Class 2A Championship, Goochland (14-0) vs. Graham (13-1), Saturday, Salem Stadium, 4 p.m.
The basics: Here we are, the last week of the football season. It’s been quite the journey for both these teams. The Bulldogs got here by earning the No. 1 seed in Region 2A, holding serve at home (with only one game in Goochland and the other two at Fluvanna County because of field conditions) before hitting the road to face another unbeaten No. 1 seed, Region 2B’s East Rockingham. The Bulldogs trailed early but fought back to take the lead quickly in the second quarter and never surrendered it. Goochland won each quarter with East Rock in an effort that saw the defense do what it’s done all year and the offense find a nice rhythm in one of those classic, all-around team wins. Graham has been through an interesting path for the No. 3 seed out of Region 3D. They’ve won each playoff game by 21 points or more and the 57-13 beatdown of unbeaten Region 2C No. 1 seed Radford sets the tone for this one. With Goochland taking down a team that a good number of people thought would win the state title last week and Graham doing the same to the other team a lot of people thought would be other most likely championship team, what we have here are a pair of gritty defensive teams with different styles offensively. This is Goochland’s third game in Salem with a state title on the line since 2011. This is Graham’s first trip to a title game. Winter weather might be a factor here, which… yeah, sure why not? It has been that kind of year.
Key matchup: Graham’s defensive front seven against the Goochland offensive line. It will be up to defensive end Nick Dimarzo and linebacker Nick Kastner to find a way to keep Goochland’s backfield to two yards per carry instead of three. The Bulldogs aren’t coming in with much that’s a secret here. Devin McCray, Connor Popielarz and Quincy Snead are going to be running the wing-T like they’ve know how to do for years. They’re going to do it behind the blocking of seniors Jacob Massey, Tyler May and Justin Hawk and juniors Connor Duncan and Leshon Washington. This offensive line had its best week of practice last week according to coach Alex Fruth and it showed against East Rockingham. If this group can do what it did last week, consistently sealing the edge and getting up field and moving the pile, Goochland gets to dictate the flow of this game.
Who to watch: The quarterbacks. Cam Allen is a great dual threat quarterback for the G-Men that is headed to play at Purdue. He had five touchdowns last week, three in the air for 30 yards or more and then another two on the ground. How that plays in the cold weather will be interesting. With seniors Kindrick Braxton and Sam Brooks at linebacker the Bulldogs have a pair that can be great in the pass rush but also in coverage as both have interception returns for touchdowns this year. Flipping the coin, Goochland has both junior Devin McCray and freshman CJ Towles to work with at quarterback. Both are slippery runners, elusive. While it will be the ground game that both contribute most to, both might be called upon to go for the jugular and get a deep ball to Perry Snead-Johnson. That was the script two weeks ago with Poquoson. Last week, the Bulldogs only had nine yards passing and won by double digits. So while Goochland knows full well what to expect (and in a scary way) from Cam Allen, the counter to that is that Graham’s defense has to be alert about McCray and Towels because their roles as passers will be a mystery all game long.
The line: Goochland by 1. It’s going to be cold and there’s a team that’s great defensively and loves to run the ball? The Bulldogs are 39-2 dating back to the start of the 2016 season. This senior class has one thing left to do and has shown just how hungry they are to do it, these past two weeks especially. There’s been a serious build up for this group to get to this game. Now they’re here.