Five games into the season, the Centreville Wildcats have yet to sneak past a single opponent. After all, why drag a fight multiple rounds when you could just deliver the knockout punch right out of the gate? That killer instinct has paid dividends for the area’s most lethal team: Centreville has run up a 195-10 advantage in the first half of its five games so far this year, leaving it with an average margin of victory of 42.8 even as coaches have repeatedly used the second half to empty the bench.
Though three of its wins came against teams with a combined 4-11 record, Centreville gave quality sides like T.C. Williams (4-1) and Chantilly (3-2) the same punishing treatment it issued to West Potomac (1-4), Hayfield (1-4) and West Springfield (2-3). A 37-3 halftime lead against T.C. Williams led to a 44-16 victory in Week 1, and a 28-0 halftime advantage at Chantilly last week segued a 42-0 blowout.
“We don’t go into any game saying we want to be up 42-0 at halftime,” Centreville head coach Chris Haddock said. “We go in saying we want to execute what we do, and it’s worked out that we’ve been able to score off of that. We’ve got some kids that can make some big plays. We’ve thrown some five-yard hitches that have turned into 85-yard touchdowns. That takes a lot of the pressure off, when you can on any play take one to the house.”
It’s not difficult to see why opponents have looked helpless in the face of Centreville’s first-half assaults. Rather than rely on one playmaker, the Wildcats have utilized a litany of weapons in their arsenal on both sides of the ball, attacking opponents from all sides with the deepest roster in the region. A total of 18 starters returned from last year’s squad, which finished 8-4 despite relying heavily on sophomores.
Team speed is the name of the game for a group that hits the ground running like a caged wildcat set loose on a frightened rabbit. No matter which unit takes the field first, Centreville’s players assume a frenetic pace right from the opening whistle, usually leaving the bewildered guys lined up across from them thinking the only way to slow them down is to be three places at once.
Perhaps the Wildcats’ most threatening unit lies in its backfield, where a trio of juniors spearhead a relentless ground attack. Taylor Boose and Xavier Nickens-Yzer pack a serious punch, but AJ Turner is the man that makes the offense go. Though he has yet to play a down in the second half this year, Turner has racked up nine touchdowns on 400 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving so far this season. He’s sprouted two inches and put on 15 pounds since last fall, when he put up 1,213 rushing yards on 143 attempts (8.5 yards per carry) as a sophomore. The speedster’s confidence is much higher than it was a year ago, largely because he now carries a more nuanced understanding of the playbook. Turner also points to a maturation process that has him pushing himself despite knowing he’s the fastest guy on the field.
“I think that’s the big thing with me. Sometimes I feel like I can just slack off and say, ‘Oh, I’m faster than everybody, so I’m just not going to run my strengths all the way. I’m going to still win, but I’m not going to give 100 percent,’” Turner said. “I did that last year, and I think that really affected me because I ended up being tired during the games and just forgetting plays because I’m tired. This year, now that I know what I need to do, I’m definitely doing what I need to do and I feel like it’s made a big impact towards the team and towards myself as well.”
Centreville also benefits from stability at the quarterback position. Scott Walter’s confidence boost from his junior to senior year is evident in his 12 touchdown passes compared to just one interception, not to mention his 31 completions on 42 attempts. Still, with all the help standing behind him, Walter understands his role as facilitator in Centreville’s run-heavy offense.
“It makes it ten times easier than it actually is because every time I hand the ball off either to AJ, Taylor, Xavier or Chase [Heiner], it’s five or six yards and that opens up the play action game like crazy,” Walter said.
While their offense has proven scary, the Wildcats’ defense might instill more terror. Coming off a shutout against a Chantilly team that entered last Friday’s contest averaging 41 points per game, the Centreville defense is giving up an average of just 6.0 points per outing midway through the season.
“There’s no question that our offense has been impressive,” Haddock said, “but I think our defense has really put us in position to be a little freer and open with the playbook, and that’s probably why we’ve played so well.”
Now the Wildcats brace for their toughest challenge of the regular season: a home contest against arch rival Westfield (4-1). Riding the momentum of last week’s 30-6 beatdown against area power Stone Bridge, the Bulldogs enter Friday’s contest with a reliable running game that hinges on senior tailback Tyler Thrasher-Walker, who has eight touchdowns on 670 rushing yards this season. Junior quarterback Mason Scoville will return to the starting lineup after sitting out last week with a concussion.
Yet the most intriguing matchup Friday might be Centreville’s potent offense against a stingy Westfield defense that has surrendered only 10.8 points per game this year.
“[Centreville is] extremely talented, especially at the skill positions,” Westfield head coach Kyle Simmons said. “They can get the ball to multiple people on offense, so you really have to game plan to stop everything, not just one specific person. On defense they’re very athletic. They’re going to pepper you up front, and you’ve got to try to withstand that and hope that you can make a play here and there that will gain you some yardage.”
Most guys on the Centreville sideline will remember the 40-21 defeat they suffered last year on Westfield’s home turf. Still, the Wildcats don’t need to cling to that memory to stay hyped for their biggest home game of the regular season.
“I think maybe some guys that didn’t play well last year in that game might use it as motivation, but I think if you can’t get motivated to play Westfield at home in front of the crowd we’re going to have, there’s something wrong,” Haddock said. “If we’re looking for extra [motivation] then we’re going to be in trouble.”