You come at the king, you best not miss

VISAA Division II Semifinals: Blue Ridge (7-2) at Atlantic Shores (9-1), 7 p.m.

The basics: It’s unfinished business time for Blue Ridge. The Barons are back in the playoffs for the second straight year and after losing to STAB last year in the semifinals with a lot of the exact same group in the mix, it’s clear Blue Ridge is on a mission. They battled last week and won a contentious matchup with Trinity Episcopal, playing a hard-hitting, physical brand of football that plays to their strengths. The Barons are adept at riding waves of emotion and they’ve proven this season (particularly last week) that they can avoid coming apart at the seams, which has been a problem in other seasons. Can they keep that going for potentially two more games? They’ll face an Atlantic Shores program that beat Covenant last season in the state semifinals, so the Seahawks have been through some battles themselves and are primed to make another run. But Atlantic Shores has given up a lot of points when they’ve played certain opponents (46 and 42 to Fuqua and Norfolk Academy), though they hammered a Nansemond Suffolk squad that Blue Ridge also put up big numbers on. Whether it’s a defensive struggle or a shootout, Blue Ridge is capable of dictating the pace and running with the Seahawks. Look for a heavy dose of Justin Armwood and Jamison Harrison from the Barons.

Key matchup: Blue Ridge’s secondary takes on Atlantic Shores quarterback Ryan Chamberlin. The Seahawks have some quick, shifty options at the skill positions like Jaylen Hobbs, David Stainback and Jason Smith and Chamberlin can get them all involved. The senior is a capable, dual-threat signal-caller. That’ll put pressure on Blue Ridge’s talented, deep secondary to meet the moment. Cameron Carr, Xavier Kane, Josh Colon, Nazir Hopson and Aaron Aldridge are all ballhawks capable of picking off passes or batting them down for key stops. Can they rise up and keep Chamberlin under control and force him to beat the Barons with his legs? That would play to the strengths of a squad with sound tacklers at linebacker.

Who to watch: Blue Ridge’s Juan Mareco. Look, Blue Ridge wants to get it done on the ground with Armwood and Harrison, but if they need to take to the air, they’ve got options. Cameron Carr made a fantastic catch and run against Trinity Episcopal where he snagged a pass that didn’t look like it was intended for him and raced in for a touchdown. Mareco has only caught 13 balls this year at tight end, but he’s a critical blocker in the ground game and he has the ability to be a gamebreaker. Sometimes the playoffs are about the unexpected heroes stepping up and Mareco is that kind of player, an underrated, sometimes overlooked and reliable safety valve. If the Barons need him in the passing attack, he’ll likely be ready to step up.

The line: Blue Ridge by 6. The Barons may be the No. 3 seed, but they are battle-tested and have been pointed at these two weeks since the preseason. Their time has finally come.

Region 5A North First Round: No. 12 Falls Church (7-3) at No. 5 Albemarle (8-2), 7 p.m.

The basics: This has already been an historic campaign for Albemarle’s football team. Eight wins, the first home playoff game in decades and a coveted Jefferson District championship earned through a strong finish to the regular season. Now the Patriots get a chance to prove something else as they enter a tough Region 5A North playoff field as the No. 5 seed. They’ll square off against a Falls Church program that is similar in some ways as a kind of sleeping giant that has only recently awoken. The Jaguars haven’t exactly played the gauntlet that Albemarle has either, facing a number of teams win one-win seasons with three wins coming over squads in the .500 range. Albemarle has played playoff team after playoff team as well as some staunch rivalry games. The two programs met in 2013 in the playoffs with Albemarle falling 24-23 on the road. Winning a playoff game in the 5A North would be some serious validation for a program that hasn’t won a playoff game since before the turn of the century. But this group isn’t worried about history, they’re worried about now and if Zykal Foster, Jamal Thompson, J’Quan Anderson and company play their game, execute their game plan? Big things can happen for the Patriots.    

Key matchup:Albemarle’s defense takes on Falls Church playmaker Dakwandre Marshall. The Jaguars’ slippery sophomore running back/returner  is capable of some of the kind of plays that Anderson and Tyquan Rose have been making for the Patriots all year — where the impossible suddenly becomes possible. Lucky for Albemarle they’ve got a deep pool of capable athletes on defense and on special teams that can hem the young star in, though Albemarle did surrender a kick return for a touchdown to Western’s Robert Sims last week. The Patriots have to tackle well in the open field against Marshall or he can make them pay.

Who to watch: Albemarle’s J’Quan Anderson. Look, this is pretty obvious with a guy who’s thrown for 1,000 yards and rushed for another 1,011, but Anderson’s play in the clutch is what has separated him from a pack of strong local quarterbacks. When the game is on the line, Anderson has proven time and time again this year that he’s the right man for the job for Albemarle, including last week’s touchdown toss to Lorenz Brown with 13 second to play to beat Western Albemarle. He trusts his playmakers, he stays calm and he doesn’t let mistakes infect what he’s doing. Can he keep the Patriots rolling this week?

The line: Albemarle by 1. The Patriots have been playing well and pulling out a lot of close wins. They won’t flinch if this one comes down to the wire.

Region 3A West first round: No. 13 Western Albemarle (4-6) at No. 4 Staunton River (9-1), 7 p.m.

The basics: There are plenty of teams Western Albemarle would likely rather see than this Staunton River squad that last year’s edition of the Warriors tangled with in a high scoring battle in Crozet. The Eagles brought back a lot of the same players that put up 85 points against Western in 2015 and it has showed as Staunton River has rolled to a 9-1 record. A deep Region 3A West field this year pushes them back to No. 4, and Western is a dangerous No. 13 seed in what is often a wild Region 3A West bracket. Why dangerous? Derek Domecq makes them that way. Domecq has gotten done every single different way this year, including a single-wing style, hammering drive against Albemarle last week that put the Warriors ahead late. He can pound it out on the ground or roll out and find soft spots in the zone. He’s thrown for 1400 yards and is just shy of the 1,000-yard mark with 925 yards on the ground. Western has to avoid a shootout like they got in last year with Staunton River to have a fighting chance and if the defense can rise to the occasion, Domecq will give them a chance to pull the upset.

Key matchup: Western’s front seven does battle with the Staunton River single wing. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that that’s where this one is going to be decided. As great as the Western offense played last year against Staunton River, it didn’t matter much as the Golden Eagles just kept running and running and running, winning 85-79. The Warriors’ defense has to find some answer or force a turnover or two. The glimmer of hope is the way Western played against Louisa’s similar attack earlier this year, but since October started, Grayson Overstreet (and running-mate Kalip Jones) and  Staunton River has been a different animal. They’ve only been held under 50 points once since then, and they scored 47. James Buetow, Jarrett Smith, Noah Crutchfeld and Luke Tenuta can’t play tentatively, but they can’t over pursue either. This is a tough matchup.

Who to watch: Western’s secondary. Last year, it wasn’t just that Overstreet and other Staunton River runners kept piling up yards against Western last year, it’s that once they got to the second level they were gone, either due to missed tackles or catching Western out of position in the secondary. Also good downfield blocking. Look, everything went wrong in that game for the Warriors’ defense, and they’ve got to figure out a way to keep it from happening again to have a shot.

The line: Staunton River by 17. The Golden Eagles hung 75 on Lord Botetourt last week. They’re getting rolling at the right time.

Region 3A East first round: No. 5 Petersburg (3-7) at No. 4 William Monroe (6-4), 7 p.m.

The basics: William Monroe had some lofty goals coming into this year with a seasoned lineup and key playmakers like Malique Shackelford back at quarterback. Getting a home playoff game is a big pickup for this edition of the Dragons, and Petersburg fought its way into the No.5 slot with a win over Colonial Heights last week but the Crimson Wave lost seven-straight  coming into that matchup. It’ll be up to Monroe to fight through and potentially get the squad’s first home playoff win since 1991. That’ll take some big-time football from the likes of Shackelford and Kam’Ron McCain in the passing game and the Dragons finding the hot hand on the ground again like they’ve done this year where several different runners have carried the load for Monroe.

Key matchup: Petersburg’s ground game takes on Monroe’s defense. The Crimson Wave got some traction last week against 0-10 Colonial Heights on the ground, with Stanley Davis II scoring a trio of touchdowns. But William Monroe is particularly strong up the middle with first team All-Conference 28 picks Kyle Kruszewski, Rayquan Wayne and Greg Sizemore locking things down in the front seven. If that trio plays like they have in the closing stretch of the year (especially against Strasburg) it’ll be huge for the Dragons.

Who to watch: William Monroe’s offensive line. The Dragons’ front five, believed to be a strength heading into the season, has opened holes for a variety of different runners, with Tyler Huckstep earning All-Conference second team honors. If that unit comes ready to play Friday and someone gets going on the ground (Shackelford, Sizemore and Jalen McKinnie are three of several candidates), that’s going to set Monroe up well.

The line: Monroe by 7. The Dragons played really well last week and with the home crowd behind them they should be ready to step up.

Region 2A East first round: No. 15 Washington and Lee (4-6) at No. 2 Goochland (10-0), 7 p.m.

The basics: Goochland has been here before as an unbeaten, 10-0 squad going into the playoffs, pulling off the feat back in 2011. But this is perhaps more of a surprise because there were a number of questions marks about the Bulldogs going into this year, and they’ve really managed to exceed expectations with a workman-like effort on both sides of the ball. This year’s group is as sound as any edition of the Bulldogs. Maybe not particularly explosive or dynamic as they were recently with Reid Chenault behind center, but they’re sound. They tackle well, they run hard and that makes them a really tough out and a perfect team for this kind of year, for this kind of stage. Now we’ll get to see what Goochland can do with that 10-0 run and what they can make happen in Region 2A East.

Key matchup: Washington and Lee quarterback Carson Bell takes on Goochland’s front seven. Bell has shown flashes this year, getting the ball moving against Northumberland in mid-October for more than 200 yards through the air. On the flip side, the Bulldogs’ secondary is really tough to solve as Cordell Maddox leads a really capable group that doesn’t have to mark receivers for long with a reliable pass rush led by Ricky Mayfield and Clay Brooks on the edge (three sacks each on the year).

Who to watch: Goochland’s Calvin Martin. There are a lot of fantastic two-way players across the Scrimmage Play area, and Martin is one of them. He’s a reliable threat on the edge as a runner and he’s a lockdown cornerback capable of forcing opposing offenses to find someone else or some other side of the field to throw against. Like a lot Goochland players, Martin just shows up and does his job week in and week out. Don’t expect this week to be much different.

The line: Goochland by 27. The Bulldogs are well-rested and prepared for this playoff run. Expect them to be ready Friday night.

Region 5A North First Round: No. 13 Orange (6-4) at No. 4 Potomac Falls (8-2)  

The basics: Orange County makes the playoffs for the second straight year for the first time since 2000, and the Hornets’ get a challenging opponent out of the gate, not that anything is easy in Region 5A North. Orange got a chance to tune up for the playoffs last week against Fluvanna County and they should be fresh for this one. They’ll need it as a they face a Panthers squad that beat Briar Woods as well as taking care of business against each opponent they were favored against. Their losses are against Tuscarora and Stone Bridge, a perennial powerhouse that plays physical single-wing football. This is a big challenge for Orange and young quarterback Kenyon Carter, though he’s been unphased by the bright lights, as everyone saw in a Louisa game where he threw a pair of touchdown passes. Can Orange play to its strengths on the ground and get a little something from Carter to pull off an upset? We’ll see.

Key matchup: Potomac Falls’ front seven takes on the Tre Smith/DeAngelo Hunt two-headed monster. While a lot of local squads have gotten used to squaring off against Smith and Hunt and have a game plan, it’ll be a unique challenge for Potomac Falls, and with the temperature dropping, expect Orange to feed Smith and Hunt. Of course, the Panthers have seen some seriously physical running attacks, so they’ve got some experience with what Orange is bringing to the table.

Who to watch: Orange’s Jamal Carter and Jay Lewis-Nixon. The Hornets’ two senior defensive backs will have to hold up when Potomac Falls does take to the air, though the Panthers clearly prefer to get it done on the ground, running the ball 38 times against Stone Bridge two weeks ago. They’ll likely try and catch Carter and Lewis-Nix sleeping, which won’t be easy.

The line: Potomac Falls by 10. Orange’s deceptive balance and experience in games with Louisa and Albemarle could pay off here, but they’re going to need a mostly perfect effort to pull off the win.

Region 4A East First Round: No. 5 Monacan (8-2) at No. 4 Louisa County (8-2)

The basics: Louisa County has faltered a little in the second half of this season with a loss to Western Albemarle in Crozet and the loss in the season finale in a shootout with Charlottesville blemishing an otherwise fantastic campaign. The question is, are the Lions healthy enough and durable enough to beat a solid Monacan squad? Well it certainly helps that it’s in The Jungle, where Louisa is unbeaten on the season. Monacan though is coming off a bye a week after a heavyweight matchup with Manchester where the Chiefs narrowly lost 36-35. Without that loss Monacan probably isn’t in this game or is hosting the Lions, so they’ve certainly got something to prove this week.

Key matchup: Monacan’s front seven deals with Louisa’s Malik Bell. Everyone knows what Bell brings to the table in the ground game with 1,465 yards on the season, but his work through the air isn’t bad either — 726 yards and eight touchdowns without throwing a single interception. He just doesn’t do anything to hurt the Lions. Bell is also as tough as they come, as evidenced by his 31-carry performance against Orange after an ankle injury suffered the week before. Monacan has been solid defensively most of this year, but Bell is a unique challenge, capable of putting the Lions on his back when necessary.

Who to watch: Louisa’s secondary. Malik Minor, Caleb Turner and company are excellent man-to-man coverage types, but occasionally when the play breaks down or they’re forced to guard for awhile, like with any squad, things break down. Against Orange they surrendered a pair of touchdown passes. Monacan quarterback Syour Fludd threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns against Manchester, so the odds are good the Lions are going to be tested. They’ll need a big dose of pass-rushing help from Tony Thurston, Quinton Ragland and Brandon Smith who’ve combined for 16 sacks on the year.

The line: Louisa by 1. This one seems primed to come down to the wire and Louisa’s ability to grind clock and score with the power run game should be the difference.

Region 4A West First Round: No. 9 John Champe (7-3) at No. 8 Charlottesville (6-4)

The basics: The last time Charlottesville hosted a home playoff game? Stone Bridge came to town and cut short an unbeaten run by the Black Knights with a 45-35 win in 2002. Now the Black Knights’ 2016 edition gets a chance to play playoff football in front of their home crowd thanks to a tremendous two-win explosion to finish the regular season. Those two wins over Western Albemarle and Louisa came after a three-game skid where Albemarle, Powhatan and Orange got the better of the Black Knights. Charlottesville got healthy though and trusted Sabias Folley to carry the load as the sophomore crossed the 1,000-yard mark while getting some help on the edge from a series of Black Knights. Champe closed the season with wins over Loudoun County and Freedom to power its way into the No. 9 seed, making a solid move up to get a shot at CHS.

Key matchup: John Champe’s Carl Garmon faces the Black Knights’ rushing defense. Charlottesville gave up a bunch of points to Louisa last week and a lot of yards on the ground, but they’re far from the only team that’s had that misfortune this year. With the way the offense is playing though, if Charlottesville’s front seven can hem in Garmon, the Conference 22 player of the year, it’ll help set the table for a potential Black Knights win.

Who to watch: Charlottesville’s Anthony Scott-Goins. On a defense that’s got some serious playmakers like Sadarius Folley and Lorenzo Louderback, it’s actually Scott-Goins, the undersized defensive lineman, who leads the Black Knights in tackles for a loss with eight backfield stuffs. If the Black Knights want to earn their first win in the playoffs since 1999, they’re going to need Scott-Goins and company to play big-time football.

The line: Charlottesville by 1. This isn’t the time to bet against the Black Knights based on the way they’ve played the last two weeks.

Region 2A East First Round: No. 9 Nandua (7-3) at No. 8 Madison County (5-5)

The basics: After a 4-1 start to 2016, Madison dropped four of its last five games, but the Mountaineers held on to a home game in large part because of that strong start. Now they host Nandua, with the winner likely facing Stuarts Draft in the second round of a top-heavy Region 2A East bracket. These are the kind of games where a team’s best player has to step up, and Isiah Smith has been that guy all season for the Mountaineers, accounting for more than 1,800 yards of total offense for Madison on the year. Madison will surely try and get the ball to Smith early and often, especially with Nandua coming in on a two-game winning streak. Getting on the board early will help Madison’s chances to pick up a win in a rare home playoff game. Madison’s last playoff win came in 2001, so this opportunity looms large for the Mountaineers.

Key matchup: Madison’s defense tries to contain Nandua playmaker Daquan Bailey. Bailey is capable of scoring in a number of different ways. He has the potential to be Nandua’s answer to Madison’s Smith, and that’s going to test the Mountaineers’ entire defense. Look for tackling leaders Jake Price, Smith and Isaiah Breckenridge to try and contain the Nandua speedster.  

Who to watch: Madison’s Elijah Lewis. Tying Smith with a team-high three interceptions on the year, Lewis has made a big impact. Since the Mountaineers have struggled to clamp down on opposing offenses, a turnover or two against Nandua would be a huge help to a usually dynamic offense. Could Lewis or someone else in the secondary pick up another pick and give the Mountaineers a spark?

The line: Madison by 1. The Mountaineers are at home, but they’ll likely have to fight Nandua tooth and nail for this one.

The Game: Episcopal (8-0) at Woodberry (8-1), Saturday 2 p.m.

The basics: The Game’s nickname says it all. For both programs, as good of a season as they’ve each had, it would be marred with a loss here. This one is about immortality, how your squad is remembered. That’s why it produces some of the most memorable and strangest matchups. What you see, quite often, isn’t what you get from Episcopal and Woodberry locking up…strange things have a way of happening. Last season’s tie game was just the latest chapter in a wild series that enters its 116th edition. Woodberry actually constructs a second half worth of a stadium at Johnson Stadium for this one, and this year there’s the added wrinkle of it being the final game Clint Alexander will coach at the helm of the Tigers. Few people have promoted the rivalry and all the history and pageantry it entails like Alexander has, and he’ll want to finish his stint at Woodberry on a high note. You can expect a fierce effort from the Tigers in particular, though this one rarely needs any extra juice. The intensity and anguish that is usually on display is largely unmatched by anything else out there. There is no tomorrow in this one and everyone plays like it. As far as the actual football goes, these are two strong squads, with Woodberry winning the Prep League while Episcopal wrapped up its first IAC title in 10 years last week with a win over powerful Georgetown Prep. There are few holes on either side, though its a clash in styles as the Tigers want to air it out while the Maroon wants to control the ball on the ground.

Key matchup: Woodberry’s front seven takes on Episcopal running back Perris Jones. Jones averages more than 7.7 yards per carry. Woodberry will counter with Will Wideman (77 total tackles), Joe Stephenson (75 tackles) and Korey Smith (67 tackles). Yeah, it’s a pretty impressive counter. On that side of the ball it’ll definitely be a heavyweight battle, and the Tigers’ core has to bring it or they won’t be slowing down Jones.

Who to watch: Woodberry Forest quarterback Lindell Stone. This is the last chance to see the Scrimmage Play Area’s All-Time Passing leader in action during high school as he heads to UVa next year. He’s crossed the 3,000-yard mark again this year while completing 65.8 percent of his passes and throwing 37 touchdowns. Against a stingy Episcopal defense, can the Tigers get the aerial attack going?

The line: Woodberry by 1. The Tigers haven’t been in a lot of close battles this year but with Stone behind center, there’s reason to think they can handle whatever this game throws at them.