Here's our look at what should be a fantastic weekend in high school football.
We begin with the VISAA Division I Championship Game on Saturday afternoon, which will take place at Grover Jones Field, as the Benedictine Cadets, the two-time defending Division I champions, battles Collegiate, who last won the championship in 2009 under the leadership of then-quarterback, and future Virginia and Florida tight end Jake McGee.
Home field advantage belongs to the Cougars, but the experience factor lies with Benedictine. In his final start, watch for Ellis Brooks to have a big impact, as the Cadets look to equal now-VHSL member Liberty Christian Academy with three state titles this decade, as LCA won the Division I crowns from 2011 to 2013.
As for VHSL second round action, we begin in 4A East with, in our view, the most interesting game of the night (with all due respect to the seemingly annual Hermitage/LC Bird game). Monacan remembers long and well what happened 53 weeks ago, as a team that was so, so close to the 2014 State Championship game entered the postseason, and saw their run short-lived as the Dinwiddie Generals took a 26-20 first round victory.
Honestly, once the final words are spoken in the locker room, the Chiefs would serve themselves best to leave 2015 behind and focus on the task at hand, which they can accomplish. It could be the homestanding Generals that could be feeling the pressure, now 11-0, with the ability to stay home through the state semifinals, their only trip being one to Williamsburg for the December 10th 4A State Championship at its new home of The College of William and Mary. Look for turnovers to be crucial in this one, which could go either way, as last year's game proved.
If Monacan wins, they will travel to the highest remaining seed in the Conference 17/18 sub-region, as 4A East cross-brackets after this week. If Dinwiddie wins, they'll host the lowest remaining seed. Over on that side of the bracket, Lafayette is #1, Lake Taylor is #2. If there are no upsets, Lake Taylor could come to Dinwiddie Thanksgiving Weekend, but first things first. The other Conference 19/20 second round affair, unbeaten Eastern View and surging Chancellor, is a complete toss-up.
Now to 5A South, and the seemingly annual affair between Hermitage and L.C. Bird, tempered for the Panthers by the loss of quarterback Woody Winborn to a broken leg in their first round home win over Henrico. Suddenly, the Skyhawks are favored, even though they are on the road. This is a difficult place for junior Jay Carney to make his first high school start, but give head coach Patrick Kane and the Panthers credit for the ability to usually have at worst a serviceable, and, at most, a special quarterback waiting in the wings.
Winborn had never started before this year. Eli Odom suddenly found the spotlight due to injury a couple of years ago. Of course, the Skyhawks are salivating at the idea of mentally shaking up a new Hermitage quarterback. But we're looking at Shedrick McCall and the L.C. Bird running game to be the difference, and whether Hermitage's defense can neutralize them, forcing the Skyhawks to depend on the passing game. We won't be shocked if this game ends up 14-7, or 10-7, or even 7-6.
On the other side, Douglas Freeman tries to become the first team since L.C. Bird in 2014 to win a playoff game at Kreiter Stadium against defending champion Highland Springs. The Rebels will have to get a special performance from their defense, especially on the line, as they must get pressure on Carter and company. If they can't, the Rebels secondary may be hard pressed to stay in coverage with the Springers' speed. Highland Springs must, however, neutralize the scramble of quarterback Trey Laughlin, who killed Lee-Davis last week in round one by extending plays. And, as always, Tanner Dobrucky will be a force to be reckoned with for Douglas Freeman, who haven't won two playoff games in the same season this century.
We'll be in 5A North as #8 Patrick Henry goes to #1 Massaponax, who enter this week one of the hottest teams in Virginia regardless of classification. Winners of nine straight, by an average of 27.7 points per game, the Panthers haven't lost since a 50-47 decision at the hands of aforementioned 4A Chancellor Labor Day Weekend. They knocked previously unbeaten Brooke Point out of the region's top spot with a 42-18 win in the regular season finale, and put up 77 points in the first round last Friday.
Patrick Henry, simply, is playing with house money. No one outside of their circle expects the Patriots to win, and that's not a bad place to be. Head Coach Bryan Davis and company can throw the kitchen sink at the Panthers, and, with some good things going their way, they just want to be within striking range in the fourth quarter. Patrick Henry will need some breaks, a Panthers turnover or two, or a key penalty here and there. But they have seen a team like this in Highland Springs, so it won't be any surprises on the field in Spotsylvania. The question will be how much they learned from that trip to Kreiter three Fridays ago.
(NOTE: We go live from Massaponax on 102.9 FM, 1430 AM, WHAN Radio, online HERE, and on the TuneIn radio app on "Radiall" Friday at 6:30pm.)
Then there's 6A South, where Manchester needs a strong performance, and they need, frankly, to enter the fourth quarter with a lead as they battle Riverbend in the second round at home. After awhile, a team runs out of fourth quarter comebacks, and at this point, as we all know, it's one and done for everybody. Riverbend fell to Chancellor, Massaponax, and Thomas Dale's opponent, Colonial Forge, during the regular season.
The Knights have faced Colonial Forge twice in the 6A configuration, losing in the first round to the Eagles three years ago, and in the second round in 2014. The experience factor, however, of the playoff run of a year ago may come into play here, as Thomas Dale can be patient on the road. A good start, and, just like Patrick Henry, being in the game in the fourth quarter mean everything. They don't want to be two possessions down with under twelve minutes remaining. Nobody does.
In 3A East, Hopewell will be prohibitively favored hosting Petersburg, who has won two straight to bookend their season. The Crimson Wave had one of the more impressive victories in the first round, and if their season ends at Merner Field, they can build on those wins going into 2017. The Blue Devils, however, should take nothing for granted. Ask Highland Springs, who pounded Lee-Davis in the 2015 regular season, only to survive 41-34 against them in the second round of their championship run.
In 2A East, Goochland will step up in competition as they look to go to 12-0 at home against a Strasburg team that eliminated King William last week. Kudos in 1A East to Charles City for a road win last week, heading up to Colonial Beach, the #3 seed, while Essex will have their hands full with #2 Riverheads on the road. In 1A, the top four seeds had byes last week, so they are rested and ready.
Stay with us all night Friday on Twitter across our network for the latest score updates, and join us live for our Game of The Week!
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