Blue Ridge (3-1) at North Cross (4-0), 4 p.m. Thursday
The basics: A rematch of the 2016 VISAA Division 2 championship game, these two split last year with the Raiders taking the regular season meeting in St. George and the Barons running the table from there and picking up a state championship in November. Blue Ridge bounced back from its loss to Flint Hill with an impressive showing against Covenant. Last week North Cross handed St. Anne’s-Belfield its first loss to remain unbeaten. This should be quite the battle. Both squads are loaded again with athletes scattered across the field. This could be a real barn burner.
Key matchup: The Barons’ pass rush against Raiders quarterback Maurice Garrison. The senior has 709 yards and 12 passing touchdowns and just two interceptions. With 198 yards on 38 carries, he’s a threat on the ground too, but North Cross is at its best when Garrison goes aerial. Blue Ridge linebackers Aden Britton and Juan Mareco will need to find a way to apply pressure on the edge to keep Garrison from progressing through his reads.
Who to watch: Blue Ridge running back Sammy Fort. With 206 total yards and three touchdowns last week, Fort was about as dangerous as they get in the open field. When he finds the edge he gashes defenses for big yards and his ability to block and then catch the ball out of the backfield as invaluable. Look for Blue Ridge to lean heavily on the first year running back. A steady diet of ground game is the best way to keep North Cross’ offense sidelined.
The line: Blue Ridge by 1. As defending state champs, we’ll give the Barons the edge here, but this is going to be a tough one.
Nansemond Suffolk (2-3) at STAB (3-1), 4 p.m.
The Basics: STAB’s 3-0 run to start the season came to an end last week as North Cross, a state finalist a year ago, blew past the Saints 55-0. But odds are good that if you’d told the Saints they’d be 3-1 at this point with as many new faces as they’ve been working into the mix, they’d have taken it, so there’s no reason to panic. This is the kind of game STAB needs to win to try and wedge its way into the VISAA Division II playoff mix, in part because their 8-man schedule gives them a few less 11-man opportunities to pick up victories. They’ll face an NSA squad that likes to throw the ball around with quarterback Robby Tew, who threw three touchdown passes in NSA’s last game, a come-from-behind win over Isle of Wight. STAB should be able to score points in this one, so a few timely stops or a takeaway by the defense could be the difference-maker.
Key matchup: STAB’s ground game takes on NSA’s porous rushing defense. The Saints have been a little bit start-and-stop in the ground game, using a variety of backs to get the job done between Gabe Decker and Armani Woods. There’s a big opportunity this week to get the ground game in a better rhythm as NSA surrendered 326 rushing yards last week to Hunter Edwards of Isle of Wight. Behind Will Edelson, can the Saints get things going on the ground and free up quarterback Chase Emmert to do even more damage?
Who to watch: STAB’s secondary. The Saints struggled last week to force incompletions as North Cross quarterback Maurice Garrison went 12-for-15. With NSA also employing a pass happy attack, the Saints’ defensive backs (with the help, ideally, of more of a pass rush) will have to take a step forward. Contending as a unit with wideout Ehron Knight (four catches, 142 yards and two touchdowns last week) is going to be a task.
The line: STAB by 1. Expect St. Anne’s to bounce back this week, but they’ve got their hands full.
Hargrave (2-2) at Covenant (3-1), 4 p.m.
The basics: After falling to STAB and Blue Ridge to open the year, Hargrave has strung together a pair of wins against Roanoke Home School and Randolph-Macon. The Eagles will be eager to answer last week’s loss with a win to right the ship. Covenant showed it could go toe-to-toe with Blue Ridge early on, but defensive miscues and an injury to quarterback John Huemme proved to be too much to overcome. This week Covenant will look to get back to its roots.
Key matchup: Hargrave’s linebacking corps takes on Eagles running back Donovan Jackson. The Covenant running back saw a good deal of success against a quality Blue Ridge defense. There weren’t too many times that the Barons could get Jackson for a loss and his 80-yard TD run in the second made things interesting. The Tigers’ defense is giving up an average of 13.5 points per game and has really played quite well in three of their first four contests. Stopping Jackson requires making the right read on the option and then going low and waiting for help. So far, meeting Jackson high has ended poorly for that defender. It’s a simple matter of physics. And with Huemme dealing with injury, expect Jackson to get a serious work load this week.
Who to watch: Covenant’s Nic Sanker. The sophomore took over for Huemme at quarterback in the second half against Blue Ridge and he might be called upon to do that job again. At least this week he’ll have had plenty of practice operating the option, something that’s not exactly easy to just jump in and do. Sanker’s athletic ability make him a natural fit at the position, he just needs time to adjust. But if Huemme is ready to go, look for the 6-foot-3 receiver to make a splash when the Eagles decided to run off the edge or pass downfield. Either way, Sanker’s role on this team just got larger.
The line: Covenant by 4. The Eagles should be able to pick this one up, with or without Huemme. There’s more than enough talent on this roster to do so.
Monticello (4-0) at Albemarle (1-3), 7 p.m.
The Basics: It’s an old, tired adage, but seriously, throw the records out. This rivalry clash pits two teams who’ve gotten very different results through their first four games but have faced very different schedules. The Patriots have faced a veritable murderer’s row, with their total opponents’ record sitting at 14-4 while the Mustangs’ opponents are a combined 5-13 on the year. That likely means this one is going to be a battle. Two of the area’s top dual threats square off as Monticello’s Kevin Jarrell and Albemarle’s J’Quan Anderson square off. Both can throw and both can run, though Anderson hasn’t gotten completely on track yet despite a couple of strong performances the last two weeks including a near-Herculean effort against Patrick Henry. Still, contending with both won’t be easy for the opposing defensive coordinators, they’ve got their work cut out for them. If Jarrell gets going on the ground like he has all year this year, that would be a big help as testing the Albemarle secondary early, without the run forcing some adjustments, could be a tough task, there is a pack of ballhawks back there waiting for a big game. Look for the Mustangs to try and find a rhythm on the ground first.
Key matchup: Monticello’s front seven takes on Albemarle’s playmakers. There’s not quite the array of established playmakers that Albemarle had last year, but there’s a lot of potential that could explode in this game if the Mustangs don’t continue tackling the way they have early in the year. The Mustangs’ defense has been vastly improved from a year ago, in part because they’re tackling soundly and they’ve got to keep that going to risk those skill position talents getting into the open field.
Who to watch: Albemarle’s Kaysean Allen. Allen had four catches for 72 yards last week in the loss to Louisa, and he seems to be emerging as a potential go-to option for the Patriots’ signal-callers. Last year, Lorenz Brown was a breakout star for this receiving corps, can Allen be that guy this year?
The line: Push. This is the Mustangs’ biggest test so far while Albemarle has to be chomping at the bit to get on track. That should produce a thriller.
Louisa County (4-0) at Western Albemarle (1-3), 7:30 p.m.
The basics: The Lions took an early punch from Albemarle but reeled off 41 unanswered to cruise in the second half of their Jefferson District opener. The Warriors, for the first time since Ed Redmond took over as coach in 2012, have lost three straight regular season games after falling 24-14 to a Powhatan team that was winless coming into Crozet. Louisa and Western have always been thorns in the other’s side going back to 2010. While it’s not as pronounced in a lot of the other sports, there’s a real rivalry between these two schools when it comes to football. So don’t expect Louisa to take Western lightly and don’t expect Western to let Louisa just run away with it.
Key matchup: Western’s defensive line against the Louisa offensive line. If you’re going to beat the Lions, you have to do it up front. While Albemarle was able to match the physicality on the line for a lot of the first half, the second half was a different story. The Warriors will have to find a way to hold for four quarters. Luke Tenuta’s unit needs to match Tony Thurston’s unit’s intensity. If the Warriors can find a way to slow down a running game that’s using almost equal parts of Malik Bell, Job Whalen, Raquan Jones, Jarrett Hunter and David Sharpe, they’ll be able to hang in there in this one and make things interesting. That means winning the line of scrimmage.
Who to watch: Western quarterback Derek Domecq. Things have been off for the Warriors in the air the last two weeks. Western needs Domecq to have enough time to make plays and get receivers Jack Weyher and Robert Sims the ball. The Warriors can’t afford to be reckless with the ball though, and turnovers have been a real problem the last few weeks. Trying to run against the Lions has been pretty futile so far, so look for Western to find a way to put their playmakers in space to make something happen against this defense that’s looked really, really good in all four of Louisa’s wins.
The line: The Lions by 10. This might be a trap game, but Louisa looks like it’s not messing around right now.
Charlottesville (3-1) at Powhatan (1-3), 7:30 p.m.
The basics: The Black Knights survived their shootout with Orange County last week, 57-47. The Indians picked up their first win of the year with a victory on the road against Western 24-14 with its defense forcing a slew of turnovers. These are two power running teams that have played in a lot of tight games. Charlottesville has an opportunity to get off to a fantastic start with a win. Powhatan has an opportunity to send a message to the rest of the JD if they win their second straight.
Key matchup: Charlottesville’s front seven against Powhatan running back Jacob Taylor. The Indians have their bell cow runner and Taylor had more than 100 yards on the ground in the first half against the Warriors to follow up his 119 yards he had against Caroline County. While the Indians like to set up play action and occasionally catch a sleeping or greedy defense with a big pass, for the most part, the Black Knights can expect a heavy dose of the 5-foot-9, 190-pound running back. Charlottesville is allowing 31 points per contest so far. They’ve played some great offenses, but they can ill afford to allow Taylor to control this contest because Powhatan’s defense has proven to be rather opportunistic, even in their losses.
Who to watch: Charlottesville’s Sabias Folley. That’s back-to-back four TD games for him. He rumbled for 192 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries against Orange. He’s averaging 144.75 yards and 3.25 touchdowns per game on the ground and against some good competition. His 579 yards are hard yards too, the kind that wear down defenses. With Sam Neale and Tre Durrett having a lot success on the ground, even when Folley isn’t carrying the ball he’s having an effect on the defense. Everyone is keying in on him and he’s still putting together highly productive outings. What does he have in store for the Indians? If it’s 144.75 yards and 3.25 TD’s, Powhatan has its work cutout as their 24 points against Western last week were a season high.
The line: CHS by 3. The Black Knights thrive on Folley and their rushing depth behind him.
Orange County (2-2) at Fluvanna County (2-2), 7 p.m.
The Basics: Orange County got into a wild one with Charlottesville that could’ve been even wilder if not for a few costly turnovers by the Hornets in the second half. Instead, they ended up with 47 points and 556 yards but a loss. Look for the Hornets to bounce back well, they should play with a lot of confidence against the Flucos, who absorbed a loss to Monticello in their own Jefferson District opener and don’t have nearly the offensive machine at their disposal that Orange brings to Palmyra. Still, if the Flucos could find a way to get on track offensively and make some big plays defensively, it could make things tough on the Hornets.
Key matchup: Fluvanna’s secondary contends with Orange’s pass catchers. Fluvanna’s Prophett Harris has been a breakout star as a defensive back and wideout this year, but the Hornets’ aerial attack boasts three wideouts that are extremely tough to guard right at the top between Darius Minor, Chris Washington and Ty Warren. Matching up against that group with Kenyon Carter slinging the ball around is just a tough task for any opponent, even with a ballhawk like Harris patrolling the back end of the defense.
Who to watch: Orange running back Jaylen Alexander. After a 300+ yard performance a week ago, Alexander is leading the Scrimmage Play area in rushing and he’s emerging as one of the Jefferson District’s best running backs. If he can keep the chains moving for the Hornets and throw in an occasional long touchdown? This dangerous offense is going to continue to be extremely dangerous.
The line: Orange County by 21. The Hornets’ offense is just too overwhelming for the Flucos in this one.
Covington (2-2) at Nelson County (2-3), 7 p.m.
The Basics: Nelson County’s offense has found a groove, but slowing down opposing ground games has proven to be something of an issue, as it was last week against Parry McCluer, with the Blues averaging 7.3 yards per touch on their way to a 334-yard night. If Nelson can figure out how to shore that up and not give up big plays like the 75-yard touchdown run they surrendered a week ago, it’ll go a long way toward keeping them on track to keep picking up wins in this resurgent season.
Key matchup: Covington’s linebackers contend with Nelson quarterback Brice Wilson. The area’s leading passer with 1,017 yards has thrown a lot of balls this year, and last week he picked up some yards with his legs too. Covington is going to have its hands full.
Who to watch: Nelson County’s DeVante Rose. Rose leads the Scrimmage Play area in receiving yards, and he’s the first player this year to cross the 500-yard barrier with 554 yards on 29 catches. Feeding Rose is clearly the most efficient way for Nelson to move the ball and as the temperatures cool down, they may be able to get even more out of him going forward.
The line: Nelson County by 1. The Governors’ offensive firepower should lift them in this one.
Goochland (4-0) at Buckingham County (1-4), 7 p.m.
The basics: The Bulldogs are coming off a bye after allowing just four touchdowns in their first four games while outscoring their opponents 135-28 to get off to a second straight 4-0 start. The Knights suffered a bit of a set back as they followed up their win over Central Lunenburg with a 21-0 loss to Nottoway at home. Having already faced Appomattox, Buckingham can’t say yet that Goochland is the best team they’ll play all season, but the fact that it’s close tells you just how front loaded the Knights’ schedule is. They get a bye week after this, but facing their longtime James River District rival, Buckingham knows exactly what Goochland is bringing into Dillwyn.
Key matchup: The Knights offensive line against Goochland’s Ricky Mayfield and Sam Brooks. These two have been having their way with opposing offensive lines. Buckingham needs a good game from its line but also needs to limit the turnovers that plagued the offense last week against Nottoway. Keeping Mayfield and Brooks out of the gaps will be the key to getting the ground game going again with Walter Edwards, Gerry Toney and Tyrese Ayres. That’s going to require Brycen Newby and the gang to be on there A-game for four quarters. Each week Brooks and Mayfield are coming back with multiple tackles for losses. That can’t happen if Buckingham wants to keep this thing close and pull off the upset here.
Who to watch: If you want to get an idea of what Goochland’s running game is about, keep an eye on Ethan Kopczynski. The senior guard is a mauler. He opens up holes for Jasper Carter and the rest of this offense. An All-Region 2A East selection last year, he and this offensive line have the Bulldogs rolling. In week one, Goochland ran for 222 yards. Week two saw 239 rushing yards in the rain. Week three? Try 315 yards on the ground. In week four against Nottoway, it was 246 yards rushing. Now with two weeks to prepare, expect this line to come out and do their thing and quarterback Devin McCray and Carter do have big games. Those things all happen for Goochland because of guys like Kopczynski.
The line: The Bulldogs by 10. Goochland has too much depth at the line of scrimmage on boths sides of the ball in this one.
Fork Union (1-3) at Appomattox (3-1), 7 p.m.
The Basics: Fork Union ended its early season losing skid with a hard fought 36-34 win over St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes with the Blue Devils’ aerial assault piling up 303 yards while the defense gave the Blue Devils a big spark after they fell into a 21-0 hole with a blocked kick attempt that went for a touchdown in the second quarter. Logan Justice hauled in the gamewinner in the fourth quarter on Luke Wilson’s second touchdown pass. We’ve argued for a while early this that Fork Union, like Albemarle, is much better than their record because they’ve faced a tough schedule. It doesn’t get much easier this week as they face the defending Group 2A state champions who only recently ended a 33-game winning streak in a loss to Heritage.
Key matchup: Fork Union’s front seven takes on dual threat quarterback JaVon Scruggs. The 5-foot-11 athlete rushed for 105 yards and threw for 129 against Dan River in the Raiders’ last game. He’s got weapons around him too, like N.C. State-bound De’Von Graves. Harrison Christian and Iosefa Pua’auli at linebacker for Fork Union will have to be on their game from the opening kickoff, ready to help in coverage and hem in Scruggs who is dangerous in open field.
Who to watch: Fork Union’s Will Stupalsky. Stupalsky got on track on offense last week with three catches for 75 yards. He’s a reliable pass catcher who plays bigger than his frame. Stupalsky can help open things up as a second option behind Logan Justice when he gets in the mix. Look for the Blue Devils to keep utilizing him moving forward.
The line: Appomattox by 7. The Raiders are a terribly tough squad and they’re at home. Another tough matchup for the Blue Devils, but FUMA has the weapons to pull this out if they can stay in an offensive rhythm.
Rappahannock County (2-3) at Madison County (0-5), 7:30 p.m.
The basics: To say that the Panthers are a bit of an unknown is putting it mildly. For years the varsity football program has flirted with playing in the Bull Run District as it has participated in other sports. This year, the Mountaineers will get their first look at a young program that’s looking to step out of its usual schedule of playing home schools and small private schools and become a little more public heavy. Rappahannock bounced back from a 26-0 loss to Strasburg with a 58-20 win over King and Queen Central, 58-20. Madison is looking to get its first win after falling in a solid fight with William Monroe last week, 30-19. The Mountaineers have inched closer to winning each week, but with a roster this young nothing comes easily. With that said, this matchup might be the big break for Madison, the first win of the year.
Key matchup: Madison’s pass rush against quarterback Richard Lillard. The Mountaineers have made improvements each week on defense and if they get after Lillard with a push up front, they should have the playmakers on defense to do well in coverage and limit the Panthers ability to get the ball down field or create turnovers. Winning a turnover battle would be huge in this game and possibly pave the way to a win.
Who to watch: Madison’s Elijah Lewis. The junior quarterback had a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown last week and is getting more and more comfortable as a first year starter. This should be an opportunity for him to make even more plays both on the ground and in the air and get more comfortable in this offense. If he’s on, the Mountaineers will be tough to beat in this one. Rappahannock will have to be careful because Lewis has big play ability in open space. And for someone who’s only known winning as a two-starter during basketball season, perhaps nobody wants to win more than Lewis. Look for him to lead the way this Friday.
The line: The Mountaineers by 4. Madison finally gets that elusive win here.
Paul VI (2-2) at Woodberry Forest (2-1), 2 p.m. Saturday
The Basics: Woodberry exploded into its bye week with a 49-27 win over St. Christopher’s that included a 42-0 first half that was just a dismantling of their opponent in all phases. Can the Tigers maintain that intensity this week? It seems likely. They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder in Scott Braswell’s first year as the head coach and that’s not going to go away any time soon. They’re also staying aggressive offensively with first-year starter Will Wideman at quarterback as he attacked St. Chris vertically repeatedly, showing some serious confidence in both his own arm and his receiving corps. Throw in a stout defense that’s playing as a unit, especially in the front seven and the Tigers appear to be in pretty good shape. Paul VI, meanwhile, has only lost to some awfully good squads including Flint Hill, currently the top-ranked squad in VISAA’s Division I so they aren’t likely to go away easily.
Key matchup: Paul VI’s offensive line contends with Woodberry’s front seven. The Tigers had six tackles for a loss against St. Christopher’s and also had a scoop and score for six by Davis Sherwood and a sack by big man Warren Matthews who is a space eater with the quickness to also disrupt the quarterback. Trying to matchup and block this group won’t be easy for the Panthers.
Who to watch: Woodberry’s Dequece Carter. Carter is an unreal pass catcher, an extremely reliable receiver who can catch something over the middle and down the sideline. His versatility and connection with quarterback Will Wideman makes him a game-changer. Guarding him proved impossible for St. Christopher’s two weeks ago as he caught four balls for 114 yards and a touchdown, especially since they were contending with Khalid Thomas on the other side of the formation. It won’t be any easier for Paul VI.
The line: Woodberry Forest by 14. If the Tigers bring the same early intensity they brought against St. Chris two weeks ago, they shouldn’t struggle with the Panthers.