Madison County (0-2) at William Monroe (0-3), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: Every year this one is about more than what’s happening on the field. The Battle for the Blue Ridge is about two neighboring communities locking up when brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers have all been a part of the rivalry in one sport or another. Neither team has had the start they’d ideally have but William Monroe’s struggles were less expected than Madison who’s building from the ground up with first-year head coach Jon Rasnick and a young roster. Expect a more seasoned William Monroe team to have the edge from the opening kick, and it’s likely that the Dragons could take out some of the frustrations of the last three weeks where they endured losses to Turner Ashby, Spotswood and Clarke on the Mountaineers. This is a good test for Monroe to see if they’ve kept their confidence up through that stretch and if they can hold to the power run identity that they’ve hung their hat on. Madison, by contrast, is in the early stages of the build and doesn’t have the depth to overcome some early injuries. If the Mountaineers are healthy, they’ve got some pieces like Khalid West and Sam Estes that can stretch the field and give people problems, but beating Monroe for the first time since 2012 may be a tall order for this edition of the Mountaineers. Monroe was in both the Turner Ashby and Clarke games, including being caught in a scoreless battle at the break against Clarke. Can they put it all together this week?
Key matchup: Madison’s defensive backs take on Monroe quarterback Jared Knights. With the Dragons leaning heavy on the power run game, it can be easy for a defense to lose track of Knights at the signal-caller spot. But he’s going to need to find some ways to connect with wideouts and keep teams from piling nine in the box to stop the run. If Knights provides that dimension, it would open up a lot of possibilities against the Mountaineers.
Who to watch: William Monroe’s Dupree Rucker. The Dragons are averaging 7.3 points per game, and that’s just not enough to win most nights. Getting the offense in a rhythm has to be job one, and Rucker is Monroe’s best best. Lightning quick and capable of turning creases into huge gains, Rucker is an ideal back in the Dragons’ offense, but Monroe just hasn’t been able to put the ball in the end zone. If that changes this week it’ll likely be thanks to Rucker getting on track and opening things up for the whole offense.
The line: William Monroe by 7. The Dragons get an excellent shot at their first win this week.
Cumberland (0-4) at Goochland (1-1), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: Goochland schedules tough out-of-district games precisely because of matchups like this where Cumberland rolls into town and the Bulldogs shouldn’t have any issues handling their business. Goochland escaped Buckingham a week ago with a victory to bring their record to .500. Now the Bulldogs enter a stretch where the next challenge is hard to identify. This is the time of year where traditionally Goochland irons things out, finetunes the offense and reels off a string of wins. Can they repeat the process?
Key matchup: Cumberland’s offense looks to move the ball against the Bulldogs’ defense. Goochland has now played in a pair of big boy games against Lafayette and Buckingham, so the Bulldogs are seasoned defensively, they’ve been tested and gotten to figure out a lot about themselves. Can Cumberland find any room to operate against this unit?
Who to watch: Goochland’s C.J. Towles. With Quincy Snead getting banged up against Buckingham, more of the offensive load may turn to the Bulldogs’ young signal-caller. He’s got the talent and the composure to handle that.
The line: Goochland by 28. The Bulldogs can find a rhythm this week.
Central Lunenburg (1-2) at Buckingham (1-1), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: Being 0-2 at this point would’ve been no reason to panic for Buckingham County, but being 1-1 is reason to believe this could be a special season for the Knights, especially with last week’s loss to Goochland coming in double overtime after a close call didn’t go Buckingham’s way. That’s a huge couple of performances for the Knights who now enter a much different portion of the schedule than those first two battles. If Buckingham can play at the defensive level it has established early on and continue to grind out the clock with their ground attack, a lot of upcoming opponents may not have an answer for the Knights. That’ll start with a Central squad coming off a blowout win over Bluestone. This is a second-straight James River District clash, so expect the Knights to be ready to roll at home.
Key matchup: Buckingham’s stout defense takes on Central running back T’zion Williamson. Williamson is a complete back and capable of being productive, but the Knights have been locked in on defense, limiting vaunted rushing attacks from Appomattox and Goochland in their first two weeks. Williamson will likely find tough sledding against the Knights, who just don’t give as much as an opportunity to opponents in the ground attack.
Who to watch: Buckingham’s Walter Edwards. Goochland coach Alex Fruth said after last week’s clash that he’d have nightmares about Edwards going forward after he made plays all over the field. Nightmare-inducing is about as high praise as any football player can receive. Edwards is a terror on both sides of the ball and he should make Central’s Friday a brutal one.
The line: Buckingham by 14. The Knights get going here.
Courtland (0-3) at Orange County (0-3), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: This. Schedule. Is. Brutal. The Hornets have faced an incredibly challenging schedule in a district filled with teams facing tough slates. It continues with a proud Courtland program that may be 0-3 but is surely rabidly hunting its first victory after a lot of success over the years. Orange dropped its third straight in a blowout loss to Eastern View last week. Now they’ve got to start getting their confidence back as they enter district play next week, and they should be in the top half of the district. That’ll take more offensive production than they got last week where star running back Jaylen Alexander had a touchdown but only picked up 13 yards on 10 carries. This is a good week for the Hornets to figure things out and get locked in.
Key matchup: Orange’s rush defense takes on Courtland’s vaunted ground attack. Courtland is going to run the ball almost entirely, that’s their brand of football after throwing just nine passes a year ago. The Hornets managed to limit Eastern View in the ground game last week but gave up a ton of yards through the air. Can Orange put together a repeat performance in the ground game this week?
Who to watch: Orange’s Jireek Washington. Washington is the kind of playmaker who’s going to have to get involved if the Hornets are going to get on track so that teams don’t hone in on Jaylen Alexander like Eastern View did last week. Can the Hornets find ways to get Washington in the mix?
The line: Orange by 1. The Hornets have a chance to get on track this week after a brutal schedule to start the year, but Courtland is going to be a major test.
Western Albemarle (0-2) at Waynesboro (0-3), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: The Warriors haven’t had the start they wanted, but they’re not in bad shape going into this clash with a Waynesboro team that has managed just eight points in three games. That gives Western an excellent chance to get its offense back in rhythm before jumping into the Jefferson District slate next week with a battle against Monticello. Western’s offense produced against Turner Ashby but sputtered against a seasoned Spotswood team. Can the Warriors get things clicking this week? They’ll need to against a Little Giants team that hasn’t found its footing yet.
Key matchup: Western Albemarle’s rushing defense takes on Wayneboro’s ground game. The Little Giants are going to want to run the ball after watching Western surrender 311 yards to Ethan Barnhart last week. Can the Warriors shore up that piece of the puzzle and help get themselves back on track?
Who to watch: Western Albemarle’s Will Mitchell. Mitchell got things going against Spotswood with a couple of key catches on a third quarter drive. His emergence gives the Warriors an option beyond Breaker Mendenhall for Western quarterback Carter Shifflett to find in the passing game.
The line: Western Albemarle by 10. Warriors get on solid footing this week.
Monticello (0-3) at Spotswood (3-0), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: Monticello dropped its third straight a week ago, losing to Turner Ashby at home. Now they hit the road with a clash against Spotswood, who has made short work of two straight Scrimmage Play area opponents, William Monroe and Western Albemarle. Now the question about how to stop the Blazers’ multi-faceted offense falls to the Mustangs, who have surrendered 40.3 points per outing to start the year. That’s not the kind of start that makes winning easy, and this is perhaps the best offense the Mustangs have faced yet. Monticello will need to shore things up against the run against Ethan Barnhart, who went for 158 yards for the Blazers against the Mustangs last year and has already been piling up yards.
Key matchup: Monticello’s ground attack looks to clamp down on the Blazers’ ground game. Last week, Western didn’t get a chance to try and combat Spotswood quarterback Ryan High because clearly if the Blazers can keep it on the ground and score and move the ball effectively, they’re going to do just that. Monticello has to stuff the run or Spotswood will lean on Barnhart all night.
Who to watch: Monticello’s Jason Armstrong. Armstrong had a solid performance against Turner Ashby last week, catching seven balls for 55 yards. In the ongoing search for offensive weapons, it’s possibly Armstrong’s seven catches was a breakthrough moment.
The line: Spotswood by 14. This is a tough matchup for the Mustangs.
Albemarle (0-3) at Harrisonburg (1-2), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: Brutal first three games for the Patriots, who have had to break in an entirely new group and are still searching for answers at a lot of spots. If the Patriots can get some key starters back from injury soon, it would go a long way toward shoring up their efforts that have come against some extremely challenging teams. Harrisonburg is a more manageable task this week, but will still test the young Patriots.
Key matchup: Albemarle’s front seven takes on Harrisonburg’s ground game. Albemarle has seen some challenging rushing attacks, now they’ll take on another tough matchup and see if that previous experience has given the Patriots anything to work on. Look for a step forward from the Pats’ run defense.
Who to watch: Albemarle’s Javarious Massie. Massie is the lone second-year starter up front and if the Patriots are going to turn things around it’s going to start in the trenches. Giving sophomore quarterback Jake King time to work through his progressions is a big key, and Massie and company are still trying to find a way to do it.
The line: Albemarle by 1. Good chance for the Patriots to get going in the right direction.
Charlottesville (0-3) at Eastern View (3-0), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: Nobody can accuse Charlottesville of light scheduling. After wrapping up their city school versus city school three-game stretch against E.C. Glass, James Monroe and Harrisonburg, the Black Knights now take on Class 4 power E.C.Glass. This one is particularly tough for the Black Knights as they found some confidence and rhythm a week ago despite the loss to Harrisonburg. Now they level back up to deal with the Cyclones, and they’ve got to do it on the road. Tough matchup all the way around.
Key matchup: Charlottesville’s secondary deals with Eastern View quarterback Till Butler. A week ago, the Black Knights surrendered three touchdowns and more than 200 yards through the air and now they’ll have to take on Butler, who went 8-for-9 for 260 yards and four touchdowns against Orange County.
Who to watch: Charlottesville’s Isaiah Washington. Washington had a monster game in last week’s loss to Harrisonburg, Piling up 208 yards and two touchdowns on 28 touches. If Washington can keep running like that, it’ll go a long way toward helping the Black Knights get on track.
The line: Eastern View by 14. The Cyclones are too multidimensional for the Black Knights.
Nelson County (1-2) at Rappahannock (1-1), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: Nelson County dropped last week’s game with Fluvanna County, hanging with the Flucos until Fluvanna blew the game open in the fourth quarter. That’s a positive sign for the Governors who will have to play several teams as good as the Flucos in the Dogwood District when that slate kicks into gear. For this week though, they’ll take on a Rapphannock squad that might find itself overmatched against this edition of the Governors. Look for Nelson to try and get the offense clicking early and make some noise. Nelson cruised 43-21 last year in the season finale against Rappahannock.
Key matchup: Nelson County’s offensive line tries to protect quarterback George Brown from Rappahannock’s defensive front. Protecting Brown and giving the passing game time to operate is a key part of the puzzle for Nelson. The Governors lean on seasoned senior James Johnson as well as 6-foot-4, 350-pound center Alcindor Barnett. This should be a fun matchup in the trenches.
Who to watch: Nelson County’s Felix Rodriguez. Cramps have limited the tailback at times, but when he’s been in the lineup he’s been spectacular, rushing for 301 yards at a clip of 8.1 yards per carry. He’s a one cut and go type back and if he can get loose against the Panthers it helps the entire offense click for the Governors.
The line: Nelson by 14. The Governors should get things rolling in this one.
Fork Union (1-1) at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes (2-1), Friday 4:30 p.m.
The Basics: Sure, last week may have been a loss, but Fork Union made a very good Benedictine team sweat through most of that game before picking up a 45-31 victory. That’s as good of a sign for the Blue Devils as blowing out Bishop O’Connell — Fork Union is making massive progress and they’re in position to wreak some serious havoc on the rest of their opponents. FUMA quarterback Alex Williams went 19-for-40 for 327 yards and three touchdowns, and while he threw three picks, he’s likely to improve that ratio as the year goes on and communication improves. This week, they’ll face a SSSA squad that bounced back from an early defeat against St. Christopher’s to blow out Saint John Paul the Great.
Key matchup: Fork Union’s offensive line looks to pick up SSSA linebacker Lamumba Howard. Howard is a handful at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and the Blue Devils will have to keep track of the senior linebacker.
Who to watch: Fork Union’s Elijah Hawks. Hawks piled up five catches, 101 yards and an electric late second half touchdown to help spark the Blue Devils to a strong effort against Benedictine last week. Along with Montigo Moss, Steve Zegbe and Nasir Edmonds, Hawks gives Fork Union its most formidable receiving group in years.
The line: FUMA by 10. The Blue Devils are in good position to start stringing together a couple of wins here before opening Prep League play with St. Christopher’s October 4.
St. Anne’s-Belfield (2-0) at Southampton (1-1), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: STAB won its second straight game, beating Greenbrier Christian 55-19. The Saints are averaging 56.0 points per contest and they’re doing it fast. Greenbrier held a significant time of possession advantage, but the Saints’ quick strike offense made that stat pretty much irrelevant. The Saints’ versatile new pieces are making a big difference, including Nic Reese and Nolan Bruton each caught a touchdown and threw one last week. That makes the already tricky Saints that much more dynamic and tough to contain.
Key matchup: Southampton’s defensive line takes on the STAB ground game. The Saints averaged 6.2 yards per carry last week. If Southampton can’t find a way to counteract that, they’ll struggle to slow down the Saints.
Who to watch: STAB’s Nic Reese. We already knew what kind of athlete Reese is from basketball, now he steps into a huge X-factor as a quarterback/wideout/ball carrier on offense. Reese had 154 yards and two touchdowns on just four catches a week ago against Greenbrier. He threw for a touchdown, ran for two more and caught those two. That’s a huge impact.
The line: STAB by 10. The Saints are clicking on offense, that isn’t likely to change this week.
Christchurch (2-0) at Blue Ridge (3-0), Saturday 2:30 p.m.
The Basics: Blue Ridge is flat rolling right now, with a trio of wins, the last two against overmatched opponents in Hargrave and Fishburne. That likely won’t be the case with Christchurch, a perennial power who has been involved in a number of classic clashes with the Barons. This should be a really good test for the Barons. Both teams beat Nansemond Suffolk already and Blue Ridge has found a good rhythm on offense with an explosive passing attack. Countering Christchurch usually comes down to matching their physicality in the ground game and Blue Ridge has the pieces to match that. Putting them together will be the key.
Key matchup: Blue Ridge’s front seven looks to contain dual threat quarterback Jaylen Wood. In the Seahorses’ season opener against Nansemond Suffolk two weeks ago, Wood threw for a touchdown and rushed for another. Blue Ridge can match up athletically with most anyone, but Wood will present a challenge.
Who to watch: Blue Ridge’s Lance Gaskins. Gaskins, who checks in at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, has become a major scoring threat with two more touchdowns through the air from quarterback Keynon Carter last week against Fishburne. If that connection stay at this clip, good things will keep happening for the Barons.
The line: Blue Ridge by 7. This one has the potential to be a statement game for the Barons.