Weekly Briefing Week 11

Photo by Kristi Ellis

Louisa County (9-0) at Albemarle (3-6), 7 p.m.

The basics: Louisa County has become awfully good at finishing, and they get another chance to finish a job Friday night when they take on Albemarle with a chance to hold on to the Region 4B No. 1 seed and wrap up a third-straight undefeated regular season. Albemarle, meanwhile, is in the playoffs (Region 5D is an all-in, eight-team region) but the Patriots are  locked in a tie with Brooke Point for sixth place. An upset would surely break that tie and send the Patriots soaring up the standings and the Pats maybe get up into that sixth slot anyway with some help. Either way, this is a great chance to build some momentum going into the playoffs and for the young Patriots to test just how improved they are. Last week Albemarle was ready to put Charlottesville away with a ground attack before a poorly timed fumble set off some serious chaos. It’s almost impossible to make those kind of mistakes and have a shot against Louisa, so Albemarle will have to clean that up if they want to hang in there. Louisa, meanwhile, has been focused on peaking at the right time, and lately they’ve looked awfully good, with an array of weapons on offense and a defense capable of snuffing out opposing offenses with seemingly a Thanos-like snap of their fingers. The Lions are ready, they’re hunting and the opponent is seemingly irrelevant when the machine gets geared up.  Albemarle will need to be essentially perfect to pull this one off.

Key matchup: Albemarle’s front seven takes on the Louisa ground attack. The Patriots struggled to hem in Charlottesville’s Isaiah Washington last week and now they’ve got try and shut down a Louisa team that ripped off more than 500 yards of total offense last week and averages 7.6 yards per carry as a team. This is a major challenge for any team, and whether it’s Jarett Hunter, Robbie Morgan or Kalup Shelton, Louisa brings it on every single play. Albemarle will have to answer the bell and guys like Nolan Pitsenberger are capable of doing that.

Who to watch: Louisa’s Alex Washington. A year ago, Washington romped in Louisa’s win over Albemarle at AHS, scoring three touchdowns including a 97-yarder. Washington is just a pure football player, so his impact has been felt largely on defense and special teams this year, but when he has carried the ball, he’s averaging about 12 yards per touch. He runs with a fury and he tackles the same way. Whether he gets the ball or not, he’s bound to have an impact in this one.

The line: Louisa County by 21. The Lions are prepared to finish off a third-straight undefeated regular season, that’s enough motivation in and of itself.


Orange County (4-5) at Western Albemarle (4-5), 7 p.m.

The basics: Orange County is still trying to fight its way into the Region 4B field and it’s unclear if it’s win-and-in for the Hornets, but it’s certainly lose-and-out. Western is also trying to hold on to a playoff spot near the bottom of Region 3C. If the two teams below them (Fort Defiance and Fluvanna) win, Western will almost surely need this one to stay in and if they want to improve their chances of a first round win, this is also a must-win. This one pits two of the area’s most capable running backs in Orange’s Jaylen Alexander and Western’s Austin Shifflett. Alexander became the area’s second leading rusher all-time last week and has piled up more than 5,500 yards in his career. Shifflett has really gotten going of late (throwing out the Louisa game) and seems back to his sophomore form where defenses are having a tough time hemming him in when he gets into the open field. Both teams’ ground attacks should benefit from chilly temperatures Friday night, so this may come down to which defense can assert itself more and come with big stops. With both teams playing to stay alive, this one has the potential to be a nailbiter. One big play on special teams or one big forced turnover could almost certainly be the difference maker here.  

Key matchup: Orange’s front seven takes on Western’s Carter Shifflett. The Hornets know Shifflett can be a serious nightmare because he uses the entire field. He can pick his way through the middle of the defense on the run or test the edge on numerous rollouts that force defensive backs to defend for a long time. Keeping him contained is much easier said than done, but with Chance Williams and company roaming on the edge, Orange has the athletes to do it. Can they force the Warriors into some uncomfortable positions by either attacking to force the issue or staying at home on the edge?

Who to watch: Orange’s Jireek Washington. On a night where the Warriors will surely be intent on jamming up Alexander, could Washington be a difference-maker on the boundary? He’s an electric, fast wideout who’s hauled in 366 receiving yards on the year. While it’ll be tough to throw in the cold, that’s another area where Washington can make an impact as a defensive back.  

The line: Orange County by 7. Hornets get the edge because on common opponents, they’ve beaten everyone besides Louisa in the Jefferson District. Western has lost to Monticello, a team Orange beat 50-7.


Monticello (2-7) at Fluvanna County (4-5), 7 p.m.

The basics: Fluvanna County is only four tenths of a point out of a playoff spot and while they may need some help to get in, that help won’t matter at all if Fluvanna doesn’t take care of business against Monticello. That’ll require ending a four-game losing skid that has put that playoff spot in peril against a Monticello team that’s a strangely dangerous 2-7 squad, capable of beating Western Albemarle and challenging anyone because Malachi Fields is their quarterback. Fluvanna will need to impose its will in this one, establish the run and hold on to the ball. The more the Flucos can keep Fields on the sideline the better off they’ll be. That starts with getting the running backs going — Fluvanna has yet to establish reliable runners outside of quarterback Kobe Edmonds, and with an offensive line that is capable of opening holes that can’t continue to be the case. Someone is going to have to step up in a big way there and take some of the heat off Edmonds. If it’s not in the ground game, perhaps Edmonds taking the top off the defense through the air would do the trick? Fluvanna just needs another dimension to emerge offensively, and the time is now.

Key matchup: Fluvanna’s linebackers take on Monticello’s Fields. Fields has been a tough matchup for teams even though the Mustangs are 2-7. He has the ability to break plays wide open either by extending them with his feet and creating an opportunity downfield or taking off and running it himself. The Flucos’ defense has been solid most of the year, but they’ll have a serious challenge on their hands Friday. 

Who to watch: Fluvanna’s seniors like Justin Sullivan, Alden Custer, Luke Sheridan, Walt Stribling and Malachi Hill. It would’ve been almost inconceivable to anyone outside Fluvanna County four years ago that on their senior night this group would be playing for a playoff spot. The program was just in rough shape when this group showed up as freshmen. After enduring two seasons with three total wins, the Flucos turned the corner and now they’re in position to do something special Friday. Now it’s time to deliver. 

The line: Fluvanna by 7. Flucos are fighting for their playoff lives here, expect them to perform like they are.


Appomattox (7-2) at Nelson County (4-5), 7 p.m.

The basics: This is a tough task for the Governors, who may need to pull off the shocker to get into the Region playoffs. The positive is the game is at home for Nelson, so they’ll get a boost from the home crowd. But derailing an Appomattox team is going to require that Nelson beat a team that has only lost to Buckingham and Heritage-Lynchburg — two top flight football teams. Nelson has proven itself ready for the Dogwood District, ready to compete and ready to win. But the Raiders are the district’s ultimate test (and frankly Region 2C’s ultimate test, Appomattox is No. 1 in the region), a state powerhouse that rarely loses. The Governors have their work cut out for them here. 

Key matchup: Nelson’s Felix Rodriguez looks for running room against Appomattox’s stingy defense. Appomattox has allowed just 11.8 points per game during their current six-game winning streak and while Rodriguez averages 6.6 yards per carry, he’ll have his work cut out for him Friday. 

Who to watch: Nelson County’s Brice Wilson and James Johnson. Wilson and Johnson are two seniors who truly bought into the system when Matt Hicks took over the Nelson job early in their careers and they’re a huge part of the Governors’ incredible rise from doormat to Dogwood competitor under Hicks. This will surely be the trio’s final game at home. Can they pull off a win that would stun the entire state? 

The line: Appomattox by 14. The Raiders are rolling right now and looking to build more momentum heading into the postseason.


Bluestone (2-7) at Goochland (8-1), 7 p.m.

The basics: Goochland is sitting in an excellent spot, currently holding the No. 1 spot in Region 3B by a hair over James Monroe. If the Bulldogs can hold on to that spot, they’ll have home field advantage throughout the region playoffs in their first year back in Class 3. Goochland is no stranger to playoff football, but with a jump up in classification, every advantage will help. The Bulldogs can also complete a fourth-straight unbeaten James River District campaign here, making the Goochland seniors perfect so far in James River clashes since entering high school in 2016. This is also another chance to tune-up for the postseason, a process Goochland has gotten quite good at since they haven’t missed the playoffs in 14 years. With temperatures dropping, this is usually the time of year Goochland’s ground attack shifts into another gear and they showed signs of that last week with 290 yards rushing in a blowout of Central Lunenburg. 

Key matchup: Bluestone’s ground attack looks to move the ball against Goochland’s front seven. The Bulldogs’ most obvious strength is their suffocating defense that has allowed just 10.8 points per game. It’s a ball-hawking, sure-tackling unit that doesn’t have many weak points and swarms the ball. Central managed just 132 yards last week of total offense and Bluestone will likely find similarly tough sledding. 

Who to watch: Goochland’s Quincy Snead. Snead has been a known entity for several years for the Bulldogs, a slippery, cat-quick running back. He’s getting healthy now though and he showed off some serious explosiveness with a 63-yard touchdown run last week. 

The line: Goochland by 21. The Bulldogs are on track to wrap up a fourth-straight unbeaten run through the James River District.


William Monroe (5-4) at Central-Woodstock (4-5), 7 p.m.

The basics: William Monroe has turned it on since a disappointing finish against Brentsville, winning three straight thanks in large part to a much-improved defensive effort that’s held the last two opponents to just a touchdown each. Now the Dragons have to finish the job and try and pick up a home playoff opener and they’ll face Central-Woodstock, who is coming off a victory over Warren County that ended a three-game losing streak. Monroe has proven adept at winning on the road even when it’s technically a home game like it was last week with the game forced to be played at Albemarle. Monroe needs one more road win and then it can turn its full attention to making a playoff run.

Key matchup: Central’s front seven tries to stop Dupree Rucker. It really is essentially this simple — if you can stop the run, you can beat Monroe. It’s just that so far, nobody in the Northwestern District has been able to meet that challenge. Rucker even had a monster day in the loss to Brentsville. If Central hasn’t figured something out, it could be another big-time day for Rucker and another Monroe win.

Who to watch: William Monroe’s Jeremy Savoie. A cornerback and occasional ball carrier on offense, the junior had a big week against George Mason with nine tackles, two pass breakups, a sack and a forced fumble. If he stays active and brings the intensity, the Dragons’ defense should benefit in a big way.

The line: William Monroe by 7. If the Dragons stick to the gameplan, they’ll keep mowing down district opponents.


Madison County (1-8) at East Rockingham (5-4), 7 p.m.

The basics: Madison ended its winless campaign with the first victory of the Jon Rasnick era last week, a 42-0 thrashing of Rappahannock that helped exorcise some demons and showed just how much the Mountaineers are progressing in year one because of the margin of victory. That wasn’t a squeaker and odds are good that that would not have been the result if the week one edition of the Mountaineers had faced Rappahannock. It’s clear that improvements are being made, the system is starting to click. The Page County result, a shootout loss where the Madison offense was simply explosive, proved that before the Rappahannock blowout win. Madison is building things the right way and the results are starting to show. Still, East Rockingham, who has quickly become a traditional power, will be a steep hill for the Mountaineers to climb.

Key matchup: Madison tries to slow down East Rockingham’s suddenly explosive offense. The Eagles have scored more than 50 points each of the last two weeks, kicking a three-game win streak into high gear. Madison has to figure out a way to keep that dynamic offense in check, starting with clamping down on running back Trenton Morris. Morris had 135 yards and three touchdowns on 14 touches last week in a win over Luray. 

Who to watch: Madison County’s Isiah Dowell. Dowell rushed for 123 yards on 17 touches in the win over Rappahannock and continues to give the Mountaineers a sorely needed rhythm running back in the ground game, a player who can churn out three and four yard carries and keep the Mountaineers ahead of the sticks. He has picked up 786 yards, with the bulk of it coming in the second half of the year as Madison has improved drastically.

The line: East Rockingham by 10. Eagles are suddenly red hot and likely outgun the Mountaineers here.


Buckingham (8-1) at Nottoway (7-2), 7 p.m.

The basics: Buckingham is 8-1 and they’re entering that time of year when the Knights’ entire approach becomes most effective. When the weather gets near frigid, tackles get tougher to come by, and trying to bring down Buckingham’s Walter Edwards and Tae Toney is already extremely tough. The Knights have been pounding it out on the ground all year and that’s not about to change any time soon. This appears to be their most significant test since Goochland but last time we said that about Northumberland, the Knights blew the doors off Northumberland. Goochland made quick work of Nottoway a few weeks back and the Knights and Bulldogs were dead even in their meeting early in the season. Look for the Knights to flex their muscles again this week. 

Key matchup: Nottoway tries to find running room against Buckingham’s stingy defense. We recognized the Knights as the defensive players of the week collectively on the podcast this because they’re unbelievably stingy. They’ve averaged surrendering less than 12 points per game in their eight wins and the Edwards-led defense (he averages 7.4 tackles per game) is relentless. Nottoway is going to find it tough to score points against Buckingham. 

Who to watch: Buckingham’s Tae Toney. Toney can get to the edge and make teams pay for loading up against Edwards. He’s been doing it all year, picking up 899 yards on the season while scoring a whopping 20 touchdowns. It has become pick your poison for opposing defenses and until someone finds an answer, Buckingham will keep going back to the well.

The line: Buckingham by 10. The Knights have simply played better teams. When Nottoway has run into top notch squads like Buckingham, they’ve faltered. 


Woodberry (2-6) at Episcopal (4-4), Saturday 2 p.m.

The basics: Forget the subpar records, throw out Woodberry’s close losses and ignore the regular season struggles this year for both teams. It doesn’t matter now because The Game is here. Woodberry and Episcopal lock up for the 119th time in the south’s oldest continual high school football rivalry. While this one may not have the obvious outside juice like some recent battles, if you’ve been to one of these you know that doesn’t matter at all. This is the entire season and this is for bragging rights 30 years from now at a reunion weekend. Woodberry has found an identity the last few weeks with Donovan Baker getting things rolling on the ground. That’s allowed the Tigers to bridge the gap between losing close and getting wins. They crushed Fork Union last week with Baker exploding for 164 yards and four touchdowns. A young but talented offensive line has things moving. Ben Locklear is playing quarterback like we’ve grown to expect Locklear to play. Woodberry these last couple of weeks look like we expected the Tigers to look like in the preseason. Episcopal will test whether that’s the real Woodberry or not. 

Key matchup: Woodberry’s Locklear takes on Episcopal’s absurdly talented secondary. While the run game helps, Locklear is likely to be the difference-maker this week one way or another. He’ll have to figure out ways to neutralize, look off or otherwise deal with an Episcopal secondary that includes Penn State commit Elijah Gaines and junior Bryce Steele that has Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan offers. That’s a big-time test for Locklear and with the way his offensive teammates are playing they certainly seem ready for it.

Who to watch: Woodberry’s Luke Blundin. The Tigers’ wideout hauled in 132 yards and a touchdown on three catches last week. He’s benefiting, along with quarterback Ben Locklear, from the emergence of the Tigers’ ground game. Defenses have to try and stack up against the run and try to clamp down on Donovan Baker and suddenly Blundin has a little more space to operate, which is dangerous for opposing defenses. He’d already played well enough to be the area’s third-leading receiver and now he can really go to work. 

The line: Woodberry by 1. The Tigers got their momentum going the last two weeks and getting in rhythm should pay off in the biggest way in this one.


VISAA D2 Semifinal: No. 3 Christchurch (6-2) at No. 2 Blue Ridge (7-3), 2 p.m.

The basics: Christchurch and Blue Ridge lock up in a state semifinal for the third time in seven years. The Barons cruised in the first meeting earlier this year, rolling 42-0 over the Seahorses. Christchurch has improved since (which is why they’re in the state semifinals already) including a 28-14 defeat at the hands of a North Cross team that hung 70 on the Barons earlier this year. If Blue Ridge even thinks of not taking this one seriously, they’ll only need to pull up the results from 2012 to know just how perilous that would be. Blue Ridge fell 27-13 to the Seahorses that year in the semifinals in a game in St. George. They could also pull up 2017 when some of the current Barons were already in the fold and see another home state semifinal loss to Christchurch. The bottom line is that a lot can happen in six weeks and this has the potential to be an entirely different Christchurch squad coming in to take on the Barons with a state championship game berth on the line. 

Key matchup: Blue Ridge’s linebackers take on Christchurch quarterback Jaylen Wood. Wood is a slick athlete who can extend plays with his legs, and he doesn’t just take off, he can attack with his arm downfield. The Barons’ Cameron Kewley, who led Blue Ridge with nine total tackles last week in the win over Bishop O’Connell, will play a big role here in trying to figure out containing Wood.

Who to watch: Blue Ridge’s Iceysis Lewis. In a game like this, often it’s one big momentum play that changes the course of the game. Lewis can provide those kind of plays in all three phases. He’s electric in the return game, in the secondary and as a wideout. Lewis remains a gamechanger, last week alone he had a pick with a 33-yard return and a 39-yard catch with 76 yards through the air. 

The line: Blue Ridge by 10. Christchurch has improved, but Blue Ridge still has the edge. 


VISAA D1 Semifinal: No. 4 Fork Union (5-4) at No. 1 St. Christopher’s (9-1), 1 p.m.

The basics: What a turnaround season for Fork Union in year one of the Mark Shuman era. The Blue Devils qualified for the state tournament for the first time since 2012 and nearly found their way into a tie for a Prep League title. Last week’s blowout loss at the hands of Woodberry Forest was obviously frustrating, but Fork Union gets a chance now to play for an upset against a team that beat them in the regular season. This one went the Saints’ way 39-19 in the regular season meeting, so look for a similar approach in the game plan for St. Chris. FUMA will have to cut down on the turnovers to have a shot — they had four passes picked off in the first meeting — and if they do protect the ball the score could be instantly closer. That’s of course easier said than done against a Saints defense that has been pretty stifling, allowing less than 15 points per game in the squad’s nine wins.  

Key matchup: FUMA’s secondary looks to contain St. Christopher’s quarterback Gill Williamson. While Griff O’Ferrall was running the show against FUMA in the first meeting, this time they’ll likely face Williamson, who threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns against Collegiate and is up over 1,000 yards on the year. In the secondary, Fork Union answers with Grant Chebrier and V’Jon Hampton at safety and Steve Zegbe and Nasir Edmond at cornerback. If that quartet can come up with a couple of picks — Williamson threw one last week against Collegiate — it could change the entire tenor of the game. 

Who to watch: Fork Union’s Xavier White is a tackling machine. He’s made 101 stops this year including eight tackles for a loss and just keep churning out solid numbers. Along with Austin Fogg and Corey Fraser in the Blue Devils’ linebacking corps, they’re going to have their work cut out for them because few people have slowed down St. Christopher’s offense and with it being a pass heavy approach, White and company either have to cover well or get home on the pass rush. This unit struggled at times against a Donovan Baker-led ground attack in the Woodberry game, can they bounce back this week? 

The line: St. Chris by 7. FUMA gets a chance to prove last week against Woodberry was an anomaly and really challenge the Saints. 


VISFL Final: Covenant (8-0) versus St. Anne’s-Belfield (7-1), Saturday 6 p.m.

The basics: This one feels pre-ordained in a lot of ways. Looking at the rosters postgame a year ago at Albemarle High minutes after Covenant won the first VISFL title foretold this story, a rematch of last year’s championship with a bunch of key players and newer faces in the mix. There’s Covenant’s Jonas Sanker, who can score from anywhere. There’s STAB’s Amani Woods, a cat quick back who consistently hits the hole and makes the Saints’ off tackle go. There’s Covenant’s Nic Sanker, a Princeton commit who can absolutely snuff out opposing ground games or quarterbacks from his spot at linebacker. There’s STAB’s Gabe Decker, a versatile, old school two-way player at linebacker and running back. There’s Covenant’s Michael Asher who can score from anywhere on the field. There’s STAB’s Joe Ambrosi, a rock in the middle of the defense. The Saints have surely spent a lot of time since the loss in the regular season meeting cooking things up, going back to the drawing board, shoring up a gameplan to try and end this string of eight-man losses to the Eagles. But in the end, Covenant has an athletic edge in large part because Jonas Sanker is the best player on the field. If STAB can’t contain him, the rest won’t matter much. STAB has to find at least a partial answer for Sanker, who blew the last game open with a pick six and pulled away from the Saints with his play on offense. 

Key matchup: The Saints’ offensive line takes on Covenant’s aggressive defense. STAB has some big boys up front like Luke Antesberger and Chase Holden as well as John Mark Wegner. That group didn’t play poorly in the first outing, but they’re going to have to take things up a notch in this one. Grinding the clock and keeping the ball out of Sanker’s hands may be STAB’s best bet, and if they’re going to do that, this group has to keep the chains moving. That’s tough to do with a Covenant defense that’s seemingly always attacking and playing responsibility football. They just seem to always do the right thing on the edge and up the middle. It’s a tough task finding running room when a defense is that sound. 

Who to watch: STAB’s seniors. After years of the Saints largely owning the Covenant/STAB crosstown matchup, the tables have tilted in favor of the Eagles recently as Covenant has won five straight games since 2017. The last STAB win came in 2016, so this group hasn’t figured out a way past the Eagles in a long while. Can that group pull off a shocker and overcome the squad that has become their arch nemesis. 

The line: Covenant by 10. Adjustments from the first meeting help STAB close the gap, but the Eagles have the right players in the right places and are just an efficient machine currently.