Region 4B Semifinals: No. 4 Patrick Henry-Ashland (8-3) at No. 1 Louisa County (11-0)
The Basics: Louisa County hasn’t looked past anyone this year, but they’ve been deadset on making a deep playoff run from the minute last year’s heartbreaker against Eastern View ended. They got it going right with a first round blowout win against King George last week, and with homefield advantage this week and next if they get there, the Lions are primed for something special. Region 4B is a major challenge though, and Patrick Henry-Ashland blew past a pretty good, albeit banged up Spotsylvania team, a squad that beat Eastern View a few weeks back. Now the Patriots have to hit the road though, and that means a trip to The Jungle, always a difficult quest for any visiting team. Patrick Henry moved the ball well with a balanced offense a week ago, throwing for 142 yards behind dual threat quarterback Alex Sikkar while running for another 187. Defensively, they held the Knights to just 75 yards of total offense, an impressive feat against any team, but particularly against a playoff opponent. This will be a major step up in competition, but the Lions have their own injuries that have required a little shuffling around. Louisa showed they could handle that well last week with the dismantling of King George. Jarett Hunter is the straw that stirs the drink with over 1,000 yards on the season but he’s just the start. The offense has a multitude of weapons and they’re all versatile themselves, allowing Louisa to present divergent offensive looks seamlessly, either from spread of single wing formations. It’s a lot for opponents to prepare for based on what the Lions have put on tape throughout the regular season. The Lions have been focused on this playoff run all year, now it’s about delivering.
Key Matchup: Patrick Henry’s ground attack tries to move the ball against the Lions’ suffocating front seven. The Patriots piled up seven touchdowns on seven straight possessions and rushed for 187 yards as a team in the blowout win over Spotsylvania in round one. They aren’t likely to find that kind of early success against the Lions, who’s defense is only 11 points per game and 3.2 yards per carry. If things go like they did last week, Louisa defensive lineman Adrain Williams will be terrorizing the opposing backfield, he was essentially unblockable a week ago. Patrick Henry will have to get creative because even if Williams doesn’t get there, Qwenton Spellman, Derrick Barbour, Aaron Aponte, Austin Sims and Alex Washington are all coming. This is essentially a pack of wolves defending the run and it’s extremely tough to run around, past or through a pack of wolves.
Who to Watch: Louisa’s Buck Hunter and Noah Robinson. It’s not often that Louisa County has a pair of vertical threats on offense that make stacking the box particularly difficult, but with Hunter and Robinson both averaging around 21 yards per catch. That’s a problem for opposing defenses who are mostly left to mark those two one-on-one, because the backfield is stacked with three guys who average 7.2 yards per carry or better (Jarett Hunter, Robbie Morgan and Kalup Shelton) as well as a man-child in Alex Washington who’s a threat whenever he touches the ball. Having to stay honest and mark the guys on the boundary makes this offense extremely hard to defend, with the entire unit averaging a whopping 7.8 yards per play.
The Line: Louisa County by 7. The Lions could be tested here, but they get a decided advantage in The Jungle.
Region 3B Semifinals: No. 5 Skyline (6-5) at No. 1 Goochland (9-1)
The Basics: Goochland’s defense is locked in right now as Independence found out a week ago when the Bulldogs held Independence to just 41 yards on the ground, and not for lack of trying, Independence ran the ball 35 times. Now Skyline gets to try their hand at solving the Bulldogs’ defensive riddle after upsetting William Monroe last week. Goochland just hasn’t missed much of a beat with the move up to Class 3, and this week doesn’t appear to be much different. The Bulldogs will be at home, they’ve got a quarterback who’s really starting to become a major threat in C.J. Towles and they can always run the ball. This is an awfully good football team that has things coming together at the right time and a region that isn’t quite stocked with heavyweights on the bottom half of the region. Goochland just keeps rolling with whatever has been thrown at the Bulldogs too. Their assigned class changes, the region changes, the schedule changes, the opponent changes — Goochland doesn’t. They just keep winning.
Key Matchup: Skyline’s offense takes on Goochland’s talented secondary. The Bulldogs have Devin McCray and company roaming the back end of the defense, and that can present some problems for any team that wants to throw the ball. Skyline will have the advantage of a quarterback that’s feeling it in Blake Appleton after he completed 17-of-19 through the air for 216 yards, and a receiver in Marion Haley that caught 11 of those 17 for 121 yards. But that was against a depleted Monroe secondary ravaged by injuries. The Bulldogs present no such opening, and running isn’t a great option either with Connor Duncan and Anthony Holland in the box.
Who to Watch: Goochland’s C.J. Towles to Devin McCray connection. Devin McCray has been giving opposing defensive coordinators a headache for years now, and with Towles’ emergence at quarterback the last two seasons, it has really opened up what McCray can do. McCray is just a flat out football player, he can line up anywhere and be the best player at that spot in the game. Last week Towles found him for an 80-yard touchdown and on a couple of other plays as part of a 7-for-10 night. With the Bulldogs’ identity built on the ground, if their quarterback can also complete 70 percent of his passes, the opposing defense is in a lot of trouble.
The Line: Goochland by 14. The Bulldogs appear on a collision course with James Monroe in would would be a thrilling matchup of storied programs for a region title.
Region 2B Semifinals: No. 6 East Rockingham (7-4) at No. 2 Buckingham County (10-1)
The Basics: This is an extremely deep region, as evidenced by Buckingham needing overtime to escape Page County, the region’s No. 7 seed. That argument also gets a boost from East Rockingham crushing No. 3 Clarke County. The Eagles haven’t gotten healthy and are peaking at the right time, and for a Buckingham squad that just survived a rock fight with Page, that could be trouble. East Rockingham usually has speed all over the field, and the best solution to that is usually to play keep away and hold on to the ball. When Tae Toney is healthy and paired with rugged Walter Edwards, that’s usually a pretty simple task for the Knights, and their preferred method of attack no matter who’s lining up across from them. But Toney got banged up in the first half against Page, so his availability is a key part of the equation. If Toney isn’t lined up at quarterback, look for heavier doses of Xavien Gough up the middle and Xavier Copeland on the edge to try and prevent East Rock from stacking things up against Walter Edwards.
Key Matchup: Buckingham’s front seven takes on East Rock running back Trenton Morris. Morris rushed for more than 200 yards last week in the 41-7 thrashing of Clarke. While slowing down Morris is a tall task, Buckingham is built to do it, with some size up front led by Cole Edmonston and a bunch of reliable tacklers just behind them in Edwards and Demetrius Davis. Gough and K.J. Williams (the freshman hero of last week’s game with an overtime stop) behind that. Morris is fast and physical, so the Knights are going to have to play one of their best football games of the year to close the deal and keep moving.
Who to Watch: Buckingham’s Xavier Copeland. In a game that has the makings of a thriller, a big play on special teams can be a difference maker. As good as Copeland is as a corner (he’s darn good) and on offense (he’s a major speed threat and blocked well last week too), he can transform a game as a returner. He had a long one against Page and if he can give the offense short fields or take one back for six, it could be a difference-maker for the Knights.
The Line: Buckingham by 1. This one’s going to be a battle, Knights get the slight edge at home.