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Herndon Football in Hunt for Playoff Spot

The Hornets, at 4-2, are set to take on host Yorktown this Friday night.

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Hornet football players Austin Moore (40) and Jared Johnson (86) get in on a tackle in an earlier season game against South Lakes. Herndon’s defense held Fairfax scoreless in the second half of last week’s district road win.

The Herndon High football team has positioned itself nicely to make a strong run for a Northern Region Div. 6 (larger schools) playoff spot this season. The Hornets, with last week’s 16-13 win at Concorde District opponent Fairfax, now stand at 4-2 overall.

In the second year of the expanded playoff format, eight teams will qualify for the Div. 6 playoffs. The Hornets barely missed out on making the postseason last year, despite a strong finish to their season. This season, the team wants to break through and get in to the postseason party.

"We’re trying to win a district championship and to get into the playoffs," said Herndon coach Joe Sheaffer, whose team competes in one of the state’s best districts, featuring such teams as Westfield, Oakton, and Chantilly. "We haven’t been [to the playoffs] in a long time and that’s something we’re striving for. That’s motivation to keep working hard."

Currently, Herndon is 2-1 in the district with the wins coming over Centreville and Fairfax, and the loss coming from Chantilly two weeks ago. Herndon plays a non-district game at Yorktown this Friday night in Arlington before closing the season with three consecutive district games against Westfield (home), Robinson (away) and Oakton (away).

The Hornets will probably need to win at least two of their remaining four games to qualify for the playoffs.

"If we’re going to reach our goals, it’s no mystery that we’ll have to win football games," said Sheaffer. "Our kids know what’s ahead of them."

<b>IN THE WIN</b> over Fairfax last week, all the game’s scoring came in the first half. The Hornets trailed 7-0 in the first quarter. But, behind two touchdowns from junior running back Devon Thompson, Herndon came back. His first score came on a 19-yard run which, following a point after kick from Nick Impellizzeri, tied the game at 7-7 in the first quarter.

A two-point safety, the result of a poorly executed punt attempt by Fairfax, gave the Hornets a 9-7 lead going into the second quarter. Fairfax regained the lead, 13-9, with a second quarter touchdown. But Herndon scored a TD of its own before the half was over when quarterback Zack Ozycz found Thompson for a three-yard touchdown pass play. Following another extra point kick by Impellizzeri, Herndon led 16-13, and the lead would stand the entire second half.

Fairfax fell to 3-3 with the loss.

"I knew it was going to be a real tough game and we had to convince the kids it would be," said Sheaffer. "Fairfax is real competitive on offense and can move the ball. It came down to defense and stopping the big plays. We didn’t give up many big plays. And on offense, we were able to move the ball consistently."

The coach said Herndon’s special teams played a solid game and contributed to the win. Fairfax, on kickoffs, was not putting the ball deep, but instead utilizing squib kicks that allowed Herndon to start possessions with good field position at its own 35 or 40 yard line. Also, Herndon punter Zach Leach had a terrific game, pinning back the Rebels deep in their own territory.

"I think the difference in the game is that we won [the battle of] field position," said Sheaffer.

<b>THE COACH SAID</b> Thompson, who scored both his team’s touchdowns, has played well throughout the season, being utilized offensively at different times as a halfback, fullback or slot-receiver. He also plays in the secondary on defense.

"He’s been great all year," said Sheaffer, of the versatile 11th grader. "He’s probably the most explosive player we have. When the ball is in his hands, he can be scary. If he can get on the edge [outside], he can take it [for a score]. And he’s a great receiver."

In Yorktown, Herndon is going up against a team that is 4-2, but coming off a 38-0 National District loss to Edison. The Patriots’ coach is Bruce Hanson, who has been at the helm of the program for many years.

"He’s been there a long time and he’s been successful," said Sheaffer.

Yorktown is a big play offensive team, but the Patriots were shut down by the Eagles. Sheaffer said keys to defeating Yorktown will be eliminating the Patriots’ big play capacity and controlling the football on offense.