Woodberry Forest (0-0) at Fork Union (1-4), 2:30 p.m. Friday
The Basics: Wait, it’s early November and Woodberry Forest and Fork Union are squaring off on a Friday afternoon in football? This almost feels a little normal. The Tigers and Blue Devils often play games late in the regular season with Prep League title implications and, for the Blue Devils, state playoff berths on the line. That won’t be the case in this one, but make no mistake, there’s a lot of pride on the line here for both squads. Fork Union has managed to get in five games this year, dropping the last four, the last three of them by a single score. They’ve shown flashes of their form from a year ago that boosted them to a campaign that ended a state playoff berth drought, but haven’t been able to put together a complete game yet. They’ll likely need to put that together against a Woodberry team that has been champing at the bit to get into a real game. The Tigers played a scrimmage against Blue Ridge a couple of weeks ago, but a cancellation resulted in not having a game against North Cross (who the Blue Devils have faced twice this year) and set the table for Friday’s clash with Fork Union to be the Tigers’ season opener and possibly season finale, though nothing this fall is set in stone as the schedules have repeatedly proven. The Tigers are bringing what should be a potent offense to the table with Ben Locklear back at quarterback, Donovan Baker back at running back and emerging threat Landon Ellis at wideout. Paired with a young but talented defense that includes Connor Lessane and Caleb Hodges in the secondary, the Tigers looked poised prior to fall cancellations to be a stout squad even with Navy committment Jianni Woodson-Brooks likely not playing. Now they’ll get a shot at a game on a muddy track at Fork Union. The Blue Devils counter with Alex Williams and V’Jon Hampton in the backfield, with Hampton having a little trouble getting going lately after a fast start to the year against St. Michael back in September. Opposing squads have been loading up against the run a little and Fork Union needs to find a way to take the top off the defense. Myles Garrett, who had a one-handed scoring snag and another slant and run for a touchdown a week ago against North Cross after working his way back on to the roster might be part of the answer. We’ll see pretty quickly whether the seasoning of a few games or the anticipation of playing delayed repeatedly will give the Tigers or the Blue Devils an edge.
Key Matchup: Fork Union’s offensive line takes on a talented young defensive line for the Tigers. Led by Aaron Reese, FUMA’s offensive line has some experience and at times has shown an ability to open holes and creases for V’Jon Hampton on the ground. The Blue Devils though will likely need their best performance of the year against a talented defensive front led by a pair of sophomores, Joel Brutus and Rodney Lora. Brutus checks in at more than 300 pounds in the middle and can move (he had a pick six in a scrimmage) while Lora is around 280 pounds and can lock down the edge (he tipped the ball that led to Brutus’ pick six). Lora’s older brother Derek played for the Tigers and now plays for Monmouth. The young defensive lineman will get a chance to show out against Fork Union, and that could be an excellent springboard into whenever the Tigers get a chance to play football again.
Who to watch: Woodberry’s wideouts. Sophomore Landon Ellis showed some early flashes last year as a freshman and has taken a step forward as he unofficially had seven catches for 165 yards and two scores against Blue Ridge in the Tigers’ scrimmage. Ellis beat defensive backs on a hitch, an out, a fade, a deep corner and a tunnel screen, so he’s got an array of routes in his arsenal while also showing big-time ability to adjust and go get the ball in the air or when the play breaks down. Meanwhile, Canadian national team member Xavier Gaillardetz is a 6-feet-0, 190-pound junior and has drawn some rave reviews.
The line: Woodberry by 7. The Tigers have some offensive firepower and an promising defense. That should be enough to pull off a win on the road.