Poquoson High began its football season at Southampton High on Aug. 25, a day earlier than planned, amid uncertainty. Anxiety ran high that humid evening about the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene, and, to a lesser extent, about a defending state champion Poquoson team debuting new starters at 16 positions.
Flood-level tides on the Bull Island have long since receded, and Irene is becoming a distant memory. But the Thunder and Lightning the Islanders unleashed in a 32-15 win over Southampton is rolling into Region I Division 3 playoffs.
Thunder is William Emeny, who ran for 149 yards and three touchdowns, while making 17 tackles and recovering a fumble in his first game as a varsity starter. Lightning is Dylan Hill, who has started 47 varsity games and played like a veteran that night: running for a touchdown, returning a kickoff for another score and adding 15 tackles.
They've built on that success in the nine games since, leading the Islanders (7-3) into a rematch with Southampton (6-4) in the first round of the playoffs at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Poquoson Middle School.
"I thought we'd be right where we are," said Hill, who is likely to sign after the season with Liberty or Richmond. "I knew what William could do, and I knew we had a great offensive line returning.
"I was a little concerned about our defense, because we lost 10 of 11 starters."
Hill and Emeny have helped solve concerns on both sides of the ball.
Emeny, a 6-foot, 195-pound senior, has been tabbed as Thunder for the power and aggressiveness he brings to the inside linebacker and fullback positions. Hill, a 6-2, 190-pound senior, is Lightning because of his speed and explosiveness at wing-back and outside linebacker.
They've been an extremely effective combination. Emeny has rushed for 1,164 yards and 19 touchdowns, while notching a team-high 117 tackles — 13 for loss.
Hill fought through a shoulder injury in the middle of the season and has carried 52 fewer times than Emeny. But his stats — 841 yards and eight touchdowns rushing, along with 108 tackles — are impressive.
"I don't want to talk bad about anyone else's players," Poquoson coach Elliott Duty said. "But some of the (top) running backs are going one way.
"My guys are taking a lot of snaps both ways, have run for 2,000 yards and made 225 tackles. There's something to be said for that."
There is a lot to be said for Emeny's season. He was an afterthought on the state championship team, a guy who was solid enough when he got to play, but was well down on the depth chart.
"I didn't expect to have these kinds of numbers," Emeny admitted. "No one would've talked about me getting 1,000 yards, because they didn't know who I was and had never seen me play.
"But I run between a returning state champion line and am ecstatic just to help the team win."
Hill said the keys to Emeny's meteoric rise are simple, beginning with the hard work he put in between seasons.
"He never stops moving his feet," Hill said of Emeny. "And even though he's not fast, when he gets to that second level I'm not seeing defensive backs catch him.
"On defense he attacks. He's aggressive."
Duty said, "William moves the chains, gets us first downs and eats up clock. That's pretty much what we do. I'd hate to think where we'd be without him."
Hill gives the Islanders an outside threat running the ball, and has the speed to cover elite pass receivers like Lafayette's Thomas Smith and Dylan Stallings when needed.
"You give Dylan (Hill) just a little bit of daylight and he turns on the afterburners," Duty said. "He's also that vocal leader every team needs."
Can Thunder and Lightning lead the Islanders to another deep playoff run? Hill is a believer in lightning striking the same place twice.
"I think we're good enough to achieve whatever we strive for," he said. "Having the experience of winning a state championship will help us in the playoffs."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun