Here's some things to know as we begin the road to State Championship Saturday for VHSL teams, and State Semifinal Weekend for VISAA teams.
#8 Cosby at #1 Manchester, 7pm: Here we go again, again. Last season, after defeating Manchester in their regular season finale, Cosby's gift was another matchup with the Lancers in the #4/#5 first round game, and the Titans pulled off the victory. Manchester would love nothing more than to return the favor with a sweep of their own Friday. The Lancers look pretty healthy and know they will at least play another week at home with a victory. Cosby, however, becomes a different breed in the playoffs in recent years, and there's much emotion on their sideline, too, due to their head coach, Pete Mutascio, going through cancer treatments in-season. Read a great article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch by CLICKING HERE.
#6 James River at #3 Thomas Dale, 7pm: Whereas history is rich in the first game listed, it is not the case in this region first round matchup. The Rapids and Knights haven't met this century, though they're in the same county. James River, in the Dominion, only has room for two non-district games, being Chancellor and Douglas Freeman the past two years, while Thomas Dale has three, but L.C. Bird is a given (they played twice a season for a couple of years early in the decade), and usually has Varina, too. Both teams lost to L.C. Bird in the regular season. The Knights have the edge in playoff experience, while the Rapids made it to the 6A State Quarterfinal two seasons ago before missing the playoffs in 2015.
#8 Deep Run at #1 Highland Springs, 7pm: The road to the state championship runs through Kreiter Stadium again, as the Springers begin defense of their title against upstart Deep Run, making their first playoff appearance in a decade. While the Springers will be prohibitively favored, they were in this exact same position two years ago when #8 Meadowbrook came calling, falling just short in a 34-29 shootout. Highland Springs will take nothing for granted. Meanwhile, win or lose, tonight's game is fantastic experience for the future of Deep Run football, which was about as dead as an existing program could be just 14 months ago. The future is bright in Twin Hickory.
#7 Henrico at #2 Hermitage, 7pm: What will it take for the Warriors to avoid the Panthers in the first round? This is the third straight year Henrico has had to take the trip to Chester Fritz Stadium to battle playoff-tested Hermitage. At some point, the Warriors will pick up their first playoff win. They want to at least play a close game, losing 37-6 in 2014, 40-14 last year, both at Hermitage. For the Panthers, it's take care of business, keeping the offensive rhythm with Woody Winborn and Jordan Hall to get ready, with a victory, to host either Varina or L.C. Bird in the second round. Henrico seeks its first playoff win since a 12-2 campaign in 1999. Hermitage looks to win its playoff opener for the fourth straight season.
#6 Varina at #3 L.C. Bird, 7pm: Varina is not "back" yet, that is, in relation to expectations for Varina football, but there are back in the postseason after a two-year absence. The "initial twins" of C.J. Jones and R.J. Coles need to find ways to move the football, and do it while taking time off the clock. The way to keep L.C. Bird off the scoreboard is to keep McCall and company on the sidelines. The Blue Devils will know exactly where they stand in their rebuilding after this game. For L.C. Bird, it could be their only home playoff game, so Skyhawk Nation needs to represent.
GAME OF THE WEEK: #5 Lee-Davis at #4 Douglas Freeman, 7pm (6:30pm airtime on WHAN Radio, 102.9 FM/1430 AM, online by CLICKING HERE, on TuneIn Radio App on "Radiall"):
Another rematch! Last year, Douglas Freeman started 9-0, lost to Hermitage to end the regular season, hosted Lee-Davis, and lost in the first round 41-14. The Rebels want no part of "take two". It's up to the front seven defensively to stop Nate Evans and the Lee-Davis rushing attack and force the Confederates to count directly on sophomore quarterback Zach Lass, who has had good games, and some shaky performances. Evans has also become more of a receiving threat, with the game-winning touchdown against Henrico two weeks ago and a huge catch on the first half touchdown drive in their Tomato Bowl win last Friday at Patrick Henry. Conversely, Lee-Davis needs to know who Tanner Dobrucky is. If they didn't, Atlee can fill them in. The winner, most likely, heads to Highland Springs in the second round unless there's an upset.
#14 Atlee at #3 Stone Bridge, 7pm: Stone Bridge is the defending 5A North Region champions, the final team to fall to Highland Springs last season. Stone Bridge is 8-2, with their two losses by a combined seven points. The Raiders made their fifth postseason in the past six years thanks to a win over Armstrong last week. Atlee should open the playbook and leave every option open, try to be opportunistic, especially on defense. They'll need a couple of turnovers by Stone Bridge and the ability to string together time-consuming drives. They must run, must run. It's completely critical in order to pull the upset.
#9 Briar Woods at #8 Patrick Henry, 7pm: It's the first home playoff game for Patrick Henry in 15 years, after a period of 15 years prior which saw the Patriots host playoff games on a fairly regular basis. Despite the Tomato Bowl loss last week, losses by North Stafford and Briar Woods made tonight's matchup, and location, possible. The Patriots, too, must run the football to have a chance to post the victory. For some comparison, Stone Bridge (above) beat Briar Woods 41-20 last week. Briar Woods began 1-4, but won four of their last six games. Their most impressive win was opening night back in August over Tuscarora. The winner will go to #1 Massaponax, provided they win their first round game.
#8 Courtland at #1 Dinwiddie, 7pm: The Generals went 10-0 three years ago, then rolled off five straight for the 4A State Championship. They'd like history to repeat itself, but there's a ton of work to do to make that a reality. They certainly have the weapons: Witt, Sturdivant, Pope, Freeland, Tyson, and much more. Courtland has their work cut out for them.
#6 Powhatan at #3 Chancellor, 7pm: This has the makings of a classic. Powhatan can hang with Chancellor, who lost to James River in the regular season. But Powhatan needs a strong defensive performance more than anything. On the road against an unfamiliar opponent in unfamiliar territory, you need to set the tone. Long drives, big defensive stops, and hold on to the football. Coach Woodson will have his Indians ready.
#5 Monacan at #4 Louisa, 7:30pm: This is the most intriguing matchup of the first round. Louisa comes off a 54-42 shootout loss to Charlottesville, but get to come home to easily one of the best home-field advantages in the Commonwealth, not just the Metro Richmond area. But Monacan's advantage is a bye week last week, so, two weeks since their last game to heal the nicks and bruises and get guys fully ready for what they hope will be a long postseason run. The survivor here gets, possibly, a trip to Dinwiddie next week. For Monacan, it would be a chance at sweet revenge after losing to the Generals in the first round last season.
#8 Culpeper County at #1 Hopewell, 7pm
#7 George Wythe at #2 James Monroe, 7pm
#6 Thomas Jefferson at #3 Brentsville District, 7pm
#5 Petersburg at #4 William Monroe, 7pm
#15 Washington and Lee at #2 Goochland, 7pm
#10 King William at #7 Strasburg, 7pm
#11 Charles City at #6 Franklin, 7pm
#10 William Campbell at #7 Essex, 7pm
VISAA STATE SEMIFINALS:
#4 Norfolk Academy at #1 Collegiate, Saturday, 1pm
#3 Benedictine at #2 Flint Hill, 1pm
#4 Richmond Christian at #1 Quantico, 6pm