No. 16 Gar-Field (8-2)
at No. 2 Hylton (10-0)
Gar-Field has been in this position before, and the Indians believe they are the wiser for it.
Last season, Gar-Field lost convincingly to Hylton during the regular season, and from that point, the Indians ached every day for a rematch.
That rematch eventually came in the Division 6 Northwestern Region finals. Hylton again notched an easy win, 46-15.
So this fall, despite losing a wrenching, 17-16 overtime game to the Bulldogs during the regular season, Gar-Field is not stressing the rematch aspect of their regional semifinal.
The Indians consider Hylton just an opponent that stands between them and a region championship.
"Last year when we got out there [in the region final], the kids were so pumped to play that things didn't go well for us early, and the air fell out of the balloon," Gar-Field Coach Tony Labozzetta said. "We don't want to get our kids to the point where they're in a state of frenzy, because when we do that, they don't seem to play well.
"It's a big game, but it's not a big game because it's Hylton. It's a big game because it's a regional playoff game."
Gar-Field seemingly played without any of that counterproductive zeal against Hylton three weeks ago. The Indians even led the game for about 26 hours--they scored a touchdown on their opening drive before the game was postponed a day by lightning.
Hylton rallied for 10 points in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Each team scored in the extra period, but Gar-Field had its line drive extra point blocked. Hylton nailed its extra point for the win.
The kicking game was a Gar-Field concern in last year's region final, too. Hylton took a 6-0 lead when three snaps sailed over the Gar-Field punter's head, resulting in three safeties. The Indians bounced a snap on a would-be punt attempt in the overtime game this season, but it did not cost them on the scoreboard.
The defending state champion Bulldogs have won five of the last six games in the series. But Coach Bill Brown said that fact and the fact Hylton has won a state record 26 consecutive games mean little now.
"Put it in the books," said Brown, a 1970 Gar-Field graduate. "It's history. It doesn't matter what your record is now; Gar-Field has the same shot at it as we have."
Since winning the Division 6 state title in 1990, Gar-Field has reached the playoffs four times, losing twice in the region semis and twice in the region finals. Hylton is making its fifth playoff appearance in eight seasons.
"I fully expect to see both teams play like there's no tomorrow," Brown said. "Simply because there is no tomorrow."
North Stafford (9-1)
at George Washington-Danville (8-2)
This is a game of sharply contrasting styles. While North Stafford senior quarterback Chris Ashinhurst has been setting state passing records, the Eagles have been rushing for well over 2,000 yards and attempting just 60 passes.
There is another major difference between the teams: The Danville players will be sleeping in their own beds Thursday night. The Wolverines are busing down late Thursday afternoon to avoid making a 4 1/2-hour drive on the day of the game.
"You already feel like you've played a game after riding a bus for that long," North Stafford Coach Chris Beatty said.
Beatty likens GW-Danville to Brooke Point--a team the Wolverines beat, 7-0--both defensively and in the shifty running style of its featured back. Eagles junior Micah Knight has carried 136 times for 1,040 yards, an average of 7.6 yards a carry. When North Stafford played Brooke Point, it held area rushing leader Larry Smith to 34 yards on 14 carries.
Knight is not the only threat in the multi-scheme backfield.
Senior T.J. Echols has gained 477 yards, and senior quarterback Jeremy Motley has picked up 391, just four fewer than his passing total.
The Eagles opened the season with losses to playoff qualifiers Gar-Field and William Fleming and have won eight consecutive games, including against Division 5 region semifinalist E.C. Glass.
North Stafford has not been in a close game since beating Brooke Point in late September. The Wolverines got blown out at Culpeper the following week, and in the five subsequent games, they scored 179 points in the first halves alone. Culpeper is the only playoff team North Stafford faced.
The Wolverines lost, 6-3, to Gar-Field in the region semifinals last season. Jittery receivers dropped passes early, and after that, Beatty felt his play calling got too conservative. He does not expect conservatism to creep into the game plan Friday.
Buckingham County (5-5)
at Brentsville (7-3)
Making its third playoff appearance in four years, Brentsville is a postseason veteran compared with the Knights, who are playing beyond 10 games for the first time since 1987.
Buckingham, with just nine seniors, did not necessarily expect to be in this position, not after losing four of its first five games, including by such scores as 61-6, 54-14 and 54-21. But three of those early losses were to AA schools, two of them to 1999 playoff qualifiers Fluvanna County and Appomattox.
Like the Tigers, Buckingham favors the run. So much so, in fact, that Coach Craig Gill refers to his I-formation team as "ultraconservative." Senior tailback Erik Austin, a 6-foot-2, 230-pounder, has gained about 1,100 yards. His brother, senior quarterback Derek, has thrown for about 500. Senior fullbacks Bobby Suggs and Marco Shuler have picked up about 400 yards apiece. Most pass completions have gone to junior tight end Thomas Goode.
Buckingham County is about 40 miles south of Charlottesville, between Lynchburg and Richmond.
Brentsville not only has more playoff experience than the Knights, but the Tigers also feel even better than they usually do in such a position. The previous two berths came in 1996 and '97, when the Tigers got in with 4-6 records and dropped first-round games each year.
A 7-3 record enhances the bid.
"You feel like you deserve to be there," Brentsville Coach Mike Madison said.
Junior quarterback Chris Jenkins is practicing with the team after missing the season finale against Manassas Park with a head injury suffered in Week 9.
Madison said Jenkins will be evaluated today to see whether there are any repercussions from his increased activity.
Northwestern Region Division 6
Gar-Field (8-2) at Hylton (10-0), 7:30
North Stafford (9-1) at
George Washington-Danville (8-2), 7:30
Region B Division 2
Buckingham County (5-5) at Brentsville (7-3), 7:30