No. 13 North Stafford (10-1)
at No. 2 Hylton (11-0)
In the Northwestern Region Division 6 championship, Hylton might have an answer for North Stafford's no-huddle offense: a no-huddle defense.
Coach Bill Brown said his Hylton defenses never have huddled, for two main reasons. One, by not huddling, the Bulldogs are better prepared to handle two-minute drills or to face teams, such as North Stafford, that constantly play at a caffeinated pace. Two, by not having to jog to and from a huddle, the defenders do not waste valuable energy.
"If we huddled up all the time, that'd be a real concern [against North Stafford] because your team feels unsettled and rushed," Brown said. "We can get our defense in extremely late. We can flash signals at the last second right before they snap the ball if we want to."
The signal many North Stafford opponents have resorted to this season is S.O.S. The Wolverines scored 179 points in the first halves of their last five regular season games before pulling out a 23-21 region semifinal victory last week at George Washington-Danville, the first playoff win in school history.
For a few years in the early 1990s, Hylton faced an offense similar to North Stafford's: Woodbridge used to spread the field with a no-huddle alignment.
"The thing I found out from facing it a lot is that you can be so concerned about the passing game you don't do a good job stopping the run," Brown said. "You slowed the pass, but you didn't win the game. You have to play complete defense."
The Bulldogs have done that and are coming off a 20-0 region semifinal win over Gar-Field. They gave up only four first downs and picked off three of nine pass attempts. Each of Hylton's starting defensive backs is 6 feet tall. North Stafford Coach Chris Beatty said his offense is accustomed to facing defenses with shorter cornerbacks whose arms are not as long or intrusive as those of the Hylton corners.
The game might hinge not on how Hylton will handle North Stafford's no-huddle but on how North Stafford will handle Hylton's misdirection plays, a soft spot for the Wolverines' defense this season. The Bulldogs might have second-leading rusher Quintin Beltran back. He has practiced this week after sitting out the region semifinal with an injured ankle.
North Stafford finds itself in a bit of a special teams quandary. When the Wolverines send their kickoffs deep, they frequently give up long returns. But if they try their signature onside kicks, they run the risk of giving an opportunistic Hylton offense possession near midfield.
"We'll keep doing what we've been doing," Beatty said of the kickoff assortment. "We want to try to keep them on their toes."
History favors Hylton. The Bulldogs are the defending state champions. They have won 27 consecutive games. And they are playing their third region championship in five years. Brown is not sure how great of an advantage all that is, but. . . .
"I'd rather be on this side of it," he said. "I know in everything we do in life, experience helps. This is no exception."
"When you've won that many games in a row, you expect to win," Beatty said. "I think our kids expect to win, too."
at Madison County (8-3)
Brentsville will try to get off to a better start in this Region B Division 2 championship than it did in a 34-18 regular season road loss to Bull Run District champion Madison County, their fourth loss to the Mountaineers in as many seasons.
The Mountaineers, who have missed the playoffs just once in about a dozen years, took a 13-0 lead the first five minutes of that Week 9 game, but Brentsville rallied to within 20-18. The Tigers flirted with surging ahead at the end of the second quarter before turning the ball over on downs around the five-yard line.
It remained a two-point game until Madison senior Raymond Kirkley broke off a long touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. By that time, the Brentsville offense had bogged down against Madison's starting defense, which yielded just two second-half touchdowns the latter half of the season.
It did not help the Tigers' chances when junior quarterback Chris Jenkins had to leave the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury that in turn bumped him from the season finale as well. Jenkins returned last week to complete nine of 14 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown in the 39-21 region semifinal win over Buckingham County.
To stop Madison County, the Tigers must stop the school's career rushing leader, 5-foot-9, 210-pound senior Kirkley, who is creeping up on 5,000 yards, about 1,800 of which have come this season. Kirkley has scored 24 touchdowns in 11 games. He ran for 202 yards and three touchdowns against Brentsville.
Senior Juan Brown is the school's career receiving yardage leader, with more than 2,000. He returned a punt for a touchdown against Brentsville.
"They have a couple of dimensions we don't have," said Tigers Coach Mike Madison, who was a first-year Brentsville assistant in 1988 when the Tigers lost in the region semifinals to the Mountaineers, 42-11.
"They have exceptional speed at wideout and running back. They can score from any place on the field, and they don't need a lot of time to do it. It could be just one play. I know realistically if we score on one play, it's usually an accident or something we didn't plan."
To score, whether on a long gainer or short, the Tigers will have to bypass senior defensive tackle Austin Lillard, the Bull Run District defensive player of the year.
Madison, led by 33rd-year coach Eddie Dean, has made eight state title game appearances since Virginia began crowning A champions in 1970. The Mountaineers lost, 27-14, to Powell Valley in the Division 2 state championship last season.
The losses incurred by Madison and Brentsville all have been to playoff qualifiers. The Mountaineers lost to AAA Culpeper (11-0), AA Orange (8-3) and AA Spotsylvania (9-2). The Tigers lost to AA James Monroe (7-4), Strasburg (8-3) and Madison (8-3).
The winner of the Brentsville-Madison game will play Nov. 27 at 1:30 p.m. at either New Kent or King William. Those teams play in the Region A title game Saturday afternoon.
Twice in recent years, the Tigers tiptoed into the playoffs with losing records because there were only three teams in their district. This year, they earned their opportunity.
"I'm excited for the kids," Madison said. "They've got something they can talk to their children about and when they come back to their reunions 10, 20 years down the road. 'Hey, we played in the regional championship.' They're in position to have a life experience they'll cherish for a long time. That's the best you can get."
North Stafford (10-1) at Hylton (11-0), 7:30
Region B Division 2
Brentsville (8-3) at Madison County (8-3), 7:30