Western Albemarle (6-2) at Fluvanna County (6-2), Friday 7 p.m.
The basics: It’s not often that this matchup has massive playoff implications, but a lot of things are upside down this year in the wake of the Flucos’ incredible run. With Spotswood, Western and Fluvanna fighting it out for the three slots behind Brookville and Heritage in Region 3C, this one could determine who hosts a playoff game in the opening round. Conditions could be nasty here in one of the few games that decided to stick to its Friday night schedule, but that suits these two squads’ personalities. They’re both deadset on running the ball, the Flucos with an array of backs in the Wing-T and the Warriors coming out of the spread with the law firm of Shifflett and Shifflett, Austin at tailback and Carter at quarterback. Western is coming off a week where they made quick work of Warren County on the road while the Flucos saw a 13-0 lead slip away against Albemarle in final seven minutes in a 14-13 heartbreaker. Now it’ll be about who can impose their will on this game. Both teams could make some solid moves in the playoff ratings if they can find a way to pick up wins in the closing stretch here, but they’re also both facing some tough matchups. This one is flat out huge for both.
Key matchup: Fluvanna’s secondary takes on the Warriors’ wideouts. The Flucos’ secondary is a pretty locked in unit. They’ve got hard hitters like Colby Martin and straight up thieves like Prophett Harris and Austin Craig who can bait quarterbacks and make big plays. Western’s group blocks as well as it catches, but there are several explosive talents in the mix there between Wyatt Hull, Jack Weyher and Breaker Mendenhall. If that group opens up things for the ground attack, they’ll be doing their job. If they can create separation and give Carter Shifflett a handful of looks, they could win the game for the Warriors.
Who to watch: Western Albemarle’s Jack Lesemann. With two teams both determined to run, Lesemann is going to be a factor for the Warriors as a key blocker. But with Fluvanna boasting an impressive secondary and a stingy run defense, a tight end like Lesemann could be something of an overlooked weapon. But quarterback Carter Shifflett has settled in lately and passing will come at a premium in the weather, that’s when tight ends can shine.
The line: Western Albemarle by 7. The Warriors take care of the ball and don’t make many mistakes. If they can do that against the Flucos, they’ll pick up a key win, the Warriors haven’t lost this clash since 2010.
Powhatan (4-4) at Albemarle (4-4), Thursday 7:30 p.m.
The basics: Seven minutes of good closing football for Albemarle against Fluvanna County vaulted the Patriots into the Region 5D playoff picture. Now they’ll have to fight to stay there with a team that just wedged its way into the Region 4B picture themselves after Powhatan beat Monticello to get to .500 and put itself in postseason contention in one of the state’s most loaded regions with Louisa, Monacan, Dinwiddie and Eastern View in the top four. The Indians could also get a psychological boost from the announcement that head coach Jim Woodson is retiring at the end of this season. If the Indians get some juice off that and can get a spark from their ground game, this one should be close. Albemarle is finding an assortment of ways to win, with the Fluvanna magic the most impressive so far. Now can they keep plugging ahead possibly without the services of Mahki Washington after his injury against Fluvanna? DaQuandre Taylor powered the ground game last week with an assist from Keenan Brock. They’ll have to duct tape things together and survive another critical game to burnish their playoff resume.
Key matchup: Powhatan’s ground attack takes on the stingy Albemarle front seven. Powhatan’s Jacob Taylor crossed the 1,000-yard barrier for a reason — he’s pretty darn good. On the flip side, Eric Taylor (who saw some time on offense at fullback) and John Barber are enough to contend with at linebacker, but throw in Marquan Jones in the rover role and it’s no wonder teams are finding tough sledding on the ground against the Patriots. The defensive line seems to hold its position well, rarely getting blown off the ball, and that allows the linebackers to diagnosis and attack. Still, the power run game gave the Patriots some issues against Charlottesville, they’ll have to be wary.
Who to watch: Albemarle’s Myles Ward. Ward has shown flashes in his first year with the Patriots, but none as bright as last week’s 75-yard punt return for a touchdown that flipped the script on the entire game. The weaving, heady run gave the Patriots the spark they needed. With Washington possibly out, he’ll likely need to help the offense a little more than usual.
The line: Albemarle by 1. The Patriots have reversed their 0-4 start, they should be able to keep it going here. This is when the experienced against elite teams in their 0-4 start should pay off and give them an edge.
Louisa County (8-0) at Charlottesville (0-8), Thursday 7 p.m.
The basics: Two teams that came into August with high hopes and one has gone one way while the other goes the opposite way. Injuries have had a major impact on Charlottesville, but they’ve shown at times they can compete. The Lions are also no stranger to weird late season hiccups, though they clearly understand the stakes in a loaded Region 4B — it’s win out or you’re likely to face some dire consequences. This will likely function as the Black Knights’ Super Bowl — an upset (no matter how far-fetched) here would mean everything to a squad that hasn’t gotten where it wants to go, though they get a better chance to end their slide against Monticello next week. Louisa has also run its district winning streak to 12-straight. Last loss? Charlottesville in 2016. Don’t look for a repeat though, Louisa didn’t get to 8-0 by accident. This is an excellent, determined football team full of versatile players who just do their job. Plus Jarett Hunter is rolling, picking up more than 200 yards and five touchdowns a week ago.
Key matchup: Louisa’s Brandon Smith versus Charlottesville’s Sabias Folley. Unquestionably two of the area’s top players, with Smith the best middle linebacker in a generation locally and Folley one of the most productive and instantly troublesome power running backs to take the field. Seeing these two take the field against each other again should be intriguing.
Who to watch: Louisa’s Derrick Barbour. The Lions’ junior defensive end helped spark the win over Monticello with a punt block recovery. Barbour has emerged as a critical part of one of the fastest, swarming defenses in the state. If he can keep it going it’ll be a big boost for a unit that has a ton of talented, rangy players.
The line: Louisa by 14. The Lions should keep things rolling here.
Covenant (6-0) at Greenbrier Christian (4-4), Thursday 7 p.m.
The basics: Covenant is playing some good football, dropping another 62-spot on crosstown rival STAB in front of a solid senior night crowd last week. Now they’re in great position for the first VISFL eight-man playoffs, in firm control of the top spot. They’ll wrap the regular season with this trip to Greenbrier and potentially complete what’s believed to be the first unbeaten regular season in Covenant football history.
Key matchup: Greenbrier’s linebackers deal with Luke Sorenson. Sorenson is playing with confidence, and when you have an array of weapons around you, why wouldn’t you? Sorenson is a weapon in his own right too, as he showed with a cutback, weaving run against the Saints to get the scoring started for Covenant last week. Can Greenbrier contain Sorenson?
Who to watch: Covenant’s Rick Weaver, Defensive Edition. Everyone knows what Weaver can do with the ball in his hands — opposing teams just can’t tackle him. But his defensive performance last week was explosive, disrupting the Saints, scoring on a fumble recovery and blocking a punt. With Nic Sanker also terrorizing the STAB backfield, Covenant was just suffocating most of the game.
The line: Covenant by 28. The Eagles are steamrolling teams right now, shouldn’t change this week as long as they stay focused.
Kenston Forest (1-5) at STAB (4-3), Friday 5:30 p.m.
The basics: STAB bounced back from a blowout loss at the hands of Covenant to obliterate Brunswick Academy three days later. Now they’ll turn their attention to a second matchup with Kenston Forest before a huge clash with Virginia Episcopal next week that pits the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in Virginia eight-man against each other. With the ground game on track the Saints shouldn’t have too much trouble this week against a rugged Kenston Forest team they’ve already dispatched once back in early September.
Key matchup: Kenston Forest’s linebackers deal with STAB quarterback Thomas Harry. Harry shredded Kenston Forest for 160 yards on 10 touches in the first clash. You can bet that Kenston Forest will be focused on him, but Harry can still give them fits.
Who to watch: STAB’s Gabe Decker. Look, when you rip off a 47-yard touchdown run on the first play like Decker did against Brunswick, it’s going to turn some heads. But Decker has been an impact guy all year. Look for more from him on both sides of the ball.
The line: STAB by 14. STAB won the first meeting handily. Despite the quick turnaround they’re in good shape here.
Blue Ridge (3-5) at Fishburne (2-4), Saturday 4 p.m.
The basics: The Barons absorbed a blowout win at the hands of King William last week on short notice, a game scheduled early in the week. Now they’ll jump back into the private ranks where they’ll travel Saturday to take on Fishburne in a critical matchup. Blue Ridge is still fighting for its playoff life and they’ll likely need to get in on a vote after playing some of the state’s toughest squads of any Division II team. This game is an absolute must-win.
Key matchup: Fishburne’s front seven tries to contend with Xavier Kane. Kane is just a terror when he’s in a groove and he’s been in that groove when the Barons have played teams of Fishburne’s caliber. Look for him to find it Saturday on the ground and through the air.
Who to watch: Blue Ridge’s Sammy Fort. Fort is the gamechanger for the Barons on offense and defense, and he’ll need to give the Barons a spark if they’re going to finish the season strong with Fishburne on the road and a tilt with Benedictine looming.
The line: Blue Ridge by 14. The Barons get an excellent chance to get back on track and boost their argument for inclusion in the VISAA Division II playoffs.
Bishop O’Connell (2-6) at Fork Union (1-7), Saturday 1 p.m.
The basics: Fork Union is in its second year of being a pretty darn good football team that has things snowball and then avalanche on it in seemingly every big game. Last week it was a struggle of a third quarter against Collegiate where the Cougars reeled off 21-straight to blow open a 21-17 halftime lead. If Fork Union could figure out some way to stop those kind of slides, they’d be in much better shape obviously, but against a tough schedule there isn’t much margin for error.
Key matchup: Bishop O’Connell’s secondary contends with the FUMA pass catchers. Whether it’s Elijah Lewis or Will Stupalsky or Larry Elder or in the case of last week, Caleb Moss, Fork Union has options and they’re spreading the ball around. Stupalsky had a 75-yard touchdown catch and Moss had a scoring catch last week while Lewis caught four balls for 71 yards and a score. Most high school teams simply can’t guard three or four options through the air. Fork Union just has to keep finding who’s open.
Who to watch: Fork Union’s Drue Hackenberg. Hackenberg went 13-for-20 for 207 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for another 86 yards on the ground. That’s exactly the kind of productivity they’ll need this week to beat O’Connell.
The line: Fork Union by 1. The Blue Devils get a huge opportunity for a win here before facing a dangerous Woodberry Forest team in the Prep League finale next week.
Monticello (1-7) at Orange County (2-6), Thursday 7 p.m.
The basics: This is an interesting matchup here. The Mustangs are coming off their 53-21 road loss, their seventh straight defeat. The last single digit game Monticello played in was its 22-17 loss to Fluvanna County. The Hornets also fell on the road last week, 36-12 to Louisa County. Orange has a pair of one possesion losses to Fluvanna and Albemarle and a 10-point loss to Western that was a four point game late in the fourth. While the Hornets playoff hopes are all but over, there’s pride on the line as they’ve lost four straight. We’ve seen this before where two teams with losing streaks lineup against eachother and it turns out to be a great game — look no further than a pair of winless William Monroe and Madison teams just a few weeks ago. While Orange has a physicality to it that has given Monticello trouble, the Hornets have to muster up a good fight here because Monticello has a group of seniors and young players that are starving to break this current skid.
Key matchup: Monticello’s linebackers take on Hornets running back Jaylen Alexander. While Orange has played better than its record sounds, the other thing lost in the 2-6 campaign so far is that Alexander is having an amazing season despite defenses throwing everything they have to keep him from doing anything. Eastern View, Western and Louisa are all in place to host playoff games, all boast amazing defenses. None of those three have been able to keep Alexander under 100 yards. The Mustangs goal here is simple — keep him to under 200. Because while Alexander has been nothing but amazingly productive, the Hornets haven’t been able to take his production alone and make it enough to win.
Who to watch: Orange County’s Chris Washington and Monticello’s Trenton Johnson. Strength on strength here. The Hornets have a speedy corner to cover the Mustangs’ biggest threat in the passing attack. It will be interesting to see just how often Malachi Fields or Chase Emmert try and target Johnson with Washington roaming. Watch these two do battle off the line and then the recovery speed they both have. This is a fun 1-on-1 track meet here.
The line: The Hornets by 4. Orange has size and roster depth that should give Monticello trouble. It’s also senior night at Porterfield Park.
Prince Edward (3-5) at Goochland (8-0), Saturday, 4 p.m.
The basics: The Eagles are coming off a 36-22 loss to Central Lunenburg, their third straight. Now they get an unbeaten Bulldogs squad coming off a 48-0 beating of Bluestone. For those keeping track, since Buckingham put up eight points on Goochland back in the last week of September, the Bulldogs have scored 139 points. Their opponents have scored . That’s 13 straight scoreless quarters for Goochland. They’ve given up double digits just once against Nottoway. This is a freight train right now.
Keymatchup: The Eagles linebacking corps tries to figure out Devin McCray and Goochland’s rushing distribution. Dakhari Burgess? Quincey Snead? Perry Snead-Johnson? Connor Popielarz? McCray? Who’s getting the ball and how do you find a way to get a look at it. The Bulldogs have not been challenged at all since playing Buckingham. Prince Edward is on Bluestone’s level, but that was a 48-0 thrashing. Can the Eagles give the the Bulldogs something interesting even if only for a few series or a quarter. It would be a welcome sight to the Goochland coaching staff as they try and gear up for a pretty decent Amelia team coming up next week.
Who to watch: The Bulldogs defense. This shutout streak is stingy. Three straight, four on the year. If you want to see a unit working together on all three tiers, watch Khalil Holman up front on the line, Sam Brooks at linebacker and then McCray playing in the secondary. This is a fluid, cohesive defense that has layers like an onion. Follow another tier, lineman Jacob Massey, linebacker Kindrick Braxton and the freshman defensive back CJ Towles. It’s not just one leader in one spot. The depth of this defense is truly impressive for a Class 2A program.
The line: The Bulldogs by 21. Hard to believe that Goochland could make winning 29 regular season games in a row look this robotic and simple.
Randolph Henry (0-8) at Buckingham (4-4), Thursday 7 p.m.
The basics: The Statesmen, if ever there was an opportunity to pull an upset against the Knights, have one here. Or do they? Because this will be Buckingham’s third game in seven days. You read that right. The Knights aren’t practicing on a daily basis, they’re just playing games instead. Last Friday they rolled past Bluestone 28-7. Then on Tuesday, the Knights thumped Cumberland 36-0. Now they got a Randolph team coming off a loss to Nottoway. If Buckingham can head into its season finale with Prince Edward both with a win and without getting too dinged up, that will be amazing. It will also put them over .500 for the first time this year and for the first time since September 11 of 2015. No coincidence, the Knights are also in play to make the playoffs for the first time since that 2015 season.
Key matchup: The Randolph Henry secondary takes on Xavier Copeland and Deshawn Bartee. With this many games in so few days, you can’t simply beat running back Walter Edwards into the ground with 30 carries each time. Edwards has shown he can handle that on a weekly basis, but three games in seven days is another thing. So the Statesmen have to be ready for a heavy dose of edge rushing from Copeland and Bartee who both have great speed, agility and big play ability. On the flip side of the coin, getting creative this past week from a distribution and play calling standpoint is going to serve Buckingham well in the future.
The line: The Knights by 14. Sure it’s been a frenzy, but there’s no question that the players have loved the opportunity to play games instead of practices. Buckingham has momentum on its side right now, Randolph Henry does not.
Madison County (2-6) at Strasburg (6-2), Thursday 7 p.m.
The basics: The Mountaineers are playing another really good team after a 49-7 loss on the road to Clarke. Just as a reminder, this will be their fifth opponent that has at least five wins, their fourth that has six. The Rams throttled Nelson County last week 47-7 to bounce back from a loss to Clarke County that snapped a four game winning streak. While the playoffs are likely out of the picture for Madison, preparing for 2019 is now on the docket. With an awful lot of juniors on this roster, the Mountaineers can tinker here and see what they should do going forward. Of course, for the seniors, the narrative is different — pride is still very much in play. That’s a good thing.
Key matchup: Madison quarterback Elijah Lewis vs. Strasburg quarterback Chase Hart. While the Mountaineers have a true dual threat quarterback, albeit one that has really come into his own as a passer this season, the Rams have a similar threat in Hart. The Strasburg signal caller didn’t have to do much with his legs last week, he beat Nelson handedly with his arm. The week before, Hart had solid game on both the ground and in the air against Clarke, which isn’t easy to do. We’ve seen Lewis spread the ball around to Nick Messenio, Matt Carpenter and Sam Estes on a regular basis. This could be a solid dueling banjo here on offense with these two quarterbacks. If Lewis can go big the Mountaineers could make this interesting like they did with Central Woodstock a few weeks ago.
Who to watch: Madison’s Matt Lewis. If he can have an impact as a running back that would be huge. But Lewis matters as a defensive back too and will be busy trying to take away targets from Hart. The Mountaineers need their offensive and defensive lines to match Strasburg’s physicality, arguably first and foremost, but beyond that, that won’t mean a lot if Lewis can’t create things on the ground on offense and then also in the turnover department as a defender.
The line: The Rams by 6. The Mountaineers are running into yet another hot team, but they need only channel that first half effort against Central to make this one as interesting.
Warren County (0-8) at William Monroe (2-6), 7 p.m.
The basics: The Wildcats are coming off a 49-28 loss to Western Albemarle, a game that wasn’t as close as the score sounds as the Warriors wrapped up the game in the first half. The Dragons are coming off a must win against Skyline with just that, a 17-8 victory, beating a team ranked above them that was in playoff position in Region 3B. With a win over Warren, Monroe has a chance not only to put itself in the playoffs, but possibly in a decent slot to avoid Culpeper or Spotsylvania, the top two teams in the Region. Just a few weeks ago that sounded insane. This is why you play the games. The Dragons should be in good shape in this one, but to lose here would be brutal. With Culpeper to close the season, Monroe has a chance to not only make the playoffs, but also give itself a chance with a decent first round opponent.
Key matchup: The Wildcats front seven takes on Monroe running back Dupree Rucker. With 131 yards on 28 carries, the Dragons got the rushing effort they’ve been searching for all season. With a quarterback like Alex Kinsey, a big game from Rucker makes things tough on the Warren defense. They have to account for Kinsey’s passing ability first, his legs second. But they cannot let Rucker take control of the game because if Kinsey doesn’t have to be the guy all the time, Monroe is going to win easy.
Who to watch: Monroe’s Sal Coyle. If you haven’t seen the photo him jumping over Skyline, you should. He did a similar thing on a defensive play in week one against Monticello. Coyle has some hops. That could be interesting against a struggling defense when he’s lined up as a receiver or gets the ball in open space with one defender to beat. As Puff Daddy eloquently explained on the old Chappelle Show about Farnsworth Bently as he flies away with an umbrella, “he can fly because he believes in himself.” Maybe not the most current of references, but the idea is there and that’s what counts. Wait for Coyle do something athletic that makes your eyes pop in this one.
The line: Monroe by 4. The Dragons have to avoid the pitfall here, stay humble and also channel the confidence that comes along with winning. That’s a delicate line to walk, but there’s no question that this team is better than 2-6, it just has to come out and show it for four quarters.
Woodberry Forest (3-2) at Trinity Episcopal (3-5), 1 p.m.
The basics: The Tigers looked great after a slow start against Benedictine in a 30-20 win on all sides of the ball last week. The Titans ended a 3-game losing streak with a 21-17 win over Potomac last week. Trinity is odd. They’ve kept things close with St. Christopher’s and Collegiate but fallen to a winless Fork Union squad and to Norfolk Academy both at home. Woodberry likely needs just one win here to secure yet another Prep League title with Collegiate and St. Christopher’s sitting there with one loss each but a game against each other coming up. So the Tigers will be coming into this one dialed in to wrap this up before they close out their regular season with Fork Union.
Key matchup: The Titans secondary takes on Tigers receivers DeQuece Carter, Kyle Bilodeau and Staley Wideman. If George Pettegrew is healthy, he’s a problem too. And quarterback Ben Locklear is really looking polished as a passer right now. Taking away his toys is tough. Carter is a burner. Bilodeau is a beast. Wideman and Pettegrew are reliable pass catchers. The other tough part is Locklear has been sacked just four times all year despite dropping back much more often than handing the ball off. The Titans have to play great zone coverage against this group because they don’t have enough bodies to play a solid man-to-man game. There aren’t many teams that do.
Who to watch: Woodberry Forest’s Jax Hill. In his first game in a year and a half, the senior defensive back had an interception and helped cause another in addition to solid coverage he offered against a pass happy Benedictine squad. Hill gives Woodberry a lockdown corner to help keep the Titans from going to the air if this thing gets ugly early.
The line: The Tigers by 17. While Woodberry’s offense is the engine, the defensive performance last week has to make you nervous if you’re Trinity.