Game on at Hylton


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Maybe they were already thinking of the state championship game. The first two playoff wins had come so easily for the 2001 Hylton football team, so a 22-8 halftime lead at Thomas Dale felt like a sure thing.

Then Hylton fumbled on four straight second-half possessions and the rejuvenated Knights went on to a 27-22 triumph at home in Chester. Thomas Dale lost in the Group AAA, Division 6 state final the next weekend to Robinson, but Hylton didn’t even get the chance to play for its third state crown in four years. All-American linebacker Ahmad Brooks’ Hylton career was over and, as it turned out, so was coach Bill Brown’s.

“It was a heartbreaker,” Shawn Badie, a senior running back for this year’s Bulldogs, said this week. “I guess we got overconfident. To see them come back was kind of surprising. I don’t want that feeling ever again, especially on our home field.”

The Bulldogs (11-1) are scheduled to host Thomas Dale (12-0) in a state semifinal rematch today in a game tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m. The game was originally slated to start at 1:30 p.m., but the time was pushed back to provide more time for the field to dry following Thursday’s snowstorm.

Hylton assistant activities director Karen Mays said kickoff could go a little bit after 2 p.m., depending on the field’s condition, but that the game would be played.

The cast of characters has changed slightly with Brooks headed toward the University of Virginia and Brown in administration at Forest Park High School, but the memories remain.

Last season, the Bulldogs rolled through the Northwest Region with a 49-0 rout over Brooke Point and a 35-0 win over George Washington-Danville. But then came the disappointment at Dale.

Friday night, Hylton’s sideline showed that the 2001 loss to the Knights has not been forgotten. As they were wrapping up a regional-final win over Osbourn Park, the Bulldogs sounded like boisterous Thomas Dale supporters when the public-address announcer broadcast a late-fourth quarter score: Dale was leading rival L.C. Bird 14-7. That’s exactly what Hylton wanted to hear. Hylton will get a chance to erase the past.

“That was a game that the kids felt like they should’ve won last year,” Hylton coach Lou Sorrentino said. “Thomas Dale came out of that Central Region by beating Varina. Of course, [Dale] is traditionally a strong team but they had a couple of down years. This year, they were pretty much the team to beat all year down there.”

In winning the Richmond-area playoffs, the Knights continued their undefeated season. Of their 12 wins, the two most recent games have been the closest. Thomas Dale beat Hermitage, 15-7, in the regional semifinals and then won their second meeting with Bird, 14-7.

For the season, coach Vic Williams’ team has outscored opponents, 438-70. The Knights beat Division 5 state semifinalist Hopewell, 31-10, in the fourth week of the season.

Hylton, meanwhile, has three more shutouts than Thomas Dale (seven to four) and has allowed just 48 points. The Bulldogs have scored 279 points.

Junior tailback Nick Fleming, a 5-foot-8, 196-pounder, gave Hylton problems last year and has been even more formidable this season in the Knights’ I-formation offense. He has 1,665 yards on 219 carries (7.6-yard average), with 16 touchdowns. Last year against Hylton, he scored on a 56-yard run on the second play of the game. He finished with 153 yards on 29 carries.

“Fleming is explosive,” Sorrentino said. “He’s tough and they’re a real north-south team. They do a real good job of blocking up front.”

In the Central Region final, 5-foot-9, 195-pound junior fullback Steve Spann scored both Thomas Dale touchdowns. He has 14 touchdowns this season out of his 52 carries (for 244 yards).

Knights quarterback Derius Swinton has completed 65 of 131 passes for 1,099 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. With 36.5 points per game, Thomas Dale averages more points than Hylton has scored in any of its last nine games.

“They like to throw to their fullback [Spann] and they can do a lot of things,” Sorrentino said. “But Fleming’s still the key back.”

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