STAB (3-2) at Covenant (6-0), Friday 4 p.m.
The basics: The area’s two eight-man squads — and the state’s top two eight-man teams according to the rankings — lock up for a second time this year with a rematch at Covenant this time that finds STAB in a much better place than the Saints were back in August. They’re running the ball consistently with Thomas Harry leading the way at quarterback. Still, trying to stop Covenant is the biggest issue the Saints will face as Rick Weaver, Jonas Sanker and Luke Sorenson have been playing awfully well since the Eagles season opening 62-20 win over the Saints. Both teams have faced a lot of new looks and experiences this year, but this is the most familiar set of circumstances, the most comfortable — locking up in October with a crosstown rival. Look for both teams to stick with their gameplan that has been producing wins and try and impose their will on the contest.
Key matchup: The Saints’ run defense takes on Covenant’s multi-faceted ground attack. STAB surrendered 410 yards on the ground in the teams’ first meeting, and they, quite simply, can’t do that again. That’s easier said than done when Luke Sorenson and Jonas Sanker are testing the edge and Rick Weaver is trying to blow holes up the middle like a human-shaped battering ram. The Saints will have to shore things up here to give their own solid ground game a chance at pulling off the win.
Who to watch: Covenant’s Nic Sanker. Sanker is a consistent force on defense and he’s a multi-tooled weapon on offense. Look for him to step up against the Saints and make a big play, he’s got a knack for those kind of moments.
The line: Covenant by 10. The Saints are much improved, but the Eagles just haven’t whenever they’ve been on the field.
Fluvanna County (6-1) at Albemarle (3-4), Friday 7 p.m.
The basics: Fluvanna County is rolling after picking up a second Saturday day win of the season with a victory over Powhatan. The Flucos are ranked third in Region 3C’s playoff ratings and control their own destiny for the most part with regards to getting in and potentially hosting. Albemarle, meanwhile, is on a three-game win streak but is on the outside looking in in Region 5D in the nine hole so they’ve got work to do, like winning the next three games to secure a spot. Albemarle’s run game got going in a big way, with Mahki Washington rushing for 226 yards against Charlottesville last week, but they’ve been prevented from pulling away from teams effectively by a series of fumbles and errors that have upped the degree of difficulty. Against a team like Fluvanna intent on limiting possessions and controlling clock, those kind of mistakes can be deadly — same with Charlottesville that nearly nipped the Patriots last week. Look for the Flucos’ defense to try and transfer the physicality they’ve had at home this year to a huge road test as they jump into a tough stretch against the Patriots, Western Albemarle and Louisa County to close the regular season.
Key matchup: Albemarle’s front seven takes on the Wing-T. The return of Eric Taylor at linebacker gave an Albemarle defense that’s been playing well lately an extra jolt and along with Jon Barber, Majestic Stewart and Jake Romback, the Patriots have proven they’ve got a stout group defending the run and rushing the passer. Against the Wing-T, they’ve got to find a way to stay at home and play assignment football while also being wary of quarterback Kobe Edmonds sneaking out for a run or reversing out in the waggle and taking a shot downfield. That’s easier said than done, especially when a team is running the system as well as Fluvanna has been. Look for the Flucos to stick to what has been working and try and wear down Albemarle while the Patriots will likely look for some serious help from Marquan Jones in defending the run..
Who to watch: Fluvanna’s defensive backs. While the Patriots are likely to keep leaning on the run, they have an array of weapons on the boundary in Myles Ward, Bruce McClain, Forest Warner and Aquon Sims that will test the Flucos too. Fluvanna counters with a trio of players who’ve made big interceptions this year in the secondary in Colby Martin, Prophett Harris and Austin Craig. If that group can keep from getting lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the Albemarle ground attack, it’ll be huge for the Flucos.
The line: Albemarle by 3. The Patriots get the edge here because it’s at home, but they’re going to have to fight tooth and nail to get past Fluvanna.
Orange County (2-5) at Louisa County (7-0), Friday 7:30 p.m.
The basics: One of the area’s classic rivalries returns as the Battle for the Gordonsville Tastee Freeze determines the annual border war between a pair of proud programs. This one is about more than xs and os, it’s about county pride, it’s about making sure you honor the classics this game has created over the years. Louisa comes in clicking along and playing solid football in all phases, spurred by a punt block last week by Austin Sims and the ensuing recovery by Derrick Barbour. The defense is getting excellent play as always from Brandon Sims and the rest of a speedy front seven that makes attacking the edge or probing the middle on the ground a tall order. On offense, the Lions have so many different dimensions and can stretch things out with Rob Allinder and Noah Robinson or pack it in like they’ve traditionally done and lean on a multi-faceted ground game with an offensive line that’s taken some serious steps forward. This is a huge opportunity for the Hornets if they could find a way to pull off an upset, and they’ll need Jaylen Alexander to continue playing excellent football if they’re going to pull that off. Orange gave Western all it could handle a week ago with Alexander rushing for 119 yards, but fell short while struggling on third downs (3-for-13 on the night). If they can execute better in key spots they can keep the sticks moving and potentially try and wear down the Lions, though that’s been a tall order for any team all season.
Key matchup: Orange’s front seven takes on the Louisa ground attack. This one will come down to whether or not the Hornets can get in gear against the Louisa ground attack. Kyrie Carter is a capable defender on the edge, but Louisa finds ways to run at or around key defenders, so this will take a complete team effort from guys like Ricardo Flores-Umana and Noah Carey. They’ll need everyone to be ready to counter a heavy dose of Jarett Hunter, Kalup Shelton and Alex Washington, with a dose of Robert Morgan thrown in for good measure. If the Hornets can’t meet the physical challenge of defending Louisa on the ground, they’re going to have trouble hanging in this one like most teams do against the Lions.
Who to watch: Louisa’s Aaron Aponte. Aponte splits time with Austin Sims at tight end for the Lions and both are sort of secret weapons for Louisa both as run blockers and in the passing game. Monticello found that out when Aponte caught a touchdown in the back of the endzone last week after not snagging one all year, though Aponte pointed out after the game that he’s been interfered with on a bunch of plays where they were trying to go to him. The Hornets are going to have to account for the Lions’ tight ends after last week.
The line: Louisa by 13. The Lions are just in a rhythm at this point and they’ll keep it rolling here.
Skyline (2-5) at William Monroe (1-6), Friday 7 p.m.
The basics: The Hawks have dropped two straight with a 28-3 loss to Strasburg followed by a 35-21 defeat at the hands of Culpeper. The same is true for the Dragons as since picking up their first win against Madison they’ve fallen to Heritage (Leesburg) 29-0 and then dropped a heartbreaker with Brentsville 13-12 last week. It’s been a frustrating season for Monroe, one that looks all too similar to last year. With Skyline this week and a winless Warren County on deck, the Dragons have an opportunity to reverse the course of their season and finish on a strong note. Of note, this is Monroe’s first home game since September 13.
Key matchup: Monroe’s secondary takes on Skyline receivers Caleb Reedy and Laterian Barber. Reedy brings a physical presence at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds while Barber is a 5-foot-8 speedster. The Dragons will need athletic and heady coverage from Jaekwon Wayne, Sal Coyle and Alex Kinsey in this one to keep the Hawks offense from getting rolling. Monroe has played well against the run in two of their last three games and Skyline has struggled in the running department so that’s a plus. Keeping quarterback Chase Tasker from find connecting with Reedy and Barber would give the Dragons a big edge in this one.
Who to watch: The Dragons’ run defense. The Monroe interior defense has been much improved over the weeks. Three of the last four opponents have been held to 14 points or less and stopping the run has been the key there. With Tremaine Hawkins on the defensive line and Xzabia Kolpack and Zach Miller at linebacker, the Dragons have an interior defense that’s made a lot of strides. If they can keep Skyline to 14 or less, Monroe should have enough on offense to get the job done and pick up the win.
The line: Monroe by 1. Playing this first home game in over a month should help the Dragons get a competitive edge.
Monticello (1-6) at Powhatan (3-3), Friday 7:30 p.m.
The basics: The Mustangs struggled with Louisa County early in a 42-28 loss but maybe the late game momentum they picked up carriers over. The Indians lost a Saturday afternoon affair with Fluvanna 16-7 a week after nearly upsetting Louisa in a 24-14 loss. Powhatan has been sound defensively in all six games but has yet to score more than 21 points so far.
Key matchup: Monticello’s rushing defense takes on Powhatan senior running back Jacob Taylor. The 5-foot-9 190-pound back is the bellcow ball carrier for the Indians and they do not shy away from getting him 25-30 touches a game. With a stout defense to play behind, Powhatan keeps it pretty simple and leans on a solid offensive line and Taylor to piece together long drives and grind down opponents. Monticello can essentially take the game plan it had last week for Louisa and try and reapply it — while Louisa and Powhatan run different sets offensively, the approach to slowing both down is fairly similar and fundamental, and the Indians run a little less misdirection so maybe it’s a touch easier to identify the run here than with the Lions. Regardless, the Mustangs the entire front seven to step up. If they does, Powhatan is winning this one. If he doesn’t, Monticello has a shot in this one.
Who to watch: Monticello receiver Trenton Johnson. The Mustangs senior is obviously one of the Jefferson District’s most explosive weapons in the passing game and they might need him and quarterback Malachi Fields to be in perfect sync to pull this one out. If the Mustangs can answer methodical drives from Powhatan with quick drives featuring Fields hitting Johnson for big chunks, Monticello might be able to win this one shootout style.
The line: The Indians by 3. Powhatan led Louisa at halftime two weeks ago. They’ve played Western tough. They’ve played Fluvanna tough. They’ve played a lot of winning teams all back-to-back. This will could be a tough game for Monticello.
Western Albemarle (5-2) at Warren County (0-7), Friday 7 p.m.
The basics: The Warriors looked good last week and held off a late Orange County comeback to hold on with a 30-20 win on the road. Now they get the make up game for what was supposed to be a week three showing with Park View, a week eight road trip to play a Warren County team that is struggling and fell last week to Culpeper 19-0. The Wildcats are oddly dangerous though. They lost to a good Clarke County team by just two points. They fell in overtime to a solid Strasburg team the week before that. But the last two weeks they’ve scored just six points, so they’ve got their hands full with the Warriors visiting.
Key matchup: Warriors running back Austin Shifflett versus the Wildcats’ running back Ronnie Dobson. While it’s really about which of these offensive lines get the push upfront, the bottom line says that whichever of these backs can rack up the most mileage and be the most physical will win the night. Shifflett has really developed into an all-around back that’s got a lot of quickness but does a great job keeping his feet moving to rack up the yards after contract. Dobson will need to match the damage that Shifflett does in order for Warren to have a chance here.
Who to watch: Western’s receiving corps. Jack Weyher, Jack Lesseman and Wyatt Hull are all dangerous receivers. This year they’ve developed into great blocking receivers as the run game has taken over. But in a game like this, the Warriors might have an opportunity to play with some ideas and see what they can get in the passing game from quarterback Carter Shifflett. Don’t be surprised if the Wildcats throw so much at the ground game that Shifflett dials up some downfield stuff for his receivers.
The line: The Warriors by 9. Western should be in good shape here but can’t sleep on a team that’s played well at times against the run.
Madison County (2-5) at Clarke County (4-3), Friday 7:30 p.m
The basics: You have to give the Mountaineers a ton of credit, last week they almost pulled off a huge upset. Madison led Central Woodstock for much of the game before the Falcons pulled away late, 47-23. Now Madison gets its longtime nemisis in Clarke County. With the Eagles haven’t been as sharp these last two years as they’ve been historically, they’re still pretty darn good. They’re coming off a 26-23 win over a strong Strasburg team last week after falling to Central the week before.
Key matchup: The Madison defensive front takes on the 1-2 punch of running backs Peyton Rutherford and Kyle Baylor. Rutherford is a hammer at six foot and 190 pounds. Baylor is a change of pace back at 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds. These two have a lot of thunder and lightning about them and Clarke has scored 30 or more in six of its last seven games. The Mountaineers need linebacker Dalton Dodson and defensive line Will Graves to be dialed in to try and keep Rutherford and Baylor from both having big performances. Madison has the offense to stay in this game. It will be up to the defense to find a way to make the difference and that starts up front.
Who to watch: Madison quarterback Elijah Lewis. Maybe its because the Mountaineers have been on the wrong end of the scoreboard too many times, but Lewis is putting together an impressive, under-the-radar season under center in a year that isn’t quarterback heavy. Lewis has developed big ability with receiver Nick Messeneo on a seemingly weekly basis and with Sam Estes and Matt Carpenter, the passing game compliments the quarterback’s ability to move the chains with his feet really well. Lewis is aggressive in terms of his reads, the kind of athlete that doesn’t settle for checkdowns easily and really wants to make big plays happen early and often. This could be signature win for him here if he can limit the turnovers that come with going for the jugular.
The line: The Eagles by 3. Clarke is 14-5 with Madison all time and has not lost to the Mountaineers since 2004. That said, if the Eagles don’t take this team seriously, they might not be as fortunate as Central was last week.
Buckingham County (2-4) at Bluestone (2-5), Friday 7 p.m.
The basics: The Knights didn’t get to play last week with Cumberland getting hit hard by the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. So now they play Bluestone on Friday as they were supposed to and squeeze in Cumberland on Tuesday only to have Randolph Henry three days later. That’s three games in eight days. The good news is that the Knights are coming off a bye week and the latter of those two teams are a combined 0-11 right now. So in an odd way, if something like this was going to happen, if you’re Buckingham, this was the right spot in the schedule for this to happen.
Key matchup: Buckingham’s pass rush against Bluestone quarterback Dale Sturdifen Jr. The Barons have not run the ball with much success this year. Sturdifen had Datrione Shearin and Michael Harris, the former of which is a big target at receiver to work with. The Knights have been solid against the pass and really pretty solid as a team defense all-around. That’s no surprise with Seth Wilkerson running the show as a former defensive coordinator. And while the secondary has the athletes to blanket Harris and Shearin, the Knights are going to want points off of turnovers and Bluestone has struggled with those. A heavy pass rush from Cole Edmontson and the boys upfront will create chances for Deshawn Bartee and Xavier Copeland to make big plays in the secondary.
Who to watch: Buckingham running back Walter Edwards. The junior running back should have decent footing in this game and faces a defense that’s been all over the place. Bluestone played a short handed Nottoway team tough on the defensive side of the ball, but really had trouble with Amelian and Central Lunenburg’s rushing attack. Edwards is running well behind an ever developing young offensive line. He runs hard, he never stops churning and does not shy away from contact. The Barons have to match his physicality to have a shot in this one.
The line: The Knights by 6. Buckingham handles business on the road before its two home game bonanza with Cumberland and Randolph Henry. Sitting on the outside edge of the playoff picture right now, the Knights have to have this one and there are a few points on the line with Bluestone’s record.
Strasburg (5-2) at Nelson County (1-6), Friday 7 p.m.
The basics: Nelson got a week off after a narrow loss to Madison County at home two weeks ago and now they’ll face another Bull Run District foe in Strasburg, a team that won four straight before falling to Clarke in overtime. Tough task for the Governors here as this is one of the better opponents they’ll face this year. Common opponent-wise, Strasburg beat George Mason 35-7 while Nelson fell to the Mustangs 48-0. Excellent opportunity for the Governors to test themselves though, but they’ll need to execute better late than they did against Madison after jumping out to a lead against the Mountaineers.
Key matchup: Nelson’s front seven takes on the Rams’ ground game. The Governors struggled at times to contain Madison’s Matt Lewis. They’ll need to step things up against the run in this one against Strasburg.
Who to watch: Nelson’s Brandon Jamerson. Like every team, the Governors are always looking for playmakers and Jamerson had the squad’s lone second half touchdown against Madison. Can he translate that into more against the Rams?
The line: Strasburg by 14. Tough matchup here for the Governors, need their best effort of the year potentially to hang tight and have a shot.
Benedictine (3-2) at Woodberry Forest (2-2), Friday 4 p.m.
The basics: Woodberry Forest got a week off after beating Collegiate and now they host another Richmond-area squad in Benedictine who beat the Cougars a week ago in overtime, rallying from 17 points down to get the win. Woodberry enters with the offense clicking behind quarterback Ben Locklear, wideout DeQuece Carter, tight end Kyle Bilodeau and running back Kay Muganda. The Tigers wanted to be more effective on the ground going into the Collegiate game and they got there in a big way. Benedictine has been a little all over the map, playing an excellent Georgetown Prep team tight, blowing out Fork Union and needing overtime to get past a Collegiate squad Woodberry blew out. Depending on which version of the Cadets shows up at Woodberry, this one could be interesting.
Key matchup: Woodberry’s secondary takes on Benedictine quarterback Andrew Puccinelli. Puccinelli led the Cadets’ comeback against Collegiate, going 12-for-19 for 173 yards with three fourth quarter touchdowns. While he splits time with Jay Woolfolk, Puccinelli proved last week he has to be accounted for and can spread the ball around. The Tigers will find ways to get pressure on him, but the defensive backs will have play up tight and create some havoc to disrupt the rhythm Benedictine found against Collegiate late.
Who to watch: Woodberry running back Kay Muganda. Muganda was a force in the win over Collegiate and if he runs the way he did against the Cougars, with a physical, pounding style that still has a splash of straight-line speed and cuts, Benedictine is going to have its hands full. The Tigers’ offensive line has clearly made some strides and they opened some solid holes. Muganda is more than capable of taking care of the rest.
The line: Woodberry Forest by 7. Another good test for the Tigers at home, but they’ve been passing these tests much of the year.
Fork Union (1-6) at Collegiate (2-4), Friday 3:30 p.m.
The basics: Fork Union got its first win of the season with a 20-16 victory over Trinity Episcopal last week just two days after Mike Hooper, a mainstay in the Fork Union football program at the junior varsity and varsity levels, announced he’d retire from football at the end of the year. The Blue Devils beat the Titans with Larry Elder snagging a touchdown catch and a rejuvenated run game that gave them a solid leg up. Now they’ll try and keep it going against a Collegiate team that they nearly beat a year ago, but they’ll have to get it done on the road.
Key matchup: Fork Union’s defensive backs take on Collegiate’s Ayinde Budd. The Cougars are at their best when they find a way to get the ball in Budd’s hands. The tall wideout is a matchup nightmare if he’s not properly accounted for. That’ll be up to Larry Elder and company to handle the heavy lifting by guarding him tight and tackling soundly when he does catch the ball.
Who to watch: Fork Union’s V’Jon Hampton. Hampton gave the Fork Union ground game a much needed jolt last week, highlighted by a 42-yard touchdown run where he carried four Trinity defenders into the end zone with some relentless effort. That could be huge for a FUMA offense in need of playmaking performances.
The line: Collegiate by 1. Don’t be surprised if a FUMA team with more confidence pulls off the upset here.
King William (5-1) at Blue Ridge (3-4), 3:30 p.m. Thursday
The basics: This game wasn’t on the schedule on Sunday, but with the Barons dropping a contest due to a forfeit, the Barons went to add a contest and found one of the state’s most consistent Class 2A programs. While the Cavaliers were down a year ago, they produced winning seasons from 1999 to 2016 every year and have run into Goochland in the playoffs in several seasons. This is a serious challenge for the Barons, though getting the game at home and in the afternoon is surely a help since the Barons are comfortable in both those circumstances. Look for the Barons to be pretty cranked up too for an opportunity against a public school team that they rarely get. That element alone should make this one interesting.
Key matchup: Blue Ridge’s secondary takes on King William’s passing attack. Cavaliers’ quarterback Lance Alfonso and wideout Marc Gresham have been dangerous at times this year for King William, and now the Barons will have to find a way to counter another small but speedy playmaker after trying to corral Jonathan Broadnax in the Norfolk Christian game. Look for the Barons to get versatile Sammy Fort involved in trying to hem in Gresham.
Who to watch: Blue Ridge’s Xavier Kane. We all know what Kane can do behind center, and since he rediscovered his rhythm with Michael Asher two weeks ago, he’s got the potential to be even more potent there. But we probably underrate just how good Kane is defensively. He’s got great ball skills and can cover the opponent’s top threat or play centerfield at free safety. He’s also a physical presence against the run as he showed with an early tone-setting tackle against Norfolk Christian and eight total stops in that one.
The line: Push. Both teams didn’t have a lot of notice, so this one is a complete toss-up, plus we don’t often see private versus public matchups. Tough one to call.
Goochland (6-0) at Randolph Henry (0-5), Friday 7 p.m.
The basics: With most of the James River District was scrambling to reschedule games after Hurricane Michael the Bulldogs enjoyed a week of rest and now they’re back at it. Goochland is coming off a 52-0 road win over Cumberland two weeks ago. The Statesmen were unable to play Amelia County this week and are coming off a 49-12 loss two weeks ago to Central Lunenburg. Randolph Henry has given up 49 points or more in four of their five games. This is a mismatch.
Key matchup: Randolph Henry’s offensive line takes on Goochland’s defensive front. The Statesmen get the delightful task of trying to contain Khalil Holman and Jacob Massey up front, and then Sam Brooks and Kindrick Braxton on the second level. What do you do about that when you’re averaging 11.8 points per game? The Statesmen have to have perfect protection up front to try and keep this defensive unit from essentially being the jab to set up the right hook of the offense… or in a lot of cases this year, the right hook from the second layer of this defensive unit.
Who to watch: Goochland freshman CJ Towles. Years down the road, Towles is the future of this offense. He’s going to be getting a good deal reps at quarterback this week and the next two, assuming all goes right with the first team offense. These snaps are meaningful for the long term future when Goochland has to replace Devin McCray in two years, but also if the Bulldogs decide to create some playoff wrinkles with the athletic freshman. Just like with Cumberland, this game has the opportunity to be a lab experiment fairly early in the second quarter.
The line: The Bulldogs by 28. Another blowout for a defense that’s allowed all of 35 points total all year and only more than one touchdown in one game. That’s the dilemma for the Statesmen before you even start with this Goochland offense.