South County has followed the same template as last season: slow start, hot finish, middle-of-the-pack seed in the Virginia AAA Northern Region Division 5 playoffs, first-round game against Madison (8-2).
“I definitely see some similarities,” Stallions senior linebacker Oren Burks said. “We kind of got on a roll at the end of the season and hope to make the same run as last year and finish a little bit stronger.”
[Complete playoff brackets can be found here.]
South County last season reeled off 11 consecutive wins after an 0-3 start to reach the state championship. When the current team sat at 1-5 and was hobbled by injuries, a similar run seemed a long way off.
All those losses, however, were to teams that qualified for the playoffs, and the Stallions (5-5) rallied to win their last four games. Just like last year, they enter the postseason playing at a level higher than their seed (fourth last year, sixth this year).
South County beat Madison, 31-0, in the first round last year. The question for the current Stallions is how a largely new group will handle the playoff atmosphere and inherent expectations that come as a defending state finalist.
“We’ve been talking to [the newer players], but it’s really something you have to learn from personal experience,” said Burks, a Vanderbilt recruit and the Patriot District defensive player of the year. “You can only say so much. We don’t have as much experience as last year, but we’re starting to see everything jell together, and we’re really excited about that.”
The Stallions essentially have been in the playoffs for the past month, because a sixth loss likely could have knocked them out of a postseason berth. The team’s most impressive win was a 48-14 victory over West Springfield (6-4) on Oct. 19. That’s the only team with a winning record that the Stallions have beaten.
South County has scored 47 points or more in each of its wins, with junior quarterback David Symmes, a finalist for district offensive player of the year, accumulating almost 2,000 offensive yards. Senior Warner Hunter and junior Levaughn Davis have combined for more than 1,500 rushing yards and senior Aaron Jackson has caught eight of Symmes’s 13 touchdown passes.
Burks, playing more inside linebacker this season, has led a defense that has given up 46 points the past four games, when the schedule softened and some key players returned from injury. The Stallions are following his lead.
“I found out when I make plays,” Burks said, “everyone else wants to make plays as well.”
Like most coaches, West Potomac’s Jeremiah Davis believes that the playoffs mark the start of the second season. But instead of just relaying those words to his players as the sixth-seeded Wolverines (6-4) prepare for their Virginia AAA Division 6 first-round matchup at third-seeded Centreville (7-3) on Friday, Davis had his team absorb this message in a more literal sense.
“We cleaned out the locker room and made it look like it did in the preseason when the lockers were empty and the nameplates were just being put on,” Davis said. “I told them that we could be going home now, but we’re starting a new season and we’ve got to start it right.”
To do so, the Wolverines must shake off two consecutive losses and rediscover the formula that helped them beat the Wildcats, 27-20, in the second game of the season. Back in the fold will be Demornay Pierson-el, who has been cleared to play after missing the last game-and-a-half with a leg injury. The junior tailback gave Centreville trouble in the teams’ first meeting, rushing for 239 yards and two scores to help the Wolverines rally for the win.
“People try to say that we’re a one-man show even though we’re not, but our one man does a lot so we try to get him the ball when possible,” Davis said of Pierson-El, who has scored 25 total touchdowns this season. “But the last couple weeks have been good for our guys to see that they can play without him and it was good for [Demornay] in becoming a better teammate.”
Centreville will look to match this firepower with its own playmaking tailback in A.J. Turner. The sophomore racked up a career-high 264 yards and four touchdowns on just 16 carries in last week’s win against Oakton, giving the Wildcats some much-needed momentum entering the postseason.
After beating Robinson, 41-21, on the road in last week’s regular-season finale, the fourth-seeded Chargers (7-3) drew the fifth-seeded Rams (5-5) again in the Division 6 bracket with this week’s contest taking place at Chantilly.
In some ways, the scenario makes life easier. Both teams have plenty of film and a fresh memory of their opponent, and in the Chargers’ case, they know what it takes to win. But Lalli knows full well that last week’s regular-season result means little for this week’s postseason tilt.
“We know Robinson is going to make adjustments based on what they saw, so we’re going to have to be prepared for a whole new type of game,”Lalli said.
In the case of Robinson tailback Joe Wilson, the junior hopes this new game brings more yards and less turnovers. Despite rushing for 194 yards and three scores, Wilson coughed up the ball twice, which eventually resulted in two Chantilly touchdowns.
“I see the rematch as a chance to improve because after those fumbles, it kind of got me out of my rhythm,” said Wilson, who was named Concorde District Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 2,125 yards and 31 touchdowns. “Coach [Trey Taylor] has been telling us all season to learn from our mistakes and make plays, so here’s our chance when it really counts.”
Since playing its first varsity football game in 2005, Battlefield has gone 67-26. Not counting a loss to 2011 Virginia AAA semifinal opponent Oscar Smith, there is only one program that has beaten the Bobcats without losing at least once to them.
That team is Woodbridge (6-4), Battlefield’s home opponent Friday in the first round of the Virginia AAA Northwest Region Division 6 playoffs.
The Vikings are 3-0 against Battlefield, having caught them during their first two seasons when the Bobcats went a combined 6-14 and then edging them 20-17 in the Virginia AAA Northwest Region Division 6 semifinals in 2007.
The current Battlefield players had nothing to do with any of those games. But they will be made aware of them, Coach Mark Cox said.
The Bobcats (7-3) have needed no special incentives in winning the past three region titles. Four-year starting lineman Brandon Dukeman and other four-year varsity players have the chance to graduate knowing nothing but region titles and state playoff appearances.
“Once we get to the playoffs, we always have expectations,” Cox said. “Our goal is to be practicing on Thanksgiving, which is [before] the regional championship game. That never changes. It’s always something we’re striving for.”
Senior Nick Newman leads the Bobcats in catches (39 for 865 yards and nine touchdowns) and tackles (74) and also has four sacks and two interceptions. He has taken on a greater role in the passing game since senior receiver Trent Saflin tore an ACL against Stonewall. Senior defensive end Jack Taylor has 10 sacks and at right tackle has enabled the Bobcats to feel confident running in either direction.
Woodbridge reached the playoffs by handing Stonewall its first loss last week.
But the Raiders dealt the Wolverines a heavy dose of reality in the form of a 48-7 romp that forced the third-year program to regroup.
The two schools face off once more in the AA Region II Division 4 quarterfinals Friday night in Leesburg where the Wolverines (7-3) will find out how far they have come in the last six weeks.
“That was our first real test, and mentally, I don’t think we were fully prepared for it,” Woodgrove senior safety Atem Ntangtang said. “At the time, we might have thought a little too highly of ourselves. But we’re ready now.”
Loudoun County (8-2) carved up Woodgrove’s secondary with its spread attack as senior quarterback Jake Lokey completed 12 of 19 passes for 235 yards and five touchdowns. Senior wide receiver and all-Dulles District selection Brad Szoka was on the receiving end of three of those touchdowns, and that connection is one the Woodgrove secondary must contain.
“The connection between Brad Szoka and Jake Lokey is a pretty special one,” Ntangtang said. “We’ve got to give them different looks to give us some time to react and get to the receivers.”
Offensively, the Wolverines will be without starting quarterback Tucker Coil, who broke his leg in last week’s win against Loudoun Valley. Junior Will Koester will start in his place and could provide Woodgrove’s run-heavy offense with a bit more balance through the air.
But for the Wolverines to emerge with a win in their inaugural playoff appearance, they need another big night from district offensive player of the year Josh Sweet (1,709 yards, 25 touchdowns).
“It’s special to be a part of this,” said Ntangtang, who was the starting running back when Woodgrove opened in 2010. “Hopefully we can get a win and keep it going.”
Three of the four contests in Division 4 are regular season rematches, including second-seeded Tuscarora against No. 7 seed Millbrook.
The Huskies (9-1) rolled over the Pioneers, 41-21, in their season opener behind a season-high 274 rushing yards yards and three touchdowns from sophomore running back Noah Reimers. But in its second trip to the postseason, Tuscarora understands the need for balance.
Over the last two weeks, Tuscarora Coach Mike Burnett has called more passing plays and junior quarterback Nick Azzarita has delivered his most productive games of the season. With Millbrook (6-4) stacking the box to limit Reimers, Azzarita will need to step up for the Huskies to advance to a second straight region semifinal.
In the other two Division 4 quarterfinals, two-time defending state champion and top-seeded Briar Woods (10-0) hosts Powhatan (5-5) and Liberty (6-4) travels to Sherando (6-4) for another rematch of a regular season game won by the Warriors.
In Division 3, Loudoun Valley is back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus and for the first time since they returned to AA. The seventh-seeded Vikings(4-6), who lost three of four to end the regular season, travel to No. 1 Skyline (9-1).
Four Manassas Park ball carriers have posted at least one 100-yard game this season, but the Cougars (7-3) do not have a grind-it-out offense. They have a big-play running game that will be on display Friday in a Virginia A Eastern Section Division 2 first-round home game against Nandua (8-2).
“We try to get our running backs in space and we’ve been able to break some,” Manassas Park Coach Joe McElfish said. “Usually, two or three or five or six plays and somebody breaks off one.”
Senior quarterback Ryan Kolb is the team’s leading rusher, followed by junior Nick Johnson, Moorman and senior Nick Coates. The Cougars are running behind an entirely new line; all five starters were seniors last year. Three sophomores and two juniors start on the line now, including junior Isaiah Browne, a two-way standout.
There are 16 teams in the Eastern Section playoffs.