One has to wonder if defending Virginia A Division 2 state champion Manassas Park is again a so-called team of destiny, considering what happened in the other half of the Region B playoff bracket last week.
Chatham knocked off top seed Gretna, 34-27, which means instead of traveling four hours to face a team on a 39-game winning streak -- which second seed Manassas Park would have been forced to do -- the Cougars get to stay at home and force Chatham to make the drive north from the Danville area.
Before the loss Friday, Gretna had won 38 straight games, including the past two AA Division 3 titles. Manassas Park has won 25 in a row, and 28 straight at home.
"It's a big difference," Manassas Park Coach Jeff Lloyd said.
In more ways than one. Whereas Gretna was generally small and quick, Chatham "is probably the biggest high school team that I've seen since I've been here," said Lloyd, in his eighth season.
The Cavaliers might be even bigger in person than they are on paper. The weights on the Chatham roster are from May, Cavaliers Coach Matt Foutz said, so players such as senior defensive ends J.J. Tunstall (6 feet 2, 278 pounds) and Theo Sherman (6-5, 255), among others, are even larger than listed.
Sherman, who has received Division I-AA scholarship offers, was the offensive and defensive lineman of the year in the Dogwood District.
"We feel like maybe they're big but maybe we have a little better team speed," Lloyd said. "It does concern you: Are they big enough to just ram it down your throats? That will be something we find out very early in that game."
Even though it is a region championship, the Cavaliers have to guard against an emotional letdown. That's how significant the win over Gretna was, particularly after a 35-34 loss to the Hawks three weeks before when Chatham could not push in a two-point conversion.
"That's a pretty big deal around here," Foutz said, "when you're 15 minutes away and those guys grow up with each other playing all the other sports and maybe went to elementary school and stuff together. They've kind of played second fiddle to [Gretna] and listened to all the press they've gotten the past four or five years."
"I think that's somewhat natural," Lloyd said of the possibility of a letdown. "You kind of have somebody circled for a long time and get so close and then you have an opportunity to play again and you win. It's kind of human nature."
Friday Night Lights
The Chatham-Manassas Park game originally was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, but Chatham wanted to play tomorrow night instead. The Region B handbook spells out that the game time and date have to be mutually agreed upon, Lloyd said.
Lloyd preferred Saturday afternoon for warmer weather and because the state playoff games are played on Saturday.
Being about 200 miles away from Manassas Park, the Cavaliers did not want to depart in the wee hours to play a game in the early afternoon.
"You'd be looking at having to leave here at like 6 [a.m.], and a lot of our kids live 45 minutes or so away [from school]," Foutz said. "That means leaving the house at 5 a.m. That's probably not the best thing to do on regional championship day."
The Cavaliers, whose only other playoff appearance was a first-round loss in 1991, plan to stop on the way up to eat and to conduct a walk-through in Charlottesville.
Regardless of the game time, Lloyd is hoping for a larger crowd than the one at the 22-14 semifinal win over Goochland.
"It wasn't a huge turnout, which really shocked me," he said. "It sometimes feels like we've gotten so accustomed to winning that we're just nonchalant in the process."
Little Things Mean a Lot
Manassas Park senior quarterback Jay Terrell, best known for his offense, did much more than that in the win over Goochland, booting and recovering an onside kick, pouncing on two fumbles, intercepting a pass and kicking a field goal.
"He understands the game of football very well, the little things," Lloyd said. "It really is a credit to him that he's been able to come in and run our offense as well as he has in one year."
But Terrell also goes through some patchy stretches in terms of focus, and sometimes commits avoidable turnovers.
"I really felt like he played very hard, but I also felt like he lost his composure for five or six minutes in that game," Lloyd said. "A lot of that was the fact it was his first playoff game and there's a lot of pressure on that kid to live up to the success we've had the last several years. He didn't handle a couple of situations very well."