High School Football Notebook: Central in the Playoffs
Published 8:00 am Wednesday, November 8, 2023
Plenty was seen during the 2023 regular season. From the heat of summer through the mix of warm and cold temperatures in the fall with lots of rain, wind and even some sunny days in between, to the chill of winter on the horizon, it has been difficult to predict what should be expected on a given night on the gridiron.
Nonetheless, through all the uncertainty that spawned blowouts or spine-tingling drama, the playoffs have finally arrived for high school football teams in Virginia. A total of 24 regional titles will be handed and six state champions will be crowned on December 9 – those trophies handed to the last teams standing in Class 6 and Class 5 at UVA’s Scott Stadium; in Class 4 and Class 3 at Liberty University’s Arthur L. Williams Stadium; at Salem Stadium in Salem for Class 2 and Class 1.
So what does it look like for teams across the area? Here’s a quick snapshot…
Central-Lunenburg at 8-2 overall will play host to Southampton, which finished 5-5 overall while competing in the Tri-Rivers District. The Indians opened 1-5 overall before catching fire down the stretch by winning their final four regular season games.
Meanwhile, the Chargers dropped its regular season finale to Amelia County before getting a bye week to rest up and heal some injuries. Their ground attack routinely produces upwards of 250 yards per game behind senior Connor Mattox, who went over 1400 on the season. Both Mattox and Seth Bishop, two mainstays in the program, anchor a defense that coach Will Thomas will challenge to raise its play if they hope to achieve some history and win a regional title in their first season after moving up from the Class 1 ranks.
Other quarterfinal matchups pit top-seeded Poquoson (8-2) hosting eighth-seeded Nandua (5-5) in a game that will be played at 6 p.m. on Thursday; fourth-seeded King William (5-5) hosts fifth-seeded Bruton (5-5); and third-seeded Amelia (7-3) hosts sixth-seeded Greensville County (6-4).
Poquoson, behind speedster Baker Green, who has committed to run track at Eastern Kentucky, is viewed as the favorite after losing on a late field goal against Bay Rivers District power Lafayette in a game where they led 14-0. But keep an eye on King William, just two seasons removed from a state title, as a sleeper after playing one of the most rugged schedules among Class 2 teams with four of their opponents being from higher classifications.
There is no shortage of interesting storylines in this region. Central-Woodstock is the top seed at 10-0 overall, returning a good chunk of its team that fell to Graham in last year’s Class 2 State Final. To open the season, the Falcons beat Riverheads 8-7 in this year’s opener.
Riverheads (9-1) is the No. 2 seed in this region, slated to host No. 7 seed Madison County (5-5), who ironically are 0-17 all-time with each of those matchups coming from 1982-98. The Gladiators won seven straight state titles at the Class 1 level, but now step up in competition for the playoff journey here in 2023.
The Gladiators bring in one of the top players in the field with running back Cayden Cook- Cash, the Class 1 State Offensive Player of the Year each of the past two seasons. Cook-Cash fought through an injury earlier in the season, but recently picked up an offer from the University of Virginia.
Buckingham enters as the No. 3 seed and with a record of 9-1 overall. They will host sixth-seeded Clarke County (8-2), which The Knights have reeled off nine straight wins since a 23-6 loss to Appomattox in the season opener. Coach Seth Wilkerson has a stingy defense that has held five straight opponents to six points or less since a 13-10 win over Lunenburg.
A win over Clarke County would be just the third postseason triumph since 2015 for the Knights. The Clarke County offense will pose a threat as the Eagles come in averaging 32.2 points per game and they have a wealth of playoff experience, reaching the State Finals as recent as 2015.