Western Albemarle (2-7) at Albemarle (4-5), 7 p.m.
The basics: For the last half decade this game has been crazy with last second heroics usually deciding it. Last year saw the Patriots end a long drought en route to catapulting them into a playoff run. This year this game has some intrigue as both programs are jostling for playoff positioning. Western is coming off a resounding win over Fluvanna, their first since week one, making them a dangerous team for a seemingly wounded Albemarle squad. The Patriots let one slip their fingers last week at Powhatan after going into halftime up 14-0. Which Albemarle squad will we see on Friday? The healthy one that took down Charlottesville a few weeks ago or last week’s edition? And the same can be asked of Western, will they be the healthy looking group from last week or the one that struggled during a 7-game skid? It should not be hard for either team to get up for this one. And if both play to their potential, this could match the previous recent classics we’ve had in this rivalry.
Key matchup: Western Albemarle’s run game against the Patriots front seven. Teams that have been successful against Albemarle have done it by pounding the ball up the middle. Powhatan got things rolling last week with tough running from Jacob Taylor and at times, from quarterback Noah Dowdy. The Warriors will need inside rushing from running back Darren Klein and some help from quarterback Derek Domecq. Western has a solid receiving corps, but Albemarle’s secondary is a defensive strength between Kris Anderson and Na’il Arnold. Don’t be surprised if Western tries to channel the same kind of running game that Powhatan, Louisa County and Monticello threw at the Patriots. Conversely, Albemarle simply needs to play fundamental football in the middle and wrap up and avoid giving up yards after contact.
Who to watch: Albemarle’s J’Quan Anderson and DaQuandre Taylor. A concussion knocked Anderson out of last week’s second half with Powhatan. If he’s cleared to play the Patriots should return to a bit of the free wheeling offense that’s worked for them in three of their four wins. If it’s Taylor under center, Albemarle needs to him to be the guy he was in a week one win over Mountain View. Whether on the ground with their feet or in the air to receiver Kaysean Allen, Albemarle’s offense is dependent on either Anderson or Taylor to make things happen.
The line: Albemarle by 1. The Patriots might be nicked up but they have won three of their last four games.
Monticello (8-1) at Charlottesville (6-3), 7 p.m.
The basics: The Black Knights tour of the top of the JD standings continues after a tough showing against Louisa County. Of course, by now, everyone but Fluvanna County has taken their beating from the Lions, so it’s hard to read too much into that one. The Mustangs are coming of a nice challenge against Orange County and have won two straight since their 6-0 start was marred by the Lions. These are two really good running teams that are trying to shore things up defensively as they both approach the playoffs. Right now the Black Knights are trying avoid a Region 4D 3-6 matchup and a trip to play George Washington in Danville and move up to a possible 4-5 matchup and a possible home game next week. Monticello is trying to chase Brookeville and Heritage (Lynchburg) who are out in front of Region 3C, but it might not be possible to improve upon their third seed.
Key matchup: The Mustangs defensive front eight against the triple option. We’ve seen Monticello play well against run-heavy teams like Spotswood and Powhatan. So it’s not a matter of “if” they can do it. But physically speaking, trying to stop Charlottesville’s run game is not all that different than trying to stop Louisa’s. Teams that have focused mostly on the hard inside running from Sabias Folley have opened themselves up to get gashed by Rakeem Davis and Sam Neale. It takes a disciplined approach to try and slow them all down and sometimes allowing a 4-5 yard gain is the right move because the alternative might well have been giving up 50-yard spring. Monticello needs all it can get from Garrett Porterfield and Danny Talbert in this one. The good news for Charlottesville is that the area’s leading rusher, Monticello quarterback Kevin Jarrell, can’t do his thing if he’s on the sidelines while the Black Knights are moving the chains.
Who to watch: Charlottesville’s Tre Durrett. Between his duties at wide receiver, his ability to chip in with the running game and his responsibilities at cornerback, the senior will be busy all night. Whether he’s covering Austin Haverstrom or Trenton Johnson, Durrett’s skills will be needed and tested in this one. We’ve seen Monticello open up the playbook in the passing attack more and more as the weeks have moved along. With the way that Jarrell and Jerrick Ayers run the ball, the Black Knights can ill afford big gains from Haverstrom of Johnson.
The line: Monticello by 1. This should be a barn burner, but the Mustangs have been a little more careful with the football than the Black Knights this season.
Amelia County (7-2) at Goochland (9-0), 7 p.m.
The basics: Some of the sheen from this game was wiped off last week when the Raiders fell to Nottoway, 28-22. A win there would have pitted two teams with perfect James River District records against each other this week with the Bulldogs handling Prince Edward with ease. Right now, only Buckingham County has been able to give Goochland a game this year and even that was a 17-point win that was never really in question. Amelia should, nonetheless, provide the Bulldogs a suitable season finale, one that gears this program up for what it can expect in a reformatted playoff system that won’t pit Goochland with a true gimme game in the opening round as it did between 2011 and 2016. The Bulldogs are seeded second in Region 2A, and the Raiders are fourth in those same standings. It’s entirely possible that the two see eachother again in two weeks. But for now, even with the Raiders loss to Nottoway last week, the James River District championship is on the line and the Bulldogs will be eager to defend the crown they’ve worn in four of the last five years.
Key matchup: The Goochland linebacking corps against Amelia running back Elijah Marshall. Good teams at the Group 2A level usually come with decent offensive lines and solid running backs. It’s been a while since the Bulldogs have gone up against a quality offense. Now maybe this defense has just been this good and quality offenses haven’t looked as such beforehand, but Goochland hasn’t faced a team yet that’s averaged 34.7 points per game. It’s going to be up to Sam Brooks, Ricky Mayfield and the rest of this linebacking corps to come out and impose their will against this running game. Amelia’s soft underbelly is its defense and if the offense can’t find a way to put up 28+ points against Goochland, the visitors are more than likely going home with a hard L.
Who to watch: Goochland quarterback Devin McCray. The milage on his legs in the running game has been light. It’s been light for most of the runners these last few weeks with one blowout followed by another allowing the ball distribution to be even. But we’re seeing the Bulldogs getting a little pass happy, which is to say that they’re attempting to throw down field more than once in a game. McCray had a 47-yard TD pass last week. Sooner rather than later, the Goochland passing game is going to turn the tide of a game. Whether its here or in the playoffs, it’s going to happen. McCray is young and bolstering with potential as a dual threat quarterback. Just how much will he be featured in this game? That probably depends of how much damage running back Jasper Carter does early on. But Amelia finds a way to slow Carter down, expect to see some magic from McCray in some form of the ground game or the passing attack.
The line: Goochland by 12. Amelia’s got a nice a record but a lot of close wins. The Bulldogs? When a 17-point win is the story of your struggle, you’re owning the district.
St. Anne’s-Belfield (4-4) at Norfolk Academy (7-2), 5 p.m.
The basics: STAB picked up a solid win in an eight-man game against Hampton Roads Academy last week and this week they head back down to the Tidewater to play the Bulldogs, who are one of the six teams in VISAA Division I that have earned playoff eligibility. STAB is out of the playoff picture in Division II, though an upset here might vault them back into it, though it would have to come against perhaps the toughest opponent they’ve faced all year on the road. Look for the Saints to try and get things rolling offensively again with the ground game like they did against the Navigators last week.
Key matchup: STAB’s secondary takes on Norfolk Academy quarterback Christian Randolph. Randolph can spread the ball around and is a solid passer who can make defenses pay. Can the Saints clamp down and keep the Bulldogs from attacking through the air.
Who to watch: STAB running back Amani Woods. Woods rushed for 114 yards on 21 touches, a workhorse style performance that’s been a hallmark of the Saints’ offense when it’s at its best. If Woods can carry the load against the Bulldogs and help the Saints control the clock by moving the sticks, it’ll go a long way toward a potential upset.
The line: Norfolk Academy by 7. On the road against a solid Norfolk Academy squad is no easy task to close out the year for the Saints.
Randolph Macon (2-6) at Covenant (7-1), 4 p.m. Friday
The basics: Covenant went down to North Cross Saturday and pulled off a thrilling win in a must-win game against the Raiders, a complete team effort with a banged up roster getting the job done. That leaves this week for Covenant to close out the season with a win and solidify its standing as the No. 2 team in VISAA’s Division II against a Randolph Macon team that has struggled mightily. Jonas and Nic Sanker gave the Covenant offense a spark last week as did quarterback John Huemme who has played solidly all year but has really stepped up in the last couple of weeks. Can Covenant keep this roll going and enter the playoffs on a five-game win streak?
Key matchup: Randolph Macon’s front seven takes on the Eagles’ option. At least when injured running backs Donovan Jackson and Rick Weaver are in the lineup you know the Eagles are going to run downhill a lot and try and grind it out with a heavy dose of the dive. It’s hard to stop but you know what’s coming. Without those two, it’s harder to predict what Covenant is going to run and when. Randolph Macon has its work cut out for it.
Who to watch: Covenant’s Chris Newton. In a game packed with big plays last week, Newton made the biggest, a pick six with 2:45 to go that gave Covenant the lead and eventually the win. The Eagles’ defense made a ton of big plays against the Raiders, can Newton and the gang keep it going against the Jackets?
The line: Covenant by 21. The Eagles can all but close the deal here. Expect them to get it done.
Powhatan (3-6) at Orange County (4-5), 7:30 p.m.
The basics: Orange County has lost two straight but the Hornets appear to be in a win-and-in situation in the Region 5D playoffs. Getting into the playoffs for the second-straight year would be a big testament to the turnaround the Hornets’ program has undergone under Jesse Lohr. But the Hornets have their work cut out for them, the Indians are coming in with some momentum after beating Albemarle at home with a second half surge last week. The Hornets can get the job done here with that talented, productive offense and a home crowd behind them. This is a critical moment for them.
Key matchup: Orange’s front seven takes on Powhatan’s Jacob Taylor. Last week the Hornets had trouble against the run. Now they face Taylor, a hard-nosed running back who rushed for 172 yards last week against Albemarle. Can the Hornets’ defense step up against the Indians?
Who to watch: Orange’s Chris Washington. Washington is a player, a tremendous pass catcher who is an explosive presence whenever he gets the ball in his hands. He’s sixth in the area in receiving with 519 total yards and seven touchdowns on the year. Look for the Hornets to get him involved early against Powhatan.
The line: Orange by 14. The Hornets have all the offense they need to get this one done.
Louisa County (9-0) at Fluvanna County (2-7), 7:30 p.m.
The basics: The Lions are just one win away from wrapping up their first unbeaten regular season run since 2011. They’ll look to complete that run on the road against the Flucos after a string of wins where the Lions scored 62 points each against Monticello, Orange and Charlottesville. The Lions should take care of business here and a win will put them in position to potentially leapfrog Monacan if they lose to Huguenot or Dinwiddie if they lose to Colonial Heights. Either way, a win would solidify Louisa’s No. 3-seed in a challenging Region 4B as they get set to try and make a postseason run.
Key matchup: Fluvanna’s offense takes on Louisa’s front seven. The Flucos struggled to score in October and now they face one of the area’s top defenses in the Lions, a group that has playmakers at every level from Tony Thurston up front to Brandon Smith at linebacker and Caleb Turner on the back end. There aren’t a lot of good answers to solving the Louisa defense yet, and Fluvanna will likely struggle to find its rhythm.
Who to watch: Louisa’s Malik Bell. Bell is a well-established threat on the ground, but his ability to attack through the air continues to be an underrated part of his game. He threw three touchdowns last week against Charlottesville and can strike at any time. With the way the Flucos have struggled against the run, that might not be necessary, but the Lions always have that option in their back pocket.
The line: Louisa by 28. Lions get a chance to work quickly and get ready for the postseason here.
Culpeper County (3-6) at William Monroe (2-7), 7 p.m.
The basics: Sure, William Monroe suffered a couple of blowouts to open the season, but it’s the close losses that will keep this inexperienced roster out of the playoffs. 7-6 to Brentsville, 14-12 to Broadway, 35-28 to Fort Defiance in particular. Last week Warren County got away from the, but with seniors like Jordan Gray and Tyler Huckstep and Jon Richardson who have contributed for multiple years to the Dragons, expect Monroe to try and finish 2016 with a bang, especially since they’re playing at home.
Key matchup: Monroe’s defense tries to matchup with Culpeper’s dual threat quarterback Jacae Colclough. Colclough rushed for 143 yards and three touchdowns while throwing for another 162 yards against Manassas Park last week in a thrilling win by the Blue Devils. Preventing an encore performance will be crucial for the Dragons if they want to close with a win.
Who to watch: William Monroe’s underclassmen. The Dragons have competed with a particularly young roster after losing a fleet of seniors last year. Next year key cogs like Jaekwon Wayne, Zach Miller and Alex Kinsey are all slated to return. Can they help Monroe finish strong to build momentum heading into the offseason?
The line: Culpeper by 7. Dragons with a big opportunity to close out the year on a high note and play spoiler, but Culpeper is playing for playoff positioning.
Nelson County (3-6) at Rappahannock County (5-4), 7 p.m.
The basics: After a week off, the Governors take on a Rappahannock team that has face a schedule almost as interesting as the Governors, crisscrossing the state to play teams from Page to Staunton to Brunswick Academy in Lawrenceville. This is another good chance for Nelson to pick up a win and close out a solid step forward in head coach Matt Hicks’ second campaign at the helm.
Key matchup: Rapphannock takes on Nelson’s aerial assault. The Governors’ quarterback Brice Wilson can make teams pay through the air, throwing for 1,558 yards and 20 touchdowns this season. This won’t be an easy matchup for the Rapphannock secondary as he can also extend plays with his feet before finding Devante Rose or Fletcher Bowles downfield.
Who to watch: Nelson’s Devante Rose. Rose has had a tremendous senior season, hauling in an area-high 866 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. Sending him, one of the Governors’ few seniors, off with a win would be a special way to finish his career where he’s played a little bit of everything, including option quarterback early on.
The line: Nelson County by 14. Governors’ strong steps forward this season continue in this one.
Prince Edward (4-5) at Buckingham County (4-5), 7 p.m.
The basics: Talk is cheap, but the Knights have walked it. The chatter after the Goochland loss was that there was the potential for a 5-5 season. Now whether or not that means the Knights can make the playoffs is a different matter as they are in a really deep Region 2C chasing Dan River for the eighth and final playoff spot. But thanks to a blowout win on Monday against Randolph-Henry, Buckingham has made that 5-5 talk a possibilty, made a playoff berth a potential reality. They might need to some help from outside factors, but a win over a Prince Edward team coming off a fourth straight loss could vault them into playoff position. The Eagles are in a free fall after starting out 4-1. They’ve given up 87, 58 and 56 points respectively in their last three contest. That’s not good considering that Buckingham has scored 84, 34 and 53 points in its last three contests. This has the look of two teams with the same records that are headed in opposite directions.
Key matchup: The Eagles’ linebacking corps against Buckingham quarterback Gerry Toney. The story of the Buckingham offense has been fascinating these last nine weeks. With a front loaded schedule, the Knights were under so much pressure defensively that they weren’t’ able to dictate a lot of games with their offense. The opposite has been true the last three weeks. With Toney healthy, this unit simply fuctions differently. Walter Edwards, Daniel Brickhill and Tyrese Ayres are all more effective when Toney is in the game. And while Prince Edward needs to keep Edwards, Brickhill and Ayers in check, it all starts with stopping Toney first or finding a way to make him make improper reads. This Eagles defense is crippled with injuries, but they’re going to have to a find a way to battle through that or Toney and company are going to shred them.
Who to watch: Edwards and Brickhill. With the way running backs have chewed up this defense, a hard-nosed rusher like Edwards creates a different kind of problem. Toney and Ayres have a lot of breakaway speed in their game. Edwards and Brickhill have a lot more hammering to theirs. That’s brutal for a defense that’s struggling with inexperience and depth numbers wise. Buckingham has been on the other side of that coin both this year and last. As they’ve gotten healthier, it’s now their turn to exploit that and the best way to do that is devoting their approach to pounding the ball inside with their two best inside runners in Edwards, who’s just a sophomore, and the senior veteran in Brickhill.
The line: Buckingham by 7. The Knights are cruising and running into an Eagles team at just the right time.
Madison County (2-7) at George Mason (5-4), 7:30 p.m.
The basics: The Mountaineers were close early with Strasburg but couldn’t hold on late in their 34-14 loss. The Mustangs, after starting out 5-0 have now dropped four straight with last week featuring a beating from Clarke County. It has to be a bit alarming for Mason that in their last three games they’ve failed to hit double digits. If you’re Madison you look at Mason and their schedule. The Mountaineers faced a tough out of district slate. The Mustangs did not. In there is the disparity between the wins and losses separating the two. With Madison having nothing to lose as they sit outside the playoff picture, and Mason with everything to lose as they’re clinging to a playoff spot in Region 2B, this should be interesting.
Key matchup: Madison’s front nine against the run. Mason keeps its old school and as such the Mountaineers will have to pack it against an offense that puts all seven on the line of scrimmage between the tackle box. Beating this offense is about fundamental read and react defense. While the defensive line doesn’t really have any choice but to plug the same gaps over and over, the linebackers and safeties must get a good look at where the ball is going and where to fly. If Mason gets bogged down in a defensive battle it’s going to be a in a tight spot. The only issue for Madison is that physical running teams have been problematic. The Mustangs are Clarke or Central though. There’s no reason that the Mountaineers can’t go toe-to-toe with this Mason offense up front.
Who to watch: Madison quarterback Khalid West. While Mason will undoubtedly devote its focus on stopping Mountaineers running back Jamar Turner and rightfully so, the opportunity opens for West to try and exploit a defense that’s allowed 42 or more points in the last three games. West can run but has also thrown well at times too, including a long TD pass against a solid Clarke defense. That’s impressive for a sophomore who started out at wide receiver this year and has now moved to the quarterback. His development will be crucial to Madison going forward into future seasons and he has an opportunity here to set the tone for 2018 in this regular season finale.
The line: Madison by 1. The Mountaineers have seen more, been through more tough opponents. Now they get the benefit of playing that tougher schedule against a team that is pretty much their equal.
Fork Union (3-6) at Woodberry (6-2), 2 p.m. Saturday
The basics: You have to go back to 2007 where one of these two wasn’t the Prep League champion. But here we are with that out the window and pride on the line. For Fork Union, in particular. The Blue Devils got a nice win over Bishop O’Connell last week but they’re out of the playoff hunt. FUMA hasn’t beaten Woodberry since 2012 when it made it all the way to the VISAA Division 1 championship game. Since 2007, the Blue Devils have won just twice, that 2012 season and then in 2008. So this group of seniors would love to go out with a bang against the Tigers. Speaking of those Tigers, their annual bowl game with Episcopal looms large as it does every time this year. But after last week’s beating of Trinity Episcopal is was clear that Woodberry was very weary of the threat that FUMA presents. The Tigers know that the Blue Devils’ record is deceptive and that this could be a real solid back-and-forth kind of game. The playmakers are there for both teams on offense. So which defense is going to show up here and make the difference?
Key matchup: The Fork Union secondary takes on Woodberry’s Dequece Carter and Khalid Thomas. Until you find a way to slow those two down you’re not slowing down quarterback Will Wideman. Both targets are deep threats. Both targets are good in space on short passes. Covering one is hard enough, covering both is a real challenge. But that’s the task at hand for Fork Union. A solid pass rush would help, but with the Blue Devils’ strength being in the secondary, quality coverage down field seems more viable and needed. If FUMA can keep those two from the big gains that they’ve piled up all year, the game changes dramatically. If not, Woodberry’s offense will dictate the flow of this game. So far this year, when the Tigers do that, they win.
Who to watch: Woodberry’s Warren Mathews and Fork Union’s Iosefa Pua’auli. Mathews is the defensive tackle that makes things tick for the Tiger defense upfront. Pua’auli is the physical runner that makes defenses hurt. Something has to give between the two and while Pua’auli has defensive duties at linebacker, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fork Union devote plenty of carries his way in an effort to move the chains and keep Wideman and the high flying Woodberry offense on the sidelines. Both these guys are warriors. This should be a great battle in the trenches with the winner giving their team a solid advantage.
The line: Woodberry by 3. The Tigers have to be careful because the Blue Devils could easily pull the upset off here, but Woodberry’s reliable big play ability gives them the edge here.
Benedictine (5-3) at Blue Ridge (7-1), 2 p.m. Saturday
The basics: This is an interesting test for the Barons who appear locked into the VISAA Division II playoffs, most likely as the No. 1 seed. Benedictine, meanwhile is playing to help shore up its postseason resume in Division I, where they’re currently the No. 4-rated team, with key wins over Bishop Ireton, Bishop O’Connell and a narrow one over Fork Union. There will be a lot of talent on the field in this one, with the Barons efficient, productive offense and stingy defense that includes standouts like Xavier Kane, Cameron Carr and Sammy Fort taking on the Cadets’ Chris Collins (UNC end) Wendell Davis (Pitt pledge), Caleb Grimes (Navy commit) and quarterbacks Andrew Puccinelli and Jay Woolfolk among others. This one has the potential to be a lot of fun and an excellent measuring stick for the Barons.
Key matchup: Blue Ridge’s linebackers face the zone read. Woolfolk and Grimes are a potent combination in the zone read offense when the Cadets have it clicking, with last week’s evisceration of Bishop O’Connell standing out as an example. Grimes went for 156 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries and Woolfolk went for 162 yards and a touchdown on just nine touches. The Barons counter with Aden Britton Spencer Glenn and Juan Mareco looking to attack. They’ll have their hands full.
Who to watch: Blue Ridge’s Kane. If the Barons are going to knock off a team this talented, Kane is going to be a big reason why. Big time players step up in big games has become a cliche because it’s true, and Kane isn’t going to try and do it on his own, but as the quarterback it’s going to be up to him in a lot of situations to make things happen when the play breaks down because against a defense like Benedictine’s it is bound to break down sometimes. It might become as Kane goes, so go the Barons in this one.
The line: Benedictine by 1. Blue Ridge faces a big step up in competition here, can they rise to the occasion?