Louisa (3-0) at Albemarle (0-3), Saturday 2 p.m.
The basics: Back when the schedule came out, this was a game nearly everyone circled. Two 2017 playoff teams, two teams packed with an array of weapons. But these two teams couldn’t have had more different starts to the season. Everything for Louisa has essentially gone like clockwork, three largely comfortable wins, no delays, some adversity sure but nothing completely out of the ordinary. Everything for Albemarle has been more like a runaway mine car starting with the kick return for a touchdown by Mountain View on the opening kickoff in week one — in the last week alone they were scheduled to play the Patrick Henry-Roanoke game on five different days. That leads to Saturday’s matchup where a team that’s coming off a bye in Louisa faces a team playing on short rest after Albemarle fell in a wild one to PH 40-31. Louisa has learned it has options in the ground game with Kalup Shelton and Jarrett Hunter and they’ve got a defense built on speed and capable of neutralizing most anything an offense throws at it. Albemarle, meanwhile, has something going on the ground after DaQuandre Taylor and Mahki Washington put together monster performances against Patrick Henry, accounting for more than 350 yards between them. A repeat performance with just three days of work though while also preparing for the single wing? The Patriots have their work cut out for them.
Key matchup: Louisa’s front seven led by Austin Sims and Brandon Smith lock up with Albemarle’s suddenly locked in ground attack. Sims and Smith are the area’s best tandem of linebackers and the guys around them are also impressive. Trying to run when those two and the efficient, effective Robbie Guinn are locked in is just a massive challenge. Which is unfortunate for Albemarle because Tuesday their two-headed monster in the backfield of Taylor and Washington got rolling. Can they solve the Lions’ front seven?
Who to watch: Louisa’s Noah Robinson. Look, dealing with the Lions was tough enough when you have to account for the ground game coming out of the single wing. It tests your mind, your body and your will. But throw in Robinson, who’s hauled in two touchdowns and 160 yards on just nine catches? That just ups the difficulty factor. Albemarle has cover guys like Marquan Jones who are capable of locking opponents down but he’ll need to be a factor against the run too. Look for Louisa to probe for Robinson at least once in the first half while the bulk of the Lions’ energy goes to establishing the ground game.
The line: Louisa by 10. Lions have played too well so far to instill any doubt here. But weird time, weird day and a team that’s better than their record? Could be a little bit funky at least.
Western Albemarle (2-1) at Powhatan (2-0), Friday 7 p.m.
The basics: For a team that boasted 11 seniors on defense coming into the season, Western Albemarle has performed pretty well so far with their lone loss coming at the hands of a potential state title contender in Lord Botetourt. The Warriors managed to knock off Charlottesville a little more than a week ago on a game moved up for impending weather, and they got things going on the ground in a big way in that one. Now they hit the road for the first time this season where they’ll lock up with a Powhatan squad that also prides itself on running the ball. This one is a matchup of two squads that want to do things in similar fashion and it could turn into a defensive struggle or a running back showcase.
Key matchup: Western’s run defense takes on Powhatan’s Jacob Taylor. Last week, outside of surrendering a 94-yard run to Sabias Folley, Western’s entire defense hung tough and managed to limit his damage. Facing Taylor 10 days later isn’t an easy task either, as he rushed for 231 against Caroline back on September 7 and rushed for more than 200 against Midlothian as well. Taylor and the Powhatan offensive line are efficient and committed. Western will have to bring it.
Who to watch: Western’s Austin Shifflett. After rushing for 240 yards and four touchdowns, Shifflett is an easy pick here. If he can put together that kind of effort consistently it’ll really help the Warriors execute on their defense-first, control the clock and play field position approach.
The line: Powhatan by 7. Tough place to play and Western Albemarle hasn’t even faced a road game yet.
Parry McCluer (0-3) at Nelson County (1-3), Friday 7 p.m.
The basics: Nelson County was the only local team that actually played on Friday last week in the wake of Hurricane Florence forecasts, absorbing a 48-0 blowout on the road against George Mason. Now the Governors get a chance to bounce back at home against a team searching for its first victory after facing a challenging schedule of Rockbridge, Buffalo Gap and James River. Nelson has to be hoping for a little more consistency from an offense that has shown flashes of promise in the early going this year.
Key matchup: Nelson’s run defense takes on Parry McCluer’s Marcellius Dawson. Dawson scored three times on the ground in the Fightin Blues’ shootout loss against Buffalo Gap and Nelson is coming off a week where Mason’s ground game shredded them. Can Nelson get back on track and make the key tackles at the key spots to prevent a repeat performance?
Who to watch: Nelson’s Jamel Rose. Rose is a solid pass catching threat and the Governors’ offense is at its best when they’ve got him in the mix but he was quiet a week ago against George Mason. Can quarterback George Brown get him involved and get the Governors’ passing game clicking.
The line: Nelson by 1. The Governors get a shot at win number two here.
Covenant (2-0) at Brunswick Academy (0-3), Friday 7 p.m.
The basics: The Eagles got a bye last week and in the process got to avoid the weather shuffle that embroiled the rest of the area, but it has been awhile since they took the field. If Covenant can avoid any rest-induced rust, they should be able to take care of business on the road here. The Eagles just have too many offensive weapons, particularly with the emergence of Luke Sorenson at quarterback, to not give Brunswick fits in this eight-man clash. Brunswick is still searching for its first win after falling to a Kenston Forest, Faith Christian and Southampton.
Key matchup: Brunswick Academy’s secondary tries to contain Jonas Sanker. Trying to hem in the Eagles’ versatile Sanker is no easy task, and Brunswick will certainly have its hands full trying to keep track. The Eagles get the ball to Sanker in a variety of ways from end arounds to vertical attacks.
Who to watch: Covenant’s Rick Weaver. Obvious pick here, but he’s the thumping bass line for their offense that makes all the rest of the instruments work. Weaver’s pounding, brutal running style give them an option in every situation they need a trump card while also forcing teams to constantly respect the inside run game. That makes him a key weapon even when he doesn’t have the ball.
The line: Covenant by 21. The Eagles are just too dynamic not to get this one.
St. Anne’s-Belfield (1-2) at Hampton Roads Academy (0-3), Friday 7 p.m.
The basics: STAB bounced back from a frustrating home loss to Covenant to beat Kenston Forest before its game with Virginia Episcopal was canceled due to weather. Now the Saints will look to shake off 14 days of being idle on the road against Hampton Roads Academy, who is still searching for its first win.
Key matchup: HRA’s front seven contends with STAB’s line led by Will Edelson. Edelson is one of the 8-man game’s top linemen, and the Saints are going to run behind him until teams stop them from doing it. That makes the equation simple for the defense but still a challenge to overcome.
Who to watch: STAB’s Thomas Harry. The Saints’ signal-caller has proven to be their most productive threat on the ground, rushing for 160 yards against Kenston Forest on just 10 carries, and with Amani Woods also getting going on the ground, Harry should have room to run. Look for another big outing from the Saints’ quarterback.
The line: STAB by 14. The Saints shouldn’t have much trouble here.
Blue Ridge (1-2) at Bishop O’Connell (0-3), Saturday 1 p.m.
The basics: Beating Flint Hill was going to take a near perfect effort if the Barons stayed healthy, but injuries piled up quickly and now the Barons find themselves sitting at 1-2 about to hit the road. While O’Connell has been a formidable opponent over the years, an 0-3 record and a 38-7 loss to Collegiate means they’re vulnerable. If the Barons can get the offense clicking and get the array of weapons they have pointed in the right direction, this could be a huge win for them.
Key matchup: Blue Ridge’s secondary takes on Bishop O’Connell’s Jahmal Banks. Banks had a big outing against Trinity with 123 yards on seven catches. The Barons counter with Sam Fort, Prophecy Kisamore and Xavier Kane, all capable of covering most any offensive threat the opposition can throw at them.
Who to watch: Blue Ridge’s Icesys Lewis. Lewis was a major catalyst against Hargrave and he’s a tremendous playmaker when the Barons do find a way to get the ball in his hands. Can they get it to him early and often in this one? It would give the offense a huge spark.
The line: Blue Ridge by 7. The Barons get an excellent shot at a road win here.
Orange County (1-2) at Charlottesville (0-4), 7 p.m.
The basics: The Hornets are coming off a disappointing showing on the road at Spotsylvania with a 34-7 loss. The Black Knights put up a solid fight but couldn’t get past Western Albemarle in a 31-21 loss. This has the opportunity for the winner of this game to make a solid pivot point. If Orange came out of this at 2-2 it’d be pretty content, and obviously 3-1 would be closer to expectations, but 2-2 is a lot better than 1-3. Charlottesville, just like Orange, expected to compete in the mix in the JD and while its out of district schedule is tough, this team just needs one win to get things rolling. The Black Knights don’t have a bye week until mid-October before facing Louisa County. That’s a nicely placed bye week and gives Charlottesville the opportunity to head into that bye with a potential 4-game winning streak with Orange, Powhatan, Fluvanna and Albemarle on the slate — all teams the Black Knights have beaten in the recent past. These two teams are a lot alike right now. That’s going to provide equal opportunity for a great back-and-forth kind of game.
Key matchup: Orange County’s Jaylen Alexander vs. Charlottesville’s Sabias Folley. They are both the respective most valuable players for their teams. They play the same positions as running backs and occasional linebacker. Both are downhill runners and tacklers. Both are lead-by-example types, particularly in the example they set by grinding out physical plays. If they wind up cancelling out, that would surprise very few, and also set the table for a great game. So which offensive line can find a way to open up the holes to let Alexander or Folley get a head of steam that makes them absolute steam rollers? Which of these two can provide their consistent play at running back and find a way to make a difference as a defender? We’re going to find out.
Who to watch: Orange County’s quarterback Walker Johnson. The junior played against Spotsylvania after missing a healthy chunk of the second half against Eastern View with an arm injury. After a great opening game against Culpeper, the passing game hasn’t been the same in the two weeks since. With Kyrie Carter and Chris Washington as pass catching options, Orange has an opportunity here. While the Black Knights are going to ground and pound it out offensively, the Hornets have the ability to make the Charlottesville defense play honest with seven or eight in the box instead of nine all focused on Alexander and the run game. But that requires giving Johnson time to get down field and the sophomore finding the kind of rhythm and consistency we saw in week one.
The line: Orange by 1. The Hornets’ ability to pass and run makes the difference here if they can limit the turnovers.
William Monroe (0-4) at Madison County (0-4), 7 p.m.
The basics: If you wanted to make a rivalry game more intense, both the Dragons and Mountaineers did their part last week to do so. The Dragons suffered a rough 44-6 loss to an 0-3 Broadway team last week after playing Fort Defiance tough the week before. The Mountaineers had a solid 21-7 lead going into halftime with Fluvanna County only to get dropped 57-35 after getting outscored 35-0 in the third quarter. Last year these two were in the exact same situation looking for their respective first wins. The Dragons picked up a 30-19 victory. In the offseason both teams basically returned their entire lineups. So is this game set up to be a repeat of last year or has Madison made the necessary improvements to beat Monroe for the first time since 2012?
Key matchup: The Dragons’ linebacking corps takes on Madison quarterback Elijah Lewis. The Mountaineers quarterback has an arm, has the height, the size and more than enough agility as a runner to be a problem. He gave Fluvanna County fits last week, particularly as a passer before turnovers started to mount up. Monroe has seen a similar quarterback in Monticello’s Malichi Fields. The Dragons had their issues with Fields as a runner. With the talent that Monroe has in its secondary, it would do well to do what Fluvanna did and focus on Lewis in the run game and hope that man coverage on the edge with a safety in the middle is enough to get the job done. If linebacker Zach Miller and the crew in the middle can keep Lewis from big gains on the ground, the Dragons will get a solid edge. That said, Monroe can’t sleep on receivers Nick Messineo and Sam Estes.
Who to watch: Monroe’s Jaekwon Wayne. The Dragons need their most athletic player to be that on both sides of the ball and make heady decisions. He needs to be on the field, and a senior leader for this team to turn things around. As a receiver, defensive back and special teams return man, Wayne is always just one move away from taking the ball to the endzone. Monroe has a lot of energy as a team but needs a spark plug to get it going. Wayne has the ability to be that surge provider in all three facets of the game. Obviously he needs a healthy quarterback in Alex Kinsey (who also needs to get the proper protection) to help make the big throws on offense, but his defense at corner and return game on punts and kickoffs give him an opportunity to shine on his own too if Kinsey isn’t able to go.
The line: Monroe by 4. The Dragons have a little bit of a size advantage and a winning streak in the rivalry on their side. But if Monroe doesn’t respect the improvements Madison has made its getting set up an upset win in front of Mountaineer crowd that would be all too into it.
Monticello (1-2) at Fluvanna County (2-1), 7 p.m.
The basics: The Mustangs fell for the second straight week, this time to Spotswood at home 35-14. The Flucos rallied big in the third quarter to erase a deficit with Madison to win 57-35 last week. It’s been a long time since Fluvanna had a better record than Monticello coming into this meeting. The Mustangs are 16-3 all time against the Flucos and have won 16 straight. That should be easy fuel for Fluvanna to tap into, but just because Monticello is coming off losses to Turner Ashby and a solid Spotswood team does not mean that this Mustangs team is easily tamable. While this might be closer than in years past with the Flucos rounding out a deeper roster, the Mustangs still have a lot going for them.
Key matchup: The Fluvanna defensive line takes on Monticello’s offensive front. This game could be as simple as can the Flucos get a push against Tayshaun Minor and Trent Lloyd up front. Malachi Fields is a dangerous quarterback, and wide receiver Trenton Johnson has been as good as any in the area in the first third of the season. Stopping Fields on the ground will require the Flucos to be very diligent in not over pursuing the swift running sophomore. But last week Fluvanna’s secondary almost had more than it could handle with Madison but were rescued by turnovers. The Flucos need less of a bend but don’t break approach and more of a big game from its defensive line.
Who to watch: Fluvanna running back Demetrez Christmas. On just 16 carries Christmas almost racked up 300 yards last week… in the second half alone. He also had a game changing 75-yard kickoff return to start the second half. Having Christmas as a reliable runner is a game changer for the Flucos if he can channel even half that yardage against Monticello. With Prophet Harris also in the backfield, Fluvanna has a nice 1-2 punch here. If they can keep the Monticello offense on the sidelines, that will go a long ways. Fluvanna needs big plays from Christmas, but even just moving the chains for sustained drives will make a big difference.
The line: Monticello by 6. The Mustangs experience and size on both sides of the line should give them the edge, but this is the wrong year for Monticello to take Fluvanna for granted.
Nottoway (1-2) at Buckingham (1-3), 7 p.m.
The basics: The Cougars had themselves a solid first half against an unbeaten Goochland squad only to get worn down and give up 16 unanswered points in the second and fall 30-13. For the second straight week, the Knights are left wondering what if as they could very easily be 3-1, following its close loss with Amelia two weeks ago with a 14-7 defeat in overtime to Central Lunenburg. Nottoway has been a thorn in Buckingham’s side the last two years and are coming off a 7-4 campaign that put the Cougars in the playoffs before they fell in a nailbiter to Amelia. Which Nottoway squad is showing up here, the one that beat Greenville in week one or the one that was trounced by Gretna? The one that played Goochland tough in the first half or was run over in the second half. To that same token, does Buckingham have a healthy roster this week or is it still shorthanded?
Keymatchup: The Knights’ front eight against the Chargers rushing attack. Devonte Booth is the heart and soul of this offense. He had 138 yards on 19 carries against Greensville and mustered up 136 yards on 30 carries against a very, very talented Goochland defense. Gretna held him to 80 yards on 19 touches. Still, that’s 374 yards on 69 touches for an average of 5.4 yards per carry. Buckingham will be counting on Thomas Test, Garrett Hafley and Cole Edmundston to get a solid push up front and then a linebacking corps led by Walter Edwards and QT Stanton to keep Booth in check. He accounts for so much of this Cougar offense that if the Knights can just keep him to 100 yards they’ll be in great shape. Easier said than done though.
Who to watch: Buckingham’s Walter Edwards on offense. Where’s he going to be this week? Is he playing at quarterback? He did so last week. Is Gerry Toney back? Do the Knights put him back at quarterback? The early season injury is clearly taking its toll on Buckingham as continuity at quarterback has been hard to come by. Edwards led the Knights to a 7-0 lead in the fourth quarter, but this team is a lot better when he’s at running back on offense and Toney gets a handful of touches at quarterback. If Edwards is back at quarterback, can he get in a rhythm with Xavier Copeland, the team’s standout receiver? The Knights have a lot of questions on offense and against a pretty good Nottoway team.
The line: Nottoway by 3. The Knights could swing this into a win if they come in a full roster and limit the mistakes that plagued them against Amelia and Central.
St. Stephen’s-St. Agnes (2-1) at Fork Union (0-3), 3:30 p.m.
The basics: The Saints are coming off a 51-0 over Phelps A.C.E. to bounce back from a 17-7 loss to St. Christopher’s. The Blue Devils had their hands full for a third straight week in a 44-16 loss to a vaunted Benedictine squad. While SSSA is no slouch, this is the break in Fork Union’s schedule after playing Goochland, Bulls and Benedictine who are all undefeated right now. The good news for the Blue Devils is that there were able to put up 14 points against Benedictine. The other good news is that the same St. Christopher’s team that beat this Saints squad also fell to Woodberry Forest. So the Blue Devils are likely to a lot more competition for SSSA than Phelps or week one opponent Paul VI.
Key matchup: The Fork Union secondary takes on Saints quarterback Rob Montgomery. The sophomore quarterback has a pair of receivers to work with between Malcolm Johnson and Quinten Staples. With Larry Elder and Will Stupalsky leading the way as defensive backs, the Blue Devils have experience and athleticism to work with. They’ll be tasked with limiting Johnson and Staples to moderate gains and with a healthy pass rush from William Henry and the boys up front, they might get a chance to create some turnovers.
Who to watch: Fork Union’s Drue Hackenberg. The sophomore had a pretty nice showing taking the bulk of snaps at quarterback going 14-for-22 with 142 yards and no interceptions. He also had eight carries for 42 yards. Settling in at quarterback has been a process but if Hackenberg becomes the primary quarterback, it should open up the door for Kenyon Carter to become an athlete at large and really open the playbook for the Blue Devils.
The line: Fork Union by 1. This was a close one last year with the Saints winning by two. The Blue Devils should be able to piece things together at home after the gauntlet of giants they’ve faced in the first three weeks.
Landon, MD (3-0) at Woodberry Forest (1-1), 2 p.m.
The basics: The Bears from Maryland are coming in hot after a 33-7 win over Boys Latin, their third straight win by 26 or more this year. Also their third straight opponent they’ve held to single digits, but who are they? More on that later. The Tigers bounced back from an overtime loss to Charlotte Latin by beating St. Christopher’s 31-28 to get a head start on trying to reclaim a Prep League title that was regularity for the better part of the last decade. This is the first time these two have met since 2009. Woodberry, then led by Ed Reynolds who went to an All-Pac 12 career at Stanford before playing in the NFL, had one loss that year — Landon, in overtime. These two schools are old, forever old and with a lot of proud traditions. Interesting side note, Maury Povich went to Landon. So there’s that on top of the Tigers trying to improve to 2-1 against a really good Bears squad that has a solid defense and an opportunistic offense.
Key matchup: Woodberry’s pass rush against Landon quarterback Kino Lilly. He’s nimble but Lilly is a pass first, pass mostly quarterback. He’s been pretty solid in three games. He had 157 yards and four touchdowns in the air against St. Mary’s in week two. He was 7-for-11 with a pair of touchdowns last week against Boys Latin. He has a reliable running back in Zayd Delane that will force Woodberry to put eight men in the box. As such, when the Bears look to Lilly to go for the jugular, the Tigers need Bill Clark and John Harris in the backfield giving him happy feet. If Woodberry can make this game one dimensional by keeping Lilly to handing the ball off to Delane the game gets a lot easier to solve.
Who to watch: Woodberry’s Ben Locklear. The Tigers quarterback had himself a day at quarterback on the road last week. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. He got his big play threat in Dequece Carter going with a 60-yard TD. He also hit up his biggest target in Kyle Bilodeau with a redzone touchdown. Locklear looks comfortable and he’s getting the ball in the hands of his most reliable playmakers. That is a great sign in just the second week for a first year starter at quarterback.
The line: Woodbery by 6. Going to have to side with strength of schedule here. The Bears first three opponents are a combined 1-8. The Tigers have played two reliably good teams that are 4-2-1 right now.