One of the biggest challenges a coach has to deal with is how to motivate a team in the midst of a tough season. That is a challenge facing Herndon High football head coach Joe Sheaffer and his staff this week as the Hornets, who have lost six straight games since opening the season with a win over Jefferson, prepare to play their homecoming game this Saturday afternoon at 1 versus non-Northern Region opponent Loudoun Valley High.
When the losses mount, it's only natural that a team's morale can be weakened. Sheaffer is hoping his players will overcome the disappointment of what has been a difficult season and rise to the occasion for homecoming Saturday.
"It's hard to say," said Sheaffer, when asked how he believes his team will respond for Saturday's game. "That's really your biggest concern as a high school coach when you have a situation like this - that the kids will keep working hard. We haven't had a lot of good things happen and when something [negative] happens, we get demoralized."
For much of its Concorde District game at Oakton last Friday night - a high-scoring 56-30 Herndon loss - the Hornets played some of their best football of the season.
They were moving the ball well on offense and built a 10-7 lead in the first half and still held a 17-14 advantage in the third quarter. But the Cougars (6-1), one of the better teams in the region, then scored three straight touchdowns to break the contest open on way to the win.
"You could really feel the air coming out," said Sheaffer, of his deflated team as Oakton took control of the game. "Oakton just really exploited some weaknesses on our defense. Our kids just said, `Here we go again.' But for two-and-a-half quarters we played really strong."
<b>SHEAFFER SAID</b> Herndon has been hit pretty hard with injuries this season. Those, along with some discipline issues, have resulted in line-up variations throughout the course of the schedule. Over much of the first seven weeks, there was little line-up stability or continuity. Things have settled down of late as far as playing rotations.
"On offense we're starting to get used to a certain group of kids now and we're starting to find ourselves," said the coach. "It's exciting to score 30 points but when you're giving up 56 it's hard to win. We're trying to look for the positives, but first we've got to make strides defensively."
Herndon played a good game on offense against Oakton. The Hornets accumulated over 400 yards of offense versus the Cougars and also held possession of the ball longer than their opponent.
Herndon running back Josh Schow had a huge game, rushing for 144 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries. The junior also caught a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Ky Parrott - scoring tosses of 22 and 66 yards.
Parrott played outstanding, completing 14-of-19 passes for 192 yards and the two touchdown tosses while also running for 84 yards on just six carries. Cameron Reynolds added 45 yards on the ground for Herndon, which accumulated 285 net yards rushing.
Herndon's top receivers were Schow (five catches, 113 yards) and Leeth Aaron (six for 60).
For Oakton, quarterback Jimmy Boone completed 11-of-20 passes for 196 yards. He threw touchdown passes of 17 and 31 yards to running back Luke Willis, who also rushed for 151 yards and two long scoring runs.
Boone's top receiving targets on the night were Willis (4 catches, 89 yards) and Tuck Masker (3 for 71). The quarterback also rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. On top of that, he returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown.
Herndon, on the defensive side of the football, has struggled to hold opponents off the scoreboard. The secondary, in particular, has seen difficult times. Big plays by opposing offenses and, at times, poor tackling across the board defensively have resulted in far too many points by Herndon's foes.
The Hornets have also struggled on their special teams with several turnovers and other breakdowns during the season.
"We still don't have a sense of urgency on special teams," said Sheaffer.
<b>A VICTORY</b> on Saturday would go a long way towards improving spirits. Another good outing by the Herndon offense against the Vikings of Loudoun Valley will be key to the Hornets' chances of enjoying a winning homecoming day. Sheaffer said Herndon, defensively and on special teams, needs to play one of its better games. He believes his players can rally and put together a homecoming game to remember for themselves and the team's fan base. That would give Herndon a confidence boost going into its final two weeks when it faces talented district teams in Chantilly and Westfield.
"The kids' confidence is real low," said Sheaffer. "But they are really working hard."
Oakton will play at unbeaten district rival Centreville this Friday night. A win by the Cougars would put them in a first place tie. The Wildcats won their annual Sully Bowl rival game versus visiting Chantilly last week, winning in overtime and handing the Chargers their first loss.