Goochland (13-0) at Appomattox (13-0), Saturday, 2 p.m.
The basics: Everyone was waiting to see when the Bulldogs would face their first big test since September, and they got to see what this team was made of against a truly tough, physical Clarke County team last week. Goochland trailed for the first time all season going into the second half, but the Bulldogs, behind their defense which simply continues to adapt to each and every situation, got the job done yet again. By virtue of a second half shutout, two interceptions and a crucial turnover on downs at midfield, the Goochland offense got more than its share of chances and with only an opening series punt to start the first quarter, well, that unit answered the call too. So now with the defending Group 2A champions in Appomattox absolutely crushing a Union squad 43-0 on their side of the bracket, the final four is set with three of the top four seeds in play after the cross bracketing. It’s a 1-2 matchup with Appomattox hosting Goochland on one half. It’s Stuarts Draft hosting Richlands on the other side. Three of the four are unbeaten and Richlands has just the one loss. Suffice it to say, whoever survives this final four, it’s going to be quite the state championship game in Salem on December 10. Can the Bulldogs get there for the first time since 2012 when this senior class was in eighth grade? It would be an impressive effort getting through Clarke and then Appomattox and make actually playing for the trophy kind of icing on the top . For any team in the semifinals, you can’t help but think, why not us?
Key matchup: Goochland’s secondary takes on Appomattox’s wide receiving corps. Not many teams have been able to pass on Goochland, mostly because this defensive front led by Clay Brooks and company has been so good at getting after the passer. But also because senior defensive backs Cordell Mattox and Calvin Martin are flat out sharks. Throw in freshman Devin McCray who’s come up clutch multiple times this year and you’ve got a secondary that’s not just opportunistic, they’re down right hard to gameplan against. So while De’Von Graves and the Appomattox receiving corps is talented, it’s going up against one of the best secondaries, if not the best that group has faced all season. And throw in the fact that quarterback Javon Scruggs could be facing heavy pressure from a balanced and gifted defensive front and you’ve got all the key ingredients to this game. If Goochland keeps the Appomattox passing game quiet, odds are good it wins this game as the Bulldogs and Raiders rushing games cancel out or, more than likely, wind up in the visitors favor.
Who to watch: Goochland’s Marcus Burton and Jasper Carter. There are so many weapons for the Bulldogs, but when Burton and/or Carter churn together consistent 3-4-5-yard runs, it simply changes the game. Appomattox needs to get out in front of this one and not let these two be clock melters that keep the Raiders offense on the sidelines. If this duo does its things inside, watch out for those game breaking runs from Martin and Mattox. The Raiders need to build an early lead and keep Goochland from setting the tone pace wise. We saw it last week, once the Bulldogs get a lead they squat on it in an almost unfathomably strong way. Stopping the inside runs is the key there, and it’s something nobody’s done this year.
The line: Goochland by 1. Honestly, it’s probably a push. But it’s December and the Bulldogs have their usual gifted running attack and the best defense they’ve had since 2011. We’ll side with physical football over athleticism at this point in the year, but only just barely because Appomattox is as good and as tough as advertised.