Louisa’s state championship game clash with Salem was originally scheduled for Saturday has been postponed due to snow, and is now being held Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
Group 4A Championship, Salem (12-2) vs. Louisa County (14-0), at College of William and Mary, Sunday 5:30 p.m.
The basics: The Spartans rolled past Sherando 49-14 to get to this game and set up a possible 3-peat as state champions. The Lions are in this game for the first time since 2006 after a hard-fought 20-13 win over Lafayette at home. Salem has two losses but avenged one of them in the playoffs. A 49-12 loss on September 22 to Blacksburg went the Spartans way in the rematch two weeks ago in a 33-32 win. The other Salem loss? A 25-20 to a Dinwiddie team that Louisa dispatched two weeks ago. We’ve said it before here and many a time on our podcast, but it bears repeating, since the Lions took down an unbeaten Monacan team in the second week of the playoffs, there isn’t an opponent that Louisa has faced that isn’t beatable. They’ve obviously proven that the last two weeks against Dinwiddie and Lafayette. And while Salem’s revenge win over Blacksburg and dominant showing over Sherando is intimidating leading up into this one, the Lions are the lone unbeaten squad. There is this feeling that Louisa is still playing as the underdogs going into a battle with a 2-time defending state champion, but ever since that Monacan game, the Lions are getting a level of respect from their opponents that points to their last two opponents understanding that while this is a team with a ton to play for between coach Mark Fischer’s looming retirement and the off-field adversity this senior class has been through — Louisa is only an underdog in its own head. And if the Lions continue to tap into that sentiment, to play with a chip on their shoulder, only good things have happened from week one against Courtland until this last game of the year. There haven’t been any boring Louisa playoff games. Barring something truly chaotic and unusual, this one won’t be any different.
Key matchup: Salem’s front eight against Louisa quarterback Malik Bell. The Lions offense doesn’t have to have a great passing game from Bell. It only takes two or three completions in the right places for things to break open for this offense. Outside of that, it’s a long, long battle trying to stop this single wing deal that is just a brutal slate of Bell, Job Whalen, Raquan Jones, occasional runs from Jarrett Hunter and Matt West and David Sharpe. So much focus has to go there that stopping Bell from getting the ball down field in the air becomes a foggy afterthought. But defensive backs Nick Wade, Luke Owen and Viante Tucker are all 3-year starters. That’s a unit that was a strength coming into the year and should be ready for when Bell looks downfield to David Sharpe, Matt West or Austin Sims. So while yes, the front eight have be great against a running game that’s put up 200-plus yards every single week, oddly enough, it’s the 100-yard passing games that Bell comes up with that are killing playoff opponents. It’s the third or fourth and longs that get converted with Bell’s arm that are just daggers in the chest.
Who to watch: To say coach Mark Fischer is cheating, because he’s not lining up between the hashmarks. But, yeah, you’ve got to watch Mark Fischer in this one for sure. However, outside of that, you have to watch this Louisa County offensive line. Tony Thurston, Collin Carpenter, Dustin Matney, Robbie Guinn and Logan Yancey have paved the way for an unbelievable 4K-plus rushing total. They’ve got an outside shot of getting this running back stable to 5K if this turns into a barnburner. Salem has given up 20 or more points in six of their 14 games. The Spartans have had their growing pains this year up front, but it’s clear since the regular season that this defensive unit has found a way to bend and not break. Now they face what’s pretty easy to argue is the most gritty and veracious offensive line in Group 4A, and maybe in state-wide up and down, period. This Louisa team is as good as the linemen upfront. Under Fischer, it always has been that way. If you asked Fischer what you should watch as a fan, he’d more than likely point to the five guys that do all the nasty hard-nosed stuff up front that make talents like Bell, Whalen, Jones and so forth such exciting playmakers.
The line: Louisa by 3. The weather might make this offense even tougher to stop if it’s a snowy or cold and wet day in Williamsburg. But at the end of the day, if you think this senior class and coach staff are going to show up here and just give it the old college try, you’re flat out mistaken. The Lions are more than likely going to claw tooth and nail for 48 minutes. When they do that, as we’ve seen over the last four weeks, they are the best in the state.