By GREG BRILL
Special to The Winchester Star
FRONT ROYAL — No sooner had the snap went to a Clarke County back, and a swarm of maroon jerseys were ready to make a tackle.
When quarterback Sean McDonald went back to pass, he usually was flushed from the pocket and forced to throw on the run.
Whatever Clarke County tried, Warren County’s defense was ready to counter.
The Wildcats dominated the interior lines throughout their opening football game on Friday night, turning two of the four turnovers they forced into defensive touchdowns in a 27-9 rout at Blanton Stadium.
Senior Jacob Hill ran back an Eagles fumble in the first quarter to put Warren County in the lead for good, and classmate Jeff Budwash returned a pick-six in the fourth quarter to cap off the scoring on a night when the first-unit defense of the Wildcats allowed no touchdowns and just 103 total yards of offense.
Though the Eagles (1-1) already had game-experience to build on, the Wildcats contained Clarke County’s vaunted single-wing attack from the get-go.
With the sacks (six) recorded by the Wildcats leading to plenty of lost yardage, the Eagles had a net of just 22 yards on the ground in 32 carries. Top back Davey Hardesty managed just 19 yards on 10 carries, though he did make five catches for 85 yards.
“From watching film, we knew most of the things they were going to do,” said two-way Warren County senior standout Tyler Post, who played a solid corner throughout and also threw a pair of scoring strikes. “ But we also figured they would bring some other things a little differently. You just got to adjust. The defense looked pretty sharp. We still have some things to work on, but we'll be OK.”
Warren County is playing for the first time in four years without defensive leader Gage Steele, who is now playing at James Madison University. Even so, the Wildcats have enough experience back in all three areas on defense and a wild card in their back pocket for this season.
“I really feel like our defense is overall faster than last year,” War ren County coach Tony Tallent said. “With all the experience we have back, our work in the weight room, and just getting our speed up — that say’s a lot for our coaching staf f.
“I think we utilized our people real well.”
If any play set the tone early for Warren County, it came from the combo of junior defensive lineman Glen Pinard and Hill.
A 68-yard return on the opening kickoff by Hardesty led to a 30yard field goal by Josh Dulaney to give Clarke County a 3-0 lead. But on their next offensive series, the Eagles put the ball on the ground and the Wildcats made them pay in a big way.
Pinard crushed McDonald and forced a fumble, which Hill scooped up at the Clarke County 22 and took to the end zone with 6:59 left in the first quarter.
“That was the biggest momentum swing of the game right ther e,” Tallent said. “ With them getting the return and field goal, you sit there and go ‘ Wow, they know they’re in control of the game.’ But Hill’s play, that set the tone.”
A blown coverage from their talented and experienced secondary hurt the Eagles in the second quart er.
Faced with a third- and- long, Post ( 4 of 8, 65 yards passing) found senior Chris Larson open down the middle, and Larson only had to go a short distance to complete the 30-yard, run-and-catch for a 13-3 lead.
“We motioned out and the safety went with it,” said Post, who has helped the Wildcats to back- toback Region II playoff appearances. “It just left the middle of the field open and [ Larson’s] fast enough to beat who’s out there in coverage.”
After ward, Clarke County coach Chris Parker still could not believe how easy the Wildcats got six points on the play.
“It was blown coverage. Blown coverage. No excuse,” Parker said. “The guy it happened to — it probably won’t happen to him again the rest of the season.
“It was just one of those things. They ran three vertical routes. You just favor one side, and [ Larson] was wide open.”
Parker was the first to admit that Warren County’s physical play up front controlled the game. When the Eagles could not get a long gain (the best was a gain of nine from scrimmage) on running the football, McDonald was forced to make tough decisions in an attempt to rally the Eagles.
McDonald was picked off three times in the second half alone. The final turnover was a pass to the middle that Budwash made a great read on and weaved his way to the end zone for a 27-yard interception return with 9:57 left in the game to cap the Wildcats’ scoring.
“To be honest, Sean McDonald, for the pressure he was under, did pretty good,” Parker said. “I know he had a couple picks, but really, overall, it wasn’t all on him [he had four passes dropped]. He was running for his life. Physically, they have a very strong team.”
A blocked punt in the third led to Post’s second touchdown pass of the game, an easy fade to Matt Nicholson from 15 yards out.
The Eagles got their lone touchdown with just over two minutes left on Hardesty’s second effort from two yards out. The score had been set up by a 39-yard completion from McDonald to Ben Wallace.
“ I was just happy our defense swarmed to the ball,” Tallent said. “It was our first game and there’s a ton we need to improve on. But the effort was there, that’s for sure.”