Albemarle (2-6) at Charlottesville (0-9), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: This is kind of the frustration bowl. Charlottesville has endured so many injuries and frustrations this season that have prevented the Black Knights from even figuring out exactly what they could be this year. Albemarle is coming off a game they felt like they were robbed of against Western Albemarle. Which team can shake off the rest of the year or last week will likely determine this one. It’s about focusing on what’s next, and with a couple of wins worth of confidence in their tank and playoff seeding to play for, Albemarle has the most motivation to get on track. Of course, this one also has the rivalry element, two schools separated by just a couple of miles, so a lot of this is about pride. It’s the kind of win that would help Charlottesville forget about the previous nine losses at least for a night too. This one matters for a lot of emotional reasons. Look for both squads to open up the entire playbook.
Key matchup: Albemarle’s front seven takes on Charlottesville’s triple option. Banged up or not, Charlottesville’s option approach necessitates that teams play responsibility football. If you don’t, it won’t matter who’s carrying the ball for the Black Knights, they’ll find plenty of running room. Jake Rombach is a force up front though and he could be a difference maker on the edge in this one.
Who to watch: Albemarle’s Robert Jones. If you don’t think this guy is going to be hungry this week after his near-miss at a game-tying touchdown, you’re crazy. Jones, a senior, has proven particularly adept at catching slants from Jake King and turning them into solid gainers, look for a few of those against the Black Knights.
The line: Albemarle by 14. The Patriots exorcise some demons against the Black Knights.
Western Albemarle (4-4) at Louisa County (8-0), Friday 7:30 p.m.
The Basics: This looked to be the game of the year in the preseason, but then expectations shrunk…now it’s back to looking like a pretty solid matchup after three straight wins by the Warriors. Western’s Austin Shifflett is in a groove similar to the one he got into as a sophomore and the rest of the offense is following along with him. They played solidly down the stretch against Albemarle in a game that took a couple of fortuitous breaks to finish with a win. Louisa, meanwhile showed it can close the door even when the Lions get challenged. Against Fluvanna, the Flucos went toe-to-toe with the Lions right up until Jarett Hunter picked off a pass late in the first half and raced 70 yards for a touchdown. That’s what makes Louisa particularly tough to knock off — they simply don’t give an inch. You can hardly make a mistake against them because they’ll make you pay nearly every single time. They essentially require opposing teams to play perfectly to get a win. It’s the Platonic ideal of a football team in a lot of ways — you’ve got to beat Louisa because they’re certainly not going to beat themselves. Not with the way they’re locked in on offense and defense right now. Louisa coach Will Patrick said it best — “the key is to get this thing peaking at the right time.” We’re entering the time of year where we’re going to find out if Louisa has accomplished that.
Key matchup: Western’s offensive line takes on Louisa’s incredible depth in the trenches. The Lions boast an array of impact defensive linemen, even when they were stuck playing without Derrick Barbour for a couple of weeks, senior Andrew Rowe stepped in and played extremely well. Adrain Williams and Qwenton Spellman are both big time players as well, and with the pack of rangy, fast linebackers behind them, Louisa’s front seven is just a massive challenge. Western’s offensive line has improved steadily this year and has had some breakthrough games of late like the Fluvanna clash. But blocking the Lions is a different animal, they’re going to have to take a leap forward to get the job done.
Who to watch: Louisa County’s Buck Hunter. It seems like every few games Buck Hunter comes up with some big catch or catch and run for the Lions. He’s due right now for one of those game changers, and while he’s drawing some serious attention from opposing secondaries, he’s got the skills to make it happen. While he’s biding his time, he’ll face the challenge of trying to lock down Western’s skilled wideouts like Breaker Mendenhall and Will Mitchell at cornerback.
The line: Louisa County by 17. The Warriors have improved drastically, but it is a tall task for any team to try and win in the Jungle.
Fluvanna County (4-4) at Orange County (3-5), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: This one is absolutely huge for both Fluvanna County and Orange County. Win here and either team could find itself in the playoffs. Lose and it’s about to get very tough to wedge your way into the postseason. Expect this one to have the atmosphere of a playoff game because it essentially is an eliminator. The Flucos are in seventh in Region 3C which gets them in while Orange is 11th in Region 4B, which leaves them on the outside looking in. This will likely come down to who can impose their style and will on the opposition. Can Fluvanna melt the clock and hold on to the ball while getting a few timely, explosive plays from the electric Kobe Edmonds? Can Orange find the same balanced attack it has enjoyed of late with Walker Johnson starting to heat up at the quarterback spot with some massively improved play? That’s really the key here — who can score because both defenses have been pretty solid of late. Fluvanna is going to have to get back on track after three straight losses to accomplish that. Orange just needs to keep the current momentum going.
Key matchup: Fluvanna County’s offensive line takes on Orange’s defensive line. The Flucos’ experience lies largely in the trenches, and at times it has looked like an elite group led by Walt Stribling, moving the ball at will. But lately, Fluvanna has struggled to get things moving without Edmonds taking off from the quarterback spot. Can the Fluvanna offensive line get things going in the right direction against the Hornets?
Who to watch: Orange County’s Jaylen Alexander. This is the kind of game with so much on the line where a team’s best players have to play big-time. Fluvanna is likely to stack the box and essentially dare Orange to throw, but Alexander is going to have to find some running room. Luckily for the Hornets he’s pretty adept at this. He hasn’t picked up more than 5,000 yards over his career by accident. Look for a strong outing by Alexander.
The line: Orange by 7. The Hornets have figured a lot of things and they’re playing awfully well right now.
Fork Union (5-3) at Woodberry Forest (1-6), Saturday 2 p.m.
The Basics: Two of the area’s most dynamic offenses lock up in a battle that could determine a share of the Prep League crown with some help from other squads. The way we understand it, Fork Union and St. Christopher’s are 2-1 in the Prep League, Trinity Episcopal is 2-2, Collegiate is 1-2 and Woodberry is 1-2. If Collegiate and Woodberry beat St. Chris and FUMA respectively, everyone in the entire league will be 2-2. Yeah, it has been that kind of year in the Prep League. So, this one has some serious stakes just on those merits, but we’ve also got Woodberry trying to build some serious momentum going into their always highly-anticipated clash with Episcopal and Fork Union trying to solidify a VISAA Division I playoff spot. Both teams need this one in a bad way, so expect everyone to pull out all the stops. That could mean some serious trickeration, the time for leaving things off the tape is gone, this is a must have. Slowing down either offense is a tall task, but whoever can managed to get the defensive edge here is likely to find itself with a win. For FUMA, that’ll mean bottling up Woodberry running back Dononvan Baker and getting pressure on quarterback Ben Locklear. For Woodberry, that means finding some way to mark the Blue Devils’ fleet of speedy wideouts without opening up too much for V’Jon Hampton on the ground. This has the early makings at least of a shootout.
Key matchup: Woodberry’s Ben Locklear versus FUMA’s Alex Williams. These are the area’s two most productive passers, with Williams setting the pace with 1,813 yards and Locklear checking in with 1,610 yards. That should make for some serious fireworks Saturday as they go head-to-head. Williams appears to have an edge in big play receivers with Montigo Moss and Elijah Hawks averaging 26.7 and 16.4 yards respectively, but Locklear has found some chemistry with Staley Wideman and Luke Blundin of late.
Who to watch: Fork Union’s Carter Crawford. With 23 tackles, five sacks, nine TFLs and a forced fumble, Crawford has proven that interior defensive lineman can get in on the fun too rather than just eating up space and plugging holes. Crawford is a playmaker, and with Woodberry’s ground game starting to find a rhythm (Donovan Baker with 100 yards and three touchdowns last week), Crawford is going to need to play big time football along with Myles Brickhouse and Rockland Brown up front.
The line: Fork Union by 1. Woodberry gets a chance to prove they turned the corner last week, but Fork Union has won three straight for a reason.
Goochland (7-1) at Central Lunenburg (5-4), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: Goochland changed regions and moved up to Class 3, but one things hasn’t changed — late in the season the Bulldogs are on top of the region football ratings. Goochland sits at 7-1 and is slightly outpacing No. 2 James Monroe for the top spot in the Region 3B ratings. Now they’ll try and close the season with wins over Central Lunenburg and Bluestone and hope that they don’t get caught by the hard-charging Jackets. A quick glance at the records indicates this one might be close, but Central has won some shootouts with some teams that Goochland’s suffocating defense has, well, suffocated. Look for more of the same this week as the Bulldogs are giving up just a touchdown per game since surrendering 33 points to powerful Lafayette in the season opener.
Key matchup: Central Lunenburg’s run game takes on Goochland’s lights out defense. Much like Louisa County, the Bulldogs are more than the sum of their parts on defense. There are a number of elite players like Devin McCray on that side of the ball, but they’re mostly just rock solid at every spot, sound tacklers who can move all over the place, adjust and cause all kinds of issues for the opposing offense. This is a tough matchup for Lunenburg who has scored 32.0 points per game this season.
Who to watch: Goochland’s Dakhari Burgess. This is officially one of those years where the Bulldogs are getting the ground game going by committee, trusting a different hot hand each week to carry the load. Burgess is one of the best they have, and averages 8.7 yards per carry. He’s dangerous and slippery, and he’ll look to get loose or draw the attention of the opposing defense all night.
The line: Goochland by 21. The Bulldogs’ defense is just too much.
George Mason (4-4) versus William Monroe (4-4) at Albemarle, Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: Every game is critical for William Monroe, and the Dragons keep climbing the Region 3B ladder, where they now hold on to a home playoff game by a tenth of a point ahead of this game that was moved to Albemarle due to weather Thursday. Catching any of the three teams in front of them will be tough, but the Dragons could very well hold on to the four spot and get a first round home game. That gives them a lot to play for this week as they face a George Mason team that sits at No. 6 in Region 3B and is hoping to move up. The Mustangs lost to Skyline and Warren County, both teams the Dragons have beaten in the last few weeks. Monroe has established its identity — pound the rock and melt the clock — so if they can lean on that again this week they could be looking at solidifying their hold on the No. 4 slot in Region 3B.
Key matchup: Mason’s front seven tries to stop Dupree Rucker. It’s that simple every week against the Dragons, but you can know it and not come close to stopping the Dragons’ back in his tracks. Rucker rushed for another 265 yards on a whopping 37 carries last week. He now leads the area in rushing yards with 1,328 yards on the year. Mason has its work cut out for it.
Who to watch: William Monroe’s Logan Barbour. Call him the Monroe offense’s X-factor. When teams load up against stopping Dupree Rucker — and why wouldn’t you when he’s run for 200+ yards in multiple games — Barbour has the ability to make them pay. On end arounds or down the sideline as a receiver, Barbour can victimize defensive ends that don’t stay home or corners left on an island.
The line: Monroe by 6. Dragons get the edge because of common opponents and they’re at home, but this one could be tight.
Prince Edward (2-6) at Buckingham (7-1), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: Buckingham is flat out rolling right now, beating Amelia handily 37-6 last week for its sixth win in a row, vaulting them to No. 2 in the Region 2B rankings as part of a tight second tier cluster in that grouping that seems to fluctuate each week behind No. 1 Stuarts Draft. Now the Knights close out their regular season home slate with Prince Edward before going to Nottoway on the road next week. Every win is critical when you’re trying to hold on to a home game and favorable second round placement, so this is a big one for the Knights. Prince Edward’s defense has dropped off the last three weeks after playing Nottoway to a 14-6 loss. The Eagles have given up more than 50 points the last three weeks and now they face the Knights’ ground game that loves to impose its will on opponents. That doesn’t bode well for Prince Edward.
Key matchup: Prince Edward’s front seven looks to shut down Buckingham’s now three-headed run game. The emergence of Xavien Gough who has 293 yards and six TDs over the last four games at fullback, adds to the already potent duo of Tae Toney and Walter Edwards. That’s just trouble for defenses looking to slow down the Knights because they’ll have to stay honest against the fullback before trying to zero in on the quarterback and tailback.
Who to watch: Buckingham’s Demetrius Davis. Davis is having a major impact as a defender with 47 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks on the year. Davis gives the Knights another stopper on that side of the ball along with Walter Edwards, Cole Edmonston and Xavien Gough. This group is particularly tough to run against, and Davis is a big reason why.
The line: Buckingham by 21. The Knights keep cruising.
Rappahannock (1-7) at Madison County (0-8), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: It stacked up as another loss when Madison lost 82-52 to Page County, but make no mistake that was a breakthrough. The Mountaineers’ scored 52 points and went blow-for-blow with a Page team that’s pretty good, that’ll be in the playoffs in a couple of weeks. That’s a huge step for the Mountaineers confidence-wise and impressive that an offense that has been dormant at times is starting to find its stride. Head coach Jon Rasnick comes from an uptempo, high-flying spread background and it’s starting to show out in Madison. The only real question is can they make it two weeks in a row. They’ll face off against a Rapphannock team who’s offense has only produce 52 points all year and owns a single win, a 26-12 victory over Craig. Common opponent of Stonewall Jackson suggests Madison gets the edge as they lost in a close one to SJHS while Rapphannock got shut out 31-0. The Panthers have been shut out in four of their last five games.
Key matchup: Madison’s ground game versus Rapphannock’s front seven. The Mountaineers got a big-time performance from Isaiah Dowell a week ago as he scored three touchdowns on the ground, picking up 161 yards on just those three TD runs. If he keeps that going and the offense plays up to its potential in the passing game, Madison will give Rapphannock fits.
Who to watch: Madison’s Hugh Wingate. He’s played quarterback, he’s played receiver — Wingate has moved around for the Mountaineers and last week he moved around within the clash with Page, throwing for a touchdown to Khalid West while catching one from Jeremey Fox. If Wingate can give the Mountaineers a spark again, it could be a difference maker.
The line: Madison by 1. The Mountaineers found some offensive rhythm against Page and it pays off here.
VISFL Semifinals: VES (4-2) at STAB (6-1), Friday 6:30 p.m.
The Basics: STAB smoked Kenston Forest last week to get back in rhythm after the loss to Covenant two weeks ago, and now the Saints jump into the VISFL eight-man semifinals where they’ll get a rematch with Virginia Episcopal. STAB rolled 69-36 in the first meeting, a dominant offensive performance where the Saints led 37-8 at the end of the first quarter. Now STAB will face a squad that’s hungry for some payback, but the Saints seem to have too many weapons for VES to contend with led by Amani Woods, who has been impressive all year and averaged 10.6 yards per carry against the Bishops the last time out. STAB has a lot to play for after losing to Covenant as they’ll likely get a rematch with the Eagles in the VISFL final with a win.
Key matchup: STAB’s secondary takes on the VES passing attack. The Saints endured 66 passing attempts in the first meeting with the Bishops, which would make for an exhausting attack for any defense. The Saints gave up 341 yards and three passing scores to quarterback Tanner Nau, but picked him off four times with Nick Musi picking off a pair of passes to lead the ballhawking secondary. Can STAB similarly offset those gains with turnovers again in the rematch?
Who to watch: STAB quarterback Nolan Bruton. While the run game has been the Saints’ most reliable path to victory, Bruton had some solid success in the first meeting with VES early in October, throwing for 156 yards and two touchdowns. If he can put together a repeat performance, it’ll likely be a big factor in a win over the Bishops.
The line: STAB by 14. Saints earn their second shot at Covenant with a win here.
Bishop O’Connell (2-6) at Blue Ridge (6-3), Saturday 2 p.m.
The Basics: Blue Ridge is sitting in third place in VISAA’s Division II currently and if they want a shot at a home game in the state semifinals, this may very well be a must win. That’s looked easier a week ago than it does now because O’Connell found a rhythm against a pretty solid Bishop Ireton team last week on the road. The Barons, meanwhile, are coming off two straight losses, both to quality opponents in Roanoke Catholic and Goochland. This is an opportunity for the Barons to get back on the right track before the playoffs. If Blue Ridge can get locked in, the four-team field sets up nicely for them to get a shot at a rematch with North Cross in the title game. They only need to look back to 2016 for inspiration on that front, when they lost to North Cross in the regular season and promptly blew them out in the state championship game. Taking care of business against O’Connell though is the first piece of work that has to be done and that’s never an easy task against a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference squad. The Barons need to get everything going on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Kenyon Carter and explosive athletes Iceysis Lewis and Lance Gaskins. If Carter finds ways to get the ball in their hands, generally speaking good things happen.
Key matchup: Blue Ridge’s front seven takes on Bishop O’Connell’s Darius Brown. Brown rushed for 167 yards on 29 carries against Bishop Ireton in a big win last week. Now the Barons have to slow down the suddenly red hot back, and last week against Goochland’s ground attack, Blue Ridge struggled. Can they shore things up and find answer this week?
Who to watch: Blue Ridge’s Keenan Brock. Brock is the Barons’ leading rusher at 406 yards on the season. While the Barons’ passing game is the offense’s most dynamic threat, when the temperature starts to drop you’ve got to find some way to run the ball. Brock’s 8.0 yards per carry indicate he can shoulder more of the load.
The line: Blue Ridge by 1. The Barons could get back on track here and boost their VISAA playoff resume.
VISFL Semifinals: Greenbrier Christian (6-4) at Covenant (7-0), Saturday 1 p.m.
The Basics: It’s not very often that a team averages 60.3 points per game. Even given the fact that scores are often higher in 8-man football, averaging 60.3 a game in contests the Eagles actually played in is pretty wild. Now Covenant takes its unbeaten 7-0 mark into the postseason and they’ll run it right back from last week’s 58-14 win over Greenbrier to go at it again. Covenant is just cooking right now, with Nic Sanker and Jonas Sanker leading the way against mostly overmatched opponents. The Eagles haven’t slowed down yet and this doesn’t appear to be the week where that’ll happen either.
Key matchup: Greenbrier’s linebackers look to track Jonas Sanker. Every week teams have to try and devise some way to hem in Sanker at quarterback, and so far nobody has hit on a gameplan that works. Since Greenbrier gets a second look, can they find an answer? Signs so far this year points to know, Sanker has been essentially unstoppable this year, just like last year.
Who to watch: Covenant’s Alex Vangelopoulos. The Eagles’ defensive end forced a fumble last week on a pass rush against Greenbrier. That’s the kind of solid play we’ve come to expect from the senior who has also been a key part of the offensive line. If he can come up with another one of those impact plays this week it should give the Eagles a major boost.
The line: Covenant by 35. The Eagles haven’t been slowed down yet.