Episcopal (5-3) at Woodberry Forest (5-3), Saturday 2 p.m.
The basics: This is number 118. 58-50-9 in favor of the Tigers. Every year it’s a true toss up, even when the records don’t line up. Well this year, things look awfully even. Woodberry had a nice streak of five in a row against Episcopal from 2008 until 2013. Then a perfect season in 2014 was marred with a loss to the Maroon and things have been crazy interesting since then. In 2015, the Tigers and the Maroon played in a rare tie with Episcopal offering in the handshake line to throw out the unwritten rule book of “The Game” and play in overtime. The players wanted it, both coaches were tempted. Tradition won out. In 2016, Woodberry throttled Episcopal in Clint Alexander’s last game as coach. Last year, Episcopal dominated the first half and held on for a 21-7 win to send out coach Panos Voulgaris with a win in his last game at the school. Woodberry coach Scott Braswell learned just how crazy the week before and the build up to “The Game” is last year. This year, it’s Episcopal first year coach Mark Moroz’s turn to find out what it’s like to be at the reins on one half of this absolute crazy rivalry. A lot of pieces have changed at the top in this clash. A lot of roster turnover has taken place on both sides. The bottom line is that this rivalry is going through a bit of a renaissance, the vibe is different. But not that different. These schools have in the past, do currently and always will have a healthy dislike of the other. It’s a real “these colors don’t run” kind of game which has managed to persist ever since William McKinley was in office as President. The Tigers are coming off a 27-17 win over Fork Union to wrap up a fifth straight Prep League title. The Maroon are trying to shake off a a three game losing streak after a 17-14 loss to Landon last week, a team that Woodberry fell to 47-37 in the last week of September.
Key matchup: Episcopal’s secondary against the Woodberry Forest receiving corps. This is strength on strength. Litchefield Ajavon leads a secondary and a defense that’s held every single opponent to fewer than 25 points. The Tigers have scored 20 or more points in all their games but one (a 13-6 win over Trinity Episcopal) and have averaged 27 points per game. Something has to give there. Woodberry rolls the to beat of quarterback Ben Locklear’s arm. Locklear threw for over three hundred yards last week despite the Tigers missing the core of their receivers. With DeQuece Carter back in the mix, he has his favorite target. Carter has been good for 150 yards in the air almost every game he’s played the last two seasons. Kyle Bilodeau is a monster tight end that has had his best season as a receiver this year. George Pettegrew has battled injuries but is a threat. And then Asa McManamy? Two touchdowns last week put the freshman into the mix as a dangerous threat. The bottom line is that Woodberry is a pass first team but rightfully so because they have the right mix of talent with their receivers and then a quarterback that’s really come into his own. The Maroon will have to scheme well in the secondary and apply a great pass rush to keep Locklear from getting the Tigers to that 27 points per game average.
Who to watch: Woodberry’s defensive front. The Tigers have deployed a 3-2 attack that’s allowed its linebackers and secondary to simply fly to the ball. With John Harris and Bill Clark and Davis Smith leading the attack on the line, it’s allowed Logan Bowers and the Quebecois Conquerir in Mathieu Pelletier to be a linebacking corps to develop into offensive coordinator’s nightmare as they can blitz or defend the pass and fake both at the line of scrimmage. With Jax Hill back in the secondary and healthy this defense has really come together these last few weeks into a total unit. But it’s the big boys up front that set the tone and Bill “Big Body” Clark who has a way of making an impact, firing up this front and allowing the Woodberry offense to ride the momentum as of late.
The line: Woodberry by 1. The Tigers have lightning in a bottle right now on both sides of the ball but they know this will be a knock down drag out war as it always is. That’s par for the course in “The Game.”