In coach Ken Wakefield’s first two years as Patrick Henry High’s football coach, the Patriots won a Class 4 region title and played in the region semifinals.
For Wakefield, that’s the success a program needs to build toward the type of game the No. 6 Patriots are scheduled to play Friday: against visiting Highland Springs, No. 1 in The Times-Dispatch rankings and the area benchmark.
As a competitor, Wakefield says the matchup is “super exciting” and a chance to improve by playing an elite program. The Springers have won four Class 5 state titles and had a runner-up finish in the past six years.
“In the three years since I’ve been here we’ve played in some big football games,” Wakefield said. “We haven’t won them all, but we have won a couple of them. The kids shouldn’t be afraid of the moment. We’ve played some high-caliber teams in the past.
“Having that success in the last couple of years, that’s gone a long way this week of saying hey … [Highland Springs has a lot of college recruits]. We’ve got some talented guys as well, and they have … to believe in [themselves] come Friday night. You’ve got to know that’s why you play this game, to go against the best.”
From the early 1980s to the middle 2000s, PH consistently was one of the top programs in the area. The Patriots went 6-5 in 2017 and 3-6 in 2018. Under Wakefield, they are 20-6.
“We’re up there in being able to compete with some of these teams, but that’s the nice part,” he said. “The last couple of years we’ve been able to play some of these top-ranked schools and my guess would be when I first got here if someone said in year three you’re going to be the game of the week against Highland Springs and you’re both going to be ranked in the top 10 … I’m going to take that. That’s going to be awesome. And I think it is. It’s awesome for our kids.”
The Springers (3-2) frequently play high-caliber games. Highland Springs lost to North Carolina power Julius Chambers (24-13), beat No. 2 Manchester 27-20, beat Prince George (45-19), lost to West Virginia power Martinsburg (26-25) and beat Colonial Forge 52-7.
Patrick Henry (4-1) hasn’t been tested nearly as much. The loss was 27-26 in overtime to No. 10 Hermitage.
Wakefield said the focus has been telling his team “to play our game.”
“I think sometimes when people play them the game’s over before it’s actually started,’’ he said. “They hear so much of Highland Springs and all the great things that they’ve done … and it gets them off their game, whether it’s fumbles, or uncharacteristic penalties, or just not playing to the level of their capability.”