Region 3B Championship Game: No. 2 James Monroe (9-3) at No. 1 Goochland (11-1), Saturday 2 p.m.
The Basics: This felt like the matchup we were going to see weeks ago as the Region 3B playoff picture came into focus. Two programs with a lot of pride, a lot of success and some serious athletes in the mix. While there are a lot of similarities between the two teams, with talented mobile quarterbacks and ballhawking secondaries, they took different paths to this point. The No. 2-seeded Jackets soldiered through the Battlefield District, earning a share of the district crown against some particularly tough squads like Eastern View and Spotsylvania while shaking off three-straight early season losses to higher division opponents to win seven straight coming into this one. Goochland survived a battle royale with Buckingham in week two to start the James River District slate and then just crushed the rest of its schedule, rolling to a 9-1 record on the season. The Bulldogs kept that going with romps over Independence and Skyline in the first two rounds of the playoffs and now they’ll have to level up quickly with the Jackets coming to town. James Monroe has flipped the script on a rare (like first losing season since a 4-6 campaign in 2001 rare) down year in 2018 with this year’s campaign so we’re talking about two teams with similar success since the turn of the century. It’s two hard-nosed defenses, with Devin McCray and Kindrick Braxton leading the Bulldogs while Jordan Hall, Aidan Ryan and Jack Hardy (two picks last week) leading defenses that give up just 10.4 points per game and 17.8 points per game respectively. This one may came down to which offense can find a crease or make that one huge play, because points should be hard to come by. If both teams are locked in, this one has the potential to be a classic.
Key Matchup: Goochland’s stingy front seven tries to contain James Monroe’s Aidan Ryan. Ryan is an extremely dangerous dual threat athlete at quarterback. While he projects more as a defender at the next level, he’s a modern high school quarterback playing in a multiple offense, attacking defenses in different sets, from different angles as a runner. He gets the ball out quick on a lot of plays but can also attack defenses deep. In short? Ryan makes you defend the entire field. Goochland’s defenders in the front seven, whether it’s Will Bratton or Kindrick Braxton or Anthony Holland, will have to play smart football. The Jackets run some creative designed runs for Ryan and because of that can trick linebackers into some real problems with receivers running open on intermediate routes, and guys like Dimario Brooks for the Jackets can take it to the house after the catch. This is a tough matchup requiring a disciplined approach.
Who to watch: Goochland’s C.J. Towles. It doesn’t seem possible that Towles is just a sophomore. He has packed an incredible amount of productive football into these last two years, and feels more like a veteran presence than a still young talent, but sure enough, he’s in the class of 2022. He was a hero in this round a year ago as he took over at quarterback after injuries caused a reshuffling in the backfield and he led the Bulldogs to a trouncing of East Rockingham. Last week against Skyline he was an absolute monster, going 6-for-7 for 115 yards and two touchdowns and added a pair of huge picks on defense, returning one for 60 yards and another for 90 yards, the 90-yarder a pick six. Opposing defenses and offenses have to account for Towles, a ballhawk, who isn’t going to sweat a big game in a big spotlight — he’s seen it all at this point and he’s just getting started.
The Line: Goochland by 1. The Bulldogs get the edge because they’re at home, but otherwise this one should be a push.