Northern Region Division 5 semifinal: Langley at No. 2 Stone Bridge, 7:30
Stone Bridge quarterback Ryan Burns reached unchartered territory in last week’s playoff win against Edison, throwing for 309 yards and a career-high six touchdowns to open play in the Virginia AAA Northern Region Division 5 playoffs. But the Stanford recruit says there was no magic formula to his impressive night.
“We didn’t really do anything special. We were just clicking on offense and I was able to take advantage of our line’s great protection and hit some guys on some long routes,” Burns said. “Stats-wise, yes, it was my best game, but I wouldn’t say it was anything that I did special or different. Plus, that game is behind us now.”
In front of the top-seeded Bulldogs (11-0) is a semifinal contest with Langley (7-4), a team they beat 27-6 earlier this season in Liberty District play. That contest was quite different for Burns, who threw three of his four interceptions on the season that night. But Bulldogs Coach Mickey Thompson likes how his quarterback has progressed since then, citing an ability to spread the ball around to multiple receivers and seize the field position often afforded by Stone Bridge’s stingy defense. Last week Burns connected with four different receivers, led by Jimmy Higgins’ four catches for 171 yards.
“We’ve been together for two or three years now, so I feel like we’re all on the same page at this point and hopefully we can keep doing what we’ve been doing lately,” Burns said.
Langley’s defense will look to thwart the Bulldogs attack by eliminating big plays and turnovers. Saxons Coach John Howerton knows that sounds cliché, but he also knows Stone Bridge’s knack for stealing the momentum.
“We can’t give away cheap ones like last time, when we throw an interception and they run it back and then we miss some tackles and they run it  yards for another touchdown and now we’re down 27-0,” Howerton said. “We have to make them earn their yards and be where we’re supposed to be on defense.”
The Saxons have shown improvements on defense since that Oct. 5 loss, giving up an average of just 14.4 points while winning four of their last five games. And on the other side of the ball, Philip Mun has averaged nearly 140 rushing yards during that span en route to winning the district’s Offensive Player of the Year award.
Northern Region Division 6 semifinal: Oakton at Centreville, 7:30
Only two weeks have passed but Centreville and Oakton are not the same teams they were during their regular-season meeting. For the Wildcats (8-3), who won that contest 49-28, vast improvement has been made on the defensive side of the ball. After shutting out Oakton in the second half of that victory, the Wildcats held their ground against West Potomac to open the Virginia AAA Northern Region Division 6, limiting playmaker Demornay Pierson-el to 121 yards and holding the Wolverines to only two first downs and no points in the first half of an eventual 28-11 win.
“Since we lost to Westfield [on Oct. 26], we’ve grown a lot because that gave us a reality check,” Wildcats quarterback Scott Walter said. “If our defense plays like it did in the second half against Oakton, I feel confident in our offense to give us what we need to get the win.”
Several defensive adjustments also brought positive change for Oakton, which had lost four straight following the Centreville contest. In last week’s playoff game against Lake Braddock, offensive stalwarts Kyle Downer and Mike Wandey played both ways and helped the Cougars stave off several threats by the Bruins in a 20-13 win.
Northern Region Division 6 semifinal: Chantilly at No. 4 Westfield, 7:30
All season long, Chantilly’s coaches have pushed Deandre Harris to run faster. No one ever doubted the junior running back’s ability; but the Chargers’ staff was waiting to see the shades of gamebreaking speed that Harris sometimes showed in practice.
If the stats are any indicator, it appears Harris found that burst about three games ago. In that span, he has totaled 601 yards and seven touchdowns, with the most impressive output coming in last week’s win against Robinson to the tune of 260 yards and four touchdowns in the first round Virginia AAA Northern Region Division 6.
Continuing this pace will be tough come Friday, when the Chargers (8-3) travel to face a Westfield team that has allowed a 100-yard rusher just three times during its 11-0 start. But with both teams holding film from their first meeting this season, a 24-21 nailbiting win for Westfield, adjustments are sure to be heavy.
Chargers Coach Mike Lalli said the key for his team will be better tackling and wrapping up Westfield’s shifty rushers in Dalaun Richardson and Tyler Thrasher-Walker in order to eliminate big plays and control the ball.