Albemarle (3-2) at Louisa County (5-0), 6:30 p.m. Friday
The Basics: Two potential playoff teams lock up with the Jefferson District title also on the line in this one as Albemarle has just one district loss against it right now, a defeat at the hands of Western Albemarle. What’s wild is that despite Louisa being unbeaten, Albemarle is actually the higher seeded team in their respective regions with the Patriots currently sitting at third in Region 5D while Louisa is stuck at fourth in Region 4B, though that can all change pretty quickly. If Albemarle finds some way to upset the Lions and end Louisa’s long Jefferson District win streak, the Patriots are almost surely in the postseason. Lose and it gets dire quickly for Albemarle with teams right behind AHS locking up in Mountain View and Brooke Point, almost guaranteeing a surge up the standings by the winner. If William Fleming beats Franklin County too, the pressure is on Albemarle. For Louisa? The margin in Region 4B is razor thin with three other unbeaten programs. Win and Louisa is in with the seeding far from decided. A loss makes things challenging for the currently fourth-seeded Lions, but they probably still get in. Louisa has made it clear that the idea that someone eventually has to end this Louisa run is officially in question, this is now stretching multiple classes — some players in the Lions’s program haven’t seen them drop a district game since elementary school. It doesn’t seem likely that here, with this much on the line and at home that that this is the night. Not for a Louisa squad that keeps rising to the occasion week in and week out. Look for Landon Wilson to step up in a big way again. He threw multiple touchdowns against Western in the second half surge that turned that game around. If Wilson plays that way again, Albemarle is going to have to figure out a way to get him off schedule fast through pressure or it’s not going to matter how well Eb McCarthy runs the ball for the Patriots.
Key Matchup: Albemarle’s offensive line takes on Louisa’s defensive front. It’s getting repetitive, but it’s a fact at this point that the area’s best defensive line resides in Mineral and if you can’t figure out how to handle the Lions’ young, deep, talented defensive ends and tackles, Louisa is going to be in control. Albemarle’s offensive line played much better against Charlottesville than it did against Western, but the Patriots will have to ratchet things up again if they want to find running room against Qwenton Spellman, Lowell Johnson, Eli Brooks and company. The Lions just keep coming and the second wave of the rotation doesn’t provide much drop off. Albemarle has its work cut out for it.
Who to Watch: Louisa County’s Jordan Smith. With Kalep Shelton still effective but hobbled by an ankle injury, Smith continued his recent run of explosive, clutch plays. In sequence, he blasted forward for six yards to convert a fourth down and then hauled in a 50-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Being able to just put the Lions on his back that way with a run and a catch is such an impressive leap forward for the junior athlete. His speed is a gamechanger, but he also just doesn’t shy away from the big moment. That’s an intangible that can’t be taught, but it can be cultivated, and Louisa is doing a big-time job of cultivating that talent.
The Line: Louisa County by 17. The Patriots got things turned around last week but the Lions at home are an extreme challenge.
Fluvanna County (1-4) at Monticello (3-2), 6:30 p.m. Friday
The Basics: Monticello has a ton to play for in this one. Win and get some help from teams in the Valley and Lynchburg and the Mustangs, currently stuck at No. 6 in Region 3C, could be in the playoffs for the first time since 2017. With a week off and Fluvanna’s defense struggling to get stops, the door is open for the Mustangs to at least do everything they can to make continuing their season possible. But the work still has to be done and that opportunity for Monticello opens up the opportunity for Fluvanna County to play spoiler. Can the Flucos end the spring season on a high note by ending the Mustangs’ own campaign? Fluvanna will have to shored up a defense over the last week that Orange County’s Paul Poirier shredded a week ago coming off an injury. Malachi Fields is a dual threat too and he’s got weapons emerging around him. Can the Flucos get back on track on that side of the ball and take advantage of an offense that’s starting to show some of the flow we expected to see coming into this season.
Key Matchup: The Flucos’ secondary takes on Monticello’s receiving corps. The Flucos are sort of a boom or bust group on the back end as they’ve actually had several interceptions from players like A.J. Wyche and Kobe Edmonds, but they’ve also given up some wide open deep touchdowns like they did to Will Lewis and Donald Brooks for Orange last week. Make the same mistakes this week and Kai Gaines, Will Trent and Jason Armstrong can make the Flucos pay. Go zero coverage trying to account for Fields’ ability on the ground? The Flucos could have trouble there too.
Who to Watch: Monticello’s Malachi Fields. This is potentially’ Fields’ last chance to wear the black and gold, and certainly the last chance at home. He’s had a fascinating career, playing for teams that haven’t stacked up wins but have enjoyed the presence of one of the area’s most dynamic athletes at quarterback and defensive back. A win makes a playoff berth, Fields’ first playoff berth as a starter, possible. Expect the senior to play at his very best in this one.
The Line: Monticello by 7. The Mustangs have the upperhand in this one, but don’t underestimate a team with a chance to play spoiler, this won’t be easy.
Western Albemarle (3-2) at Orange County (2-3), 6:30 p.m. Friday
The Basics: This one is interesting on a lot of levels. Orange can’t qualify for the playoffs in a stacked Region 4B where even unbeaten Louisa is fighting to get into the postseason field. Western needs a lot of help, including probably a Monticello loss to Fluvanna to vault itself into the mix from the No. 7 spot currently. It’s definitely possible, but it won’t matter unless the Warriors find a way to beat the Hornets on the road. Western is 2-0 on the road this season with wins over Albemarle and Charlottesville. But this will be a different challenge and a good measuring stick perhaps for what the Warriors learned against Louisa County last week. Can they apply those lessons and improve against an Orange squad that has proven adept at attacking deep and piling up points while playing enough defense to make it count? This one may come down to who can stick to their own identity throughout, with Western leaning on that stout defense and a quality rushing attack. Expect heavy doses of Austin Shifflett in perhaps the senior’s final game suiting up for the Warriors. Orange has struggled against elite rushing attacks like Louisa and Goochland, but most teams struggle against Louisa and Goochland. Can the Hornets limit Shifflett and force the Warriors to find another way to win like Louisa did last week by forcing the Warriors to move the ball through the air?
Key Matchup: Western’s linebackers take on Orange’s Paul Poirier. The Hornets’ signal-caller is a dual threat monster, having taken off for a long touchdown early on against Fluvanna. Now the question becomes whether or not a front seven for Western that turned things around after week one but will have to take care of business against to keep its playoff hopes alive. Carson Tujague, Ross Bassett and Shifflett in particular are going to have to keep an eye on Poirier, especially if he looks to get loose.
Who to Watch: Western quarterback Nathan Simon. Simon put together an impressive performance against Louisa in his first start against the Lions, going 10-for-22 for 166 yards. He’s got Carson Tujague at tight end and Joey Burch at wideout cooking a little bit and while that was a necessity against a squad as talented as Louisa, it could be used to open up the ground game a little bit against a less stingy Orange County defense.
The Line: Western Albemarle by 7. The Warriors have the most to play for in this clash of styles and they looked impressive against Louisa last week despite the loss.
James Wood (0-0) at Goochland (5-0), 7 p.m. Friday
The Basics: Goochland is just stacking up different ways it can win as the Bulldogs play a vagabond spring schedule with just two familiar district foes. Everyone else has been a largely unique challenge and James Wood isn’t any different this week as the Winchester-area school travels to take on the playoff-bound Bulldogs. James Wood hasn’t played yet this season but went 6-4 with a huge, talented senior class in 2019. The Bulldogs have a serious seasoning advantage here and should be able to take advantage in a big way in this one. Goochland is the top-seeded squad in Region 3B by nearly four full power points and seems likely to face a Northwestern District foe in the first round. It’ll be interesting to see what Goochland goes to this week. They’ve leaned on an old school, Wing-T Goochland approach at times and last week threw four touchdowns in a road win. The Bulldogs have packed in a lot of different ways to win in a condensed season and preparing for this multiple-approach, talented squad has to be a serious challenge for any upcoming opponent.
Key Matchup: Goochland’s secondary contends with Jaden Ashby. Ashby had a huge year as a wideout back in 2019 with 48 catches for 777 yards. But he’ll face a Goochland secondary capable of erasing a go-to receiver thanks to some serious talent on the back end including C.J. Towles and Kam Holman as well as Eyan Pace and Andrew Jones who each had picks two weeks ago. If James Wood wants to get the ball in Ashby’s hands, the Colonels will have their work cut out for them.
Who to Watch: Goochland’s C.J. Towles. Towles is always a player to watch but this week he has to be the choice after throwing for four touchdowns against Central Lunenburg. For years we’ve heard stories about the Bulldogs committing to throw the ball more only to watch them pound the rock — and win while doing so. But Towles hit four different receivers for touchdowns in an impressive aerial attack on the road. If nothing else, James Wood can’t stock the box or they risk getting absolutely shredded by the junior signal-caller.
The Line: Goochland by 7. The Bulldogs face another unique challenge but should get the job done.
Appomattox (2-3) at Nelson County (1-4), 6 p.m. Friday
The Basics: Nelson County gets the unfortunate task of running it back against the reigning state champions and the top seed in Region 2C in this one. The Governors gave up 83 points to Appomattox in the schools’ first meeting, a taste of what playing in the Dogwood is like on a regular basis as the district regularly produced state title contenders. Nelson has certainly been successful from the perspective of getting in their games and finding a way to start the Darrin Mckenzie era while a number of other schools their size opted out. That’s an impressive feat and while ending it with a win will be a tall task, there’s a lot of reason to be excited about what a full fall slate that doesn’t included a home-and-home with Appomattox could look like for the Governors.
Key Matchup: Nelson’s special teams units take on Appomattox’s dynamic special teamers. The Governors struggled to stop Appomattox in all phases in the teams’ first meeting, but special teams was particularly tough with Appomattox scoring twice off blocked punts. Nelson will have to shore up that aspect of the game to compete Friday night.
Who to Watch: Nelson’s Robert Morris. Morris hauled in five catches for 116 yards and a score in Nelson’s second meeting with Altavista and he’ll likely to be going out with a bang in this season finale.
The Line: Appomattox by 35. The Raiders roll in this one.
Madison County (0-5) at Clarke, 7 p.m. Thursday
The Basics: The Mountaineers have seen some positives this year and getting a chance to play six games with a brand new coach instead of having to wait until fall should jumpstart a program rebuild that’s going to be a serious undertaking. If Madison can retain all these young players, that’ll be a huge step toward building what coach Larry Helmick is envisioning and working toward every day. Madison already absorbed one blowout loss to Clarke back in the opener, now they face Clarke again. Expect Clarke to try and get the ground attack going in this one as they attempt to hold on to the fourth playoff spot in Region 2B a week after dropping a game to Luray. Clarke went on COVID pause and just returned to face Luray.
Key Matchup: Madison’s front seven takes on the Clarke ground game. The Mountaineers struggled to contain Stonewall Jackson last week and they’ll face a tougher task against the Eagles who got nearly 200 yards from Dain Booker in the first meeting between the two squads.
Who to Watch: Madison’s Taylor Fincham. All six-foot-six of the All-Bull Run basketball player pulled in a fade route for a touchdown last week from Wade Fox. Fincham could be a matchup problem this fall with a year of experience under his belt.
The Line: Clarke by 35. Clarke rolls in this one.