Region 4D Semifinals: Western Albemarle (10-1) at George Washington-Danville (8-1), 7 p.m.
The Basics: Let’s not even mess around. What Western Albemarle is doing right now is just flat out impressive. It wasn’t that long ago that the Warriors were basketball on grass, throwing the ball all over the place and looking to outscore opponents. Now, the Warriors are ground and pound on offense behind a stout offensive line while also leaning on a suffocating defense. It’s a remarkable transformation and it becomes an even more challenging bar to clear when sophomore quarterback Nathan Simon got injured, forcing Joey Burch behind center and out of the wideout spot he played well enough that he remains the Warriors’ leading pass catcher even though he’s been the quarterback since the Louisa game. That’s just not in any way an easy path to the Region 4D semifinals, and that’s good because it’s not getting any easier Friday night with a long road trip to George Washington-Danville. A storied program, George Washington-Danville boasts the likes of Virginia Tech legend David Wlson, UVa superstar Herman Moore and a couple of other NFL standouts in Ferrell Edmunds and Buddy Curry. But ghosts don’t get to play on Friday night, and George Washington’s prolific offense (40.1 points per game) will have to try and solve what Halifax couldn’t, Western’s suffocating defense. The Warriors have played sound, sound football the last few weeks, including locking up Halifax, especially on the ground. The secondary gave up some big chunk plays, but mostly they locked up in the air as well. There just aren’t a lot of obvious ways to beat the Warriors but Western also just barely survived a double overtime battle with Orange while George Washington just dropped Orange 63-21 in the first round of the playoffs. Western has to shake off the long road trip and be ready to go from the jump because they want no part of a shootout with the Eagles. Look for Western to try to impose its will.
Key Matchup: Western’s front seven takes on Donavan Howard. Howard is part wideout, part running back, all athlete. He scored four touchdowns against Orange County last week and he’s a challenge to contain because of the different ways George Washington uses him. Western’s Ross Bassett, Carson Tujague and Joshua Williams will have to do what they’ve done all year, play their keys, stay locked in and make sure someone knows exactly where Howard is on any given play.
Who to Watch: Western Albemarle’s Kyle Keyton. When the Warriors go to Rhino, their power set, right now Keyton is the guy with Dakota Howell hampered by an injury. Keyton is tough to bring down and just keeps plowing forward. Can he find enough creases to keep the Eagles from keying off of Kaden Morrow?
The Line: Western by 1. The Warriors have continued finding a way to win week in and week out. Do they have another one in them?
Region 4D Semifinals: Louisa County (9-2) at Salem (10-1), 7 p.m. Friday
The Basics: It wasn’t too long ago that this was a state title game back in 2017, with the Spartans prevailing. Now, through the wonders of VHSL realignment, this is now a Region semifinal game, with the Lions rolling in after cruising past E.C. Glass, suddenly snapping into form after dropping a late season game to Albemarle before bouncing back to beat Goochland. Louisa got it done with a familiar formula to the Mineral faithful: two ball-carriers going big yards to lead a strong rushing attack while the defense just kept coming up big in big moment after big moment. Salem has gone more than a month without being engaged in a close game, back on October 1 when they beat Christiansburg 24-7. Since then? They’ve won every game by at least three touchdowns. Louisa, on the other hand, is battle tested. Everyone knows how tough the Lions are at home, but going into E.C. Glass’ house and getting a win was cathartic for Louisa in a lot of ways, ending a string of first round playoff losses and proving emphatically, once again, that anytime the Lions show up on the schedule you’re in for a fight. Looking past Louisa just can’t be an option for anyone, including the Spartans. Look for Louisa to try and establish the run again and control the clock like they did against the Hilltoppers, with Landon Wilson picking up 268 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and Jordan Smith rushing for another 96 yards. Why wouldn’t you go to that gameplan again.
Key Matchup: Louisa County’s front seven takes on Salem’s balanced attack. The Spartans boast a 1,000-yard rusher in Cam Leftwich and a 1,000-yard passer in DaRon Wilson as well as multi-talented two-way starter Chauncey Logan, a JMU commit who has four picks on defense and another 700 plus yards on offense as a receiver. That’s a lot of firepower. The Lions dealt with some similarly dynamic pieces last week by just not letting them on the field very often by holding on to the ball on offense. But Salem’s balance has the potential to stress the Lions’ defense like few other units have this year. Last week the Lions’ defense was ruthlessly efficient on third and fourth downs. They’ll need to be very good there again to take care of business here and that starts with the core of Qwenton Spellman, Eli Brooks and Stephen Dean. That trio was lights out last week.
Who to Watch: Louisa County quarterback Landon Wilson. Come on, after what he did last week how is Wilson not the guy here? Wilson picked off a pass late as a defensive back and he rushed for 268 yards and he did mostly between the tackles and mostly on reads, perfectly manipulating the E.C. Glass defense much of the night to take the best option available play after play. That’s where Wilson’s mastery of the offense shines, that he rarely makes a wrong read and puts Louisa in a bad position. That’s a huge advantage in big games like this one, where it’s easy to try and do too much. Wilson believes in the system and he’s going to take what the defense gives him. If you’re going to beat Salem on the road, that’s a critical requirement.
The Line: Louisa County by 7. The Lions imposed their will on E.C. Glass last week. Can they do the same to the Spartans.
Region 3B Semifinals: Goochland (6-5) at Meridian (9-2), 7 p.m.
The Basics: This isn’t your typical Goochland march through a football season, but it’s week two of the playoffs and here the Bulldogs are, one win away from a region championship game appearance. Goochland rallied past Culpeper last week to earn a shot at Meridian, a Northwestern District squad that has a couple of quality wins, but is by no means a world-beater. This is a winnable game for the Bulldogs, especially if the version of Goochland that played against the Blue Devils shows up. Goochland was much more balanced offensively than they have been, with C.J. Towles rushing and throwing for over 100 yards in each category. The different in this one honestly might come down to program experience. This Bulldogs’ seniors aren’t far removed from playing in the state semifinals, and once you’ve gone toe-to-toe with Hopewell and Traeveyon Henderson, not a lot is going to spook you. So look for Goochland to certainly have its wits about it, Towles and company have been on some big stages and made some big plays. They’ve also gotten a chance to learn and improve their weaknesses this year more than any season in recent memory and there’s a good chance that has made them more ready to take on this challenge, going on the road to battle the Mustangs. If a program’s collective experience can make a difference, this is the game where it can happen.
Key Matchup: Goochland’s suddenly resurgent receiving corps and locked in secondary takes on Meridian’s two-way threat George Papadopoulos. The Mustangs’ senior defensive back and wideout had two forced fumbles last week to go with seven tackles and he came up with two touchdowns on offense, including one through the air. The Bulldogs played better football in the secondary and at receiver, but Papdopoulos will create some problems.
Who to Watch: Goochland’s Eyan Pace. Pace had four catches for 95 yards last week, giving the Bulldogs a threat in the passing game that immediately made transitioned them from one-dimensional — i.e. C.J. Towles has to create most of the offense from scratch — to multi-dimensional. That’s a huge step in the right direction for an offense that has struggled to find its footing at times this year. Throw in Derek Pierce’s long touchdown run and Jason Woodson’s game-winning touchdown catch and suddenly the Bulldogs have a lot more clicking offensively than they’d had this year.
The Line: Goochland by 1. The Bulldogs are starting to round back into shape after a roller coaster regular season.