Prince William County’s most successful teams over the past decade happen to be the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger’s two top-ranked teams this fall. No. 1 Gar-Field and No. 2 Hylton have started 3-0 and both feature coaches who have never won in this series.
Under former coach Bill Brown (now an assistant principal at Forest Park), Hylton won its last seven games against the Indians and 10 of 13 overall. Sorrentino, in his first year at Hylton after leading Culpeper for a decade, is well aware of the rivalry.
“When I first got the job, the first film I watched was of Gar-Field,” Sorrentino said. “Some of that was their reputation, some was that I knew the scores from last year and some was that I knew they’d be back at the top of the district with us this year.”
Second-year Gar-Field coach Jim Poythress, whose teams came up short 26-7 and 13-10 last year, hopes his team plays Friday night with the same attitude it had in the second meeting of 2001.
The teams will meet again at Hylton on Oct. 25, but Friday night represents a chance for the Indians to win on the same field where they lost on the final play of the game last year. Since-graduated Bryan Smithen scored on a 3-yard run on the final play to send the Bulldogs to a three-point triumph. Hylton had taken over at the Gar-Field 25-yard line with 2:30 to go when USA Today national defensive player of the year Ahmad Brooks forced a fumble from Elihu Smith.
“Anyone who saw ‘Hylton 2’ saw a great high-school football game,” Poythress said. “They saw two teams with the right mentality. The difference might’ve been Brooks, the best player in the country. He had a long run in that game and forced that fumble. Hylton persevered and never quit, and we played that game the way we’re supposed to.”
Poythress, most recently an assistant at West Potomac from 1994-2000, immediately discovered that the Hylton game carries a special significance. For a sampling of what his players think of Hylton, here’s what three seniors had to say after Wednesday’s practice.
Two-way tackle George Frye: “I think we’re going to take this game the same way we took the second game last year. We became brothers in that game and I think we have a better team now.”
Defensive tackle Adam Stewart: “We’ll both play to our potential. We’re both 3-0 now, but we know someone will leave 3-1 and it will be a hard-fought victory for whoever gets it.”
Tight end/defensive end Shane Thurston, who went up against the middle linebacker Brooks from the center position last season: “I’ve never beaten Hylton since I got on the varsity as a sophomore. Last year we were so close. After that game, no one was mad at anyone else. We just kept playing as a team.”
Potomac’s no longer in the Cardinal District and Woodbridge has endured back-to-back 2-8 seasons, but Hylton and Gar-Field are in the same district and have won 72.6 percent of their games in the last 10 years. Hylton defensive back Jerome Quinata said that Potomac is the team the Bulldogs most want to beat in basketball they finally did for the first time last winter and Gar-Field is in football.
“This is just my second year here, but there’s definitely that extra hype for this game,” said Quinata, who attended Miami’s Flanagan High School for a year. “We try to practice and prepare the same for everyone, but for Gar-Field we know it’ll be a tough game.”
In 2001, the Bulldogs reached the Division 6 state semifinals and Gar-Field the regional semifinals, coming within a fourth-overtime fumble on the 1-yard-line of possibly playing Hylton a third time.
“Kids are kids and they’re going to talk about it,” Poythress said of the rivalry. “But it’s not the end-all, be-all. A district championship is not going to be decided Friday evening. A regional championship is not going to be decided.
“There’s no sense in overemphasizing this game, but to say it’s not important would be a misrepresentation of the truth,” Poythress added.
After hours of watching film from the original Gar-Field game and the sequel, Hylton’s Sorrentino will soon coach in his first Hylton/Gar-Field matchup.
“I’ve been in big games before, so the curiosity for me is that it’s a new rivalry,” said Sorrentino, whose team has three shutout wins. “There’s an air of excitement. Every game this season, I’ve learned something more about Hylton. This one will be a good measuring stick to learn a lot more.”