South County wide receiver Dillon Spalding spent his offseason thinking about how his junior season ended. The Stallions were stomped by rivalWestfield in the Virginia 6A North region championship. Their high-powered offense was held to eight measly points.
Things would be different in 2016, he resolved, and he spent the summer working with quarterback Jack McDaniels to make sure South County’s passing game would be the team’s strength.
Then Coach Gerry Pannoni named Michael Salisbury the starting quarterback at the beginning of the season.
“Oh, God,” Spalding said he thought. “Have I been working with the wrong guy?”
But after the Stallions eeked out a four-point win against Briar Woods to start the year, then suffered a four-point loss to — who else? — Westfield in Week 2, Pannoni handed the offense to McDaniels.
South County ripped off six consecutive wins. It started throwing the ball more, allowing the aerial attack of McDaniels to Spalding complement its triple-option offense. Friday, they rolled past Battlefield in their playoff opener, 34-12.
“Our offense has changed and evolved as the season has progressed,” said McDaniels, who leads the region in touchdown passes with 36. “Hopefully it’s become more explosive. I’d like to think I have something to do with that.”
Spalding sure thinks so, he said. He has 14 touchdown catches on the year. All of them have come from McDaniels.
“We found the guy that works best for us,” he said.
This week, the Stallions get another shot at Westfield with McDaniels at the helm. He entered the game in Week 2 in relief of Salisbury at the start of the fourth quarter. He threw two quick touchdown passes to pull within one point, but South County was undone on an interception on a trick play.
At that point, Spalding had left the game with an injured hand. A pass caught his pinkie finger the wrong way and ripped the webbing down to his palm. He got stitched up at a hospital and is putting off surgery until after the season.
“The whole finger is pretty messed up,” he said. “But it’s playable, I guess.”
He hasn’t missed a game since the injury, and he’s sure not going to miss one during this playoff run. Pannoni, he said, keeps talking to the team about “redemption,” beating the teams in the postseason that did the same to the Stallions earlier in the year.
First up are, of course, the Bulldogs, whose rise McDaniels has been charting alongside his own.
“We’ve had this game circled on our calendar since Week 2,” he said.
The Big number: 8.75
Points per game allowed by the Westfield defense in the past four weeks. Since the Bulldogs found their groove in a 35-0 romp of Centreville in October, the defense is back to what Coach Kyle Simmons was used to seeing during the team’s 2015 state title run.