Monticello (0-3) at Albemarle (2-1), Thursday 7 p.m.
The Basics: The last time these two locked up, it was an absolute thriller this spring, but a lot has changed since that Saturday in March, with Albemarle on the rise while the Mustangs look to rebuild after graduating a huge senior class. Now the Mustangs move into Jefferson District play after blowout losses to Rustburg, Wilson Memorial and Turner Ashby. The road is not going to get easier with Albemarle and Louisa back-to-back. There just aren’t any easy spots for the Mustangs to get back on track. Albemarle, meanwhile, is looking to bounce back from a 30-13 loss on the road to Patrick Henry-Roanoke that ended a run of two-straight impressive wins over Harrisonburg and William Fleming at home. This is a great test to see if Albemarle’s seasoned roster can compartmentalize, put two weeks ago in the past, and get back to what ignited them in the two wins to start the year, namely a sound, dynamic defense and a balanced offense. If they can rediscover that, they should be in control in this one.
Key Matchup: Monticello’s run defense locks up with the Patriots’ offensive line. Albemarle is seasoned up front and has a lot of players who play faster and bigger than their size, giving the Patriots a chance to run the ball well. They’ve also got Dalton Tate, a road grader at 6-foot-4, 290 pounds and tight end Kaleb Burtram, who’s a very capable blocker on the edge. The Patriots have been at their best with a two-headed monster in the backfield — think Jamal Thompson/J’Quan Anderson back in 2016. The Mustangs are facing that now and they’ve struggled already again the run so this is a big ask.
Who to Watch: Albemarle’s Amaje Parker. Resiliency is an underrated quality in a quarterback, and Parker gets to showcase his ability to respond for the first time here after a loss. Can the sophomore signal caller get the Patriots back on track? He won’t be doing it alone, not on a team with an impressive set of senior leaders including his backfield mate Eb McCarthy, but quarterback play is critical in situations like this.
The Line: Albemarle by 21. The Patriots should bounce back here in a big way.
Western Albemarle (3-0) at Goochland (2-1), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: It wasn’t totally clear what this matchup was going to look like going into the year, but it’s turned into a darn good early season brawl with some serious implications for both squads. It’s an opportunity for each team to pick up a needed quality win and will be a strong early indicator for a district race that’s deepening behind presumptive favorite Louisa County with Orange, Albemarle, the Warriors and the Bulldogs all playing well. The two teams are likely to see a little bit of themselves in the opposition Friday, with two strong defenses and two teams intent on imposing their will and controlling the clock with the ground game. It pits Goochland dual threat quarterback C.J. Towles and a revamped Goochland backfield against a Western defense that just shut out a Turner Ashby squad that hung 41 on Monticello the week before. The Bulldogs’ defense clamped down on Armstrong and King William and frankly held a dynamic Collegiate squad largely in check. Goochland’s re-entry into the Jefferson District increases the chances for some big-time early matchups in the JD slate, and in the opener it’s already paying dividends because this one has the chance to be a barnburner.
Key Matchup: Goochland’s ballhawking secondary takes on the Warriors’ opportunistic deep ball passing attack. Goochland has a lot of defensive backs capable of making plays. Eyan Pace is a usual suspect but Derek Pierce took a pick the other way for a touchdown last week in the win over Armstrong. While Western likes to control the clock on the ground, they’re not afraid to go vertical and take the top off the defense either, and with tight end Carson Tujague hauling in a 73-yard bomb from Nathan Simon last week and Joey Burch capable of winning jump balls, why wouldn’t you be comfortable? Simon’s arm strength, confidence and accuracy is improving seemingly by the week and the Bulldogs will have to respect that.
Who to Watch: Goochland’s Gabe Liptak. Liptak is starting to emerge as a threat on the ground, scoring twice last week against Armstrong. Can Liptak give the Bulldogs the reliable presence in the backfield they’re used to? As Turner Ashby found out last week, running on the edge at Tujague is often a non-starter. Can Liptak attack the middle of a seasoned Western defense and create some production?
The Line: Push. Two teams with solid ground games and defenses that just aren’t giving up many points. This one is strength on strength.
Charlottesville (1-3) at Louisa County (3-1), Friday 7:30 p.m.
The Basics: You start to get a feel that Louisa County is building to be ready to win in November. That’s not to say anything like they’re taking things for granted, but it’s more that after a string of several exits that Louisa surely feels like were premature, Louisa wants to make sure it’s ready for this postseason. They’re adding wrinkles, putting things on tape that are going to make opposing defenses think twice about loading the box (like a wheel route down the sideline to Jordan Smith from Landon Wilson). You’re going to almost surely have to defend the entire field to beat the Lions this year and that’s not always the case. On the flip side, Charlottesville is trying to rekindle some of that magic they had three weeks ago against James Monroe after dropping games to Orange County and Spotswood. The Jungle is a tough place to find your mojo, but when the Black Knights are healthy, they can be a handful for anyone. Getting healthy and finding focus has been the stumbling block so far.
Key Matchup: Charlottesville’s run game versus the Louisa front seven. Polo Hill, Caldwell Boyles and Eddison Duolo when he’s healthy are all legitimate threats to pick up big yards on the ground for the Black Knights. But the Lions’ front seven of Qwenton Spellman, Eli Brooks, Stephen Deane and company is just a major challenge to sort out for opposing offensive lines and the backs behind them. You can throw a double team at Spellman or Brooks at the point of attack, but the Lions play gap responsibility well and bouncing it outside is tough because of their speed and how well the defensive backs help. It’s easy to get frustrated against the Lions and the Black Knights, who are heavy on the ground game, have to avoid that frustration.
Who to Watch: Louisa’s Austin Talley. Talley had a huge night against Fluvanna County with 10 carries for 144 yards and a touchdown. The Lions are adept at developing offensive playmakers and adding Talley in as a threat that can take advantage of the attention Jordan Smith draws is a big step in diversifying the offensive attack.
The Line: Louisa by 17. Lions explosiveness and depth are the difference here.
Prince Edward (1-2) at Buckingham County (0-1), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: While Buckingham County didn’t get the result it wanted in tits first game since the pandemic started, the loss to Fluvanna County two weeks ago showed that the Knights aren’t working with an empty cupboard. Instead, there’s a lot to be excited about in Dillwyn, and now they face a James River District opponent that should be a manageable matchup. Look for the Knights take a step forward as the proud program’s young crop of players learns how to win on the fly. They face a Prince Edward squad with a mixed bag of results that gave up 30 points to Nelson County, so there’s the potential for an offensive breakthrough.
Key Matchup: Prince Edward’s front seven takes on Buckingham’s power rushing attack. What Buckingham is going to do on offense isn’t much of a mystery, though there are some subtlety and wrinkles that often go unnoticed. Still Prince Edward knows the challenge, they have to execute and that’s easier said that done. Expect an explosive effort out of the Knights.
Who to Watch: Buckingham’s Kenneth Williams. Williams is a junior who can impact the game on both sides of the ball as he had an interception and a rushing touchdown to go with 90 yards on just seven touches. Williams is clearly emerging as a big-time impact player for the Knights as they come out of more than 18 months of dormancy.
The Line: Buckingham by 10. The Knights play at home for the first time since a 2019 playoff loss against East Rockingham and they’ll get the job done.
Manassas Park (0-3) at William Monroe (1-2), Friday 7 p.m.
The Basics: Almost nothing went to plan for William Monroe last week, with both the Dragons’ head coach and defensive coordinator sidelined in what became a high-charged, emotional installment of the Madison/Monroe rivalry that’ll likely be talked about for years due to myriad issues. But Monroe has to move on now because they’re stepping into Northwestern District play nad if they want to make the playoffs they can’t afford to squander a potential win like this because the challenges are going to escalate. Manassas Park hasn’t scored yet in three games. Can the Dragons’ defense keep that trend going with Isaiah Taylor and Thomas Mack potentially wreaking havoc?
Key Matchup: William Monroe’s offensive line takes on Manassas Park’s defensive front. The Dragons struggled to move the ball on the ground against Madison and they’ll have to correct that issue moving forward. That starts with the big guys up front who need to find a push.
Who to Watch: William Monroe’s Daelan Powell-Jackson. The junior is emerging as a versatile weapon who can hurt opposing defenses in a variety of ways, on the ground through the air and in the return game. Manassas Park is going to have to account for him on each and every play.
The Line: William Monroe by 10. A great chance for the Dragons to get back on track here as they face a winless Manassas Park squad.
St. Anne’s-Belfield (1-3) at North Cross (3-1), Friday 4 p.m.
The Basics: STAB heads to Roanoke for its second straight road trip, coming off a loss to Division I power Collegiate. Now they’ll face Division II power North Cross in what should be a measuring stick game for the Saints, a chance to see how far they’ve progressed and how far they have to go as the Raiders are the defending state champions from back in 2019. STAB is enduring some challenging injuries at key spots right now and is still trying to sort out a set of reliable playmakers on offense while shifting their identity to a spread attack after years of run-first football.
Key Matchup: The Saints’ front seven takes on North Cross sophomore running back Kam Johnson. Johnson is averaging 8.3 yards per carry and 81 yards per game while flashing a lot of one-cut-and-go style that makes a runner extremely tough to bottle up. STAB’s undersized defense will have its work cut out for it, but they’ve flashed a lot of technical ability and speed up front.
Who to Watch: STAB junior Elijah Wells. The Saints’ safety rang up seven solo tackles against Collegiate to lead STAB in that category. With the high-flying Raiders next up, he’ll need to be similarly locked in for the Saints.
The Line: North Cross by 7. The Saints are banged up and it’s on the road, but look for them to hang with the Raiders and create some unique challenges.
Blessed Sacrament (3-0) at Covenant (1-3), Friday 4 p.m.
The Basics: It was clear after the squads’ first meeting that September 24 would serve as a measuring stick game for the Eagles. With limited practice and no chance to adjust and rally after a frustrating first half due to the heat-induced cancellation, Covenant struggled against the Knights in the first meeting and fell 30-8. Now Covenant comes in a little banged up and in need of some even younger, fresher faces to step up against Blessed Sacrament. Can the Eagles get a jolt and find a way against a more experienced Blessed Sacrament squad.
Key Matchup: Covenant’s defensive front takes on Blessed Sacrament’s relic offense run game. A lot of teams in eight-man want to take advantage of the space and spread the opposition out. Blessed Sacrament has the size and experience to force you to defend in the box and accept the physical challenge. Covenant has to meet that a little better this time around and that starts with not putting its defense in tough spots with errors.
Who to Watch: Covenant’s special teams. Mistakes on special teams doomed the Eagles in the first half against Blessed Sacrament in the season opener. Can Covenant minimize mistakes in that phase of the game?
The Line: Blessed Sacrament by 7. Look for the Eagles to cut down on mistakes and stay in this one.
Blue Ridge (2-1) at Christchurch (0-2), Saturday 2 p.m.
The Basics: Blue Ridge bounced back from week one’s road loss to Nansemond Suffolk Academy to crush Hargrave and ease past Fishburne despite not playing their best football against the Caissons. Now they renew an old rivalry with the Seahorses and despite the fact that Christchurch hasn’t scored yet this season in losses to NSA and Atlantic Shores, the Barons will need to bring the sharpness they showed against Hargrave to take care of business here on the road. That’ll start with getting Camden Brewer going again after he returned to earth from the six-touchdown Hargrave game and went 13-for-20 for 170 yards and a score against Fishburne.If Brewer starts cooking early, Christchurch is going to be in trouble.
Key Matchup: Blue Ridge’s offensive line takes on Christchurch’s defensive front. The Barons have had the run game going the last two weeks with Tanner Rocha and Brewer carrying the bulk of the load, but the offensive line is clearly having the biggest impact with very few negative plays and a lot of clean work up front.
Who to Watch: Blue Ridge’s Fort Carden. A standout in lacrosse for the Barons, Carden flashed some serious football skills last week against Fishburne with a 46-yard catch that was part of a 109-yard day on seven catches. Add Carden to the mix with Robby Matos and Diarmind Stewart at wideout and it’s starting to look like there are weapons everywhere for the Barons.
The Line: Blue Ridge by 10. The Barons should keep rolling here.
Landon (3-0) at Woodberry (0-2), Friday 4:30 p.m.
The Basics: Woodberry is still trying to sort things out after a pair of slower starts at home and now they’ll face a familiar but challenging foe as they host Landon, who has won a pair of games and picked up a forfeit to push their record to 0-3. The Tigers have dropped two straight at home, a frustrating start for a team with a lot of potential. Now is the time for the Tigers to snap things together with Prep League play starting next week.
Key Matchup: Woodberry’s ground game takes on Landon’s front seven. It’s going to be important for the Tigers to get the ball moving on the ground. That’s where the offense’s strength lies, with Donovan Baker capable of breaking open a game at the running back spot. Getting him going would be huge for Woodberry’s chance against Landon.
Who to Watch: Woodberry’s Rodney Lora. If the Tigers’ defense is going to start really disrupting opposing offenses — and through two games they’ve already surrendered 62 points so some disruption would be welcome — Lora is likely to be the source. He’s a physical monster capable of tossing and moving opposing offensive linemen. If Lora can do some damage against Landon it’ll set the tone for a redemptive trip through the Prep League.
The Line: Landon by 7. The Tigers have their work cut out for them here.