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September 14, 2012
Is the season flying by or what? It's already Week 4 in the Eastern Region and we have some compelling matchups this week as Bayside plays host to Ocean Lakes in what can be considered a pivotal game for each team's Beach District title hopes and playoff positioning in Division 6. Woodbridge out of the Northwest Region comes to Tidewater to take on surprising Granby for what should be a great test for both teams. Over in the Peninsula District, Phoebus takes on Kecoughtan with a couple of familiar people patrolling the sidelines for the Warriors, and Woodside battles Warwick in a matchup each squad could be terming a 'must-win.'
Before we start to break down the matchups, let's look back at the Eastern Region Prediction Standings with State Football Editor Rod Johnson, VHSL-Reference.com and Matthew Hatfield.
#5 Ocean Lakes (3-0) at #8 Bayside (2-1) . . . Prospects will be aplenty in this game, and the stakes are rather high as neither team can afford to lose this game and feel great about their chances of winning the Beach District title. That's especially true in the case of Bayside, which lost to Salem 37-7 just two weeks ago. Ocean Lakes is off to a rousing 3-0 start and they have a showdown looming with the SunDevils on September 28. Being undefeated for that matchup is important.
Ocean Lakes' last win in the head-to-head series with Bayside came in 2009 in a game where they won on three field goals and a defensive touchdown, not scoring a single offensive touchdown. In 2010, Bayside scored on their final offensive possession to edge the Dolphins, and last year's game the Marlins won 26-21 thanks to a strong performance from five-star running back and UVA commit Taquan 'Smoke' Mizzell. In that contest, Mizzell rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries.
Bayside's offense not only has a threat in Mizzell in the backfield who has rushed for 302 yards and four touchdowns to go with a scoring reception and kickoff return touchdown, but also four-year starting QB Deion Stitt (33 of 53 for 428 yards, 4-3TD/Int. ratio) and the Beach District's leading receiving in Quin Blanding, who has 15 catches for 228 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Blanding is a future five-star prospect from the Class of 2014. Defensively, they are anchored by him and sophomore CB Jamez Brickhouse, who'll probably be matched up on Ocean Lakes WR Andre Dessenberg (14Rec. 220Yds. 4TD's).
The Dolphins have one of the state's most dangerous quarterbacks in Corwin Cutler. Nicknamed Turtle, the UVA commit Cutler has connected on 32 of 48 passes for 637 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions, proving to have the accuracy to go with the arm strength. What has helped Ocean Lakes greatly this year is their newfound diversity on offense, incorporating RB's Brandon Simmons and Jordan Bobo well. Those two have combined for 529 yards rushing and 6TD's. It doesn't end with those guys as DT's Derrick Nnadi and Demetri McGill are BCS-level recruits, and the same is going to ring true with Class of 2015 ATH Jason Lewis.
As many as 13 players figure to be FBS or FCS next-level players, meaning Division I-A as they used to be called College Football athletes. That's an unusually high number in one football game. From a raw talent perspective, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better matchup than this one.
#1 - - Contain Ocean Lakes' D-Line: The Dolphins have some tough hombres on the defensive line when you look at McGill, who's considering such schools as Maryland and Old Dominion to play his College Football, and Nnadi, also a player with ACC offers coming off a seven-tackle, 1.5 sack effort against Cox. Those two are run stuffers that clog the middle and can also get after the quarterback. Bayside gave up 10 sacks to Salem two weeks ago, and in the last two seasons has really been their only glaring Achilles heel. They have to keep Stitt upright against those two along with DE Javon Majors and any blitzers or else their entire timing will be screwed up and make the offense stagnant. Much of this falls on the interior o-line senior trio of Jordan Rubama, Tyler Hallman and Ryheem Norfleet.
#2 - - Maximize Mizzell's Touches: In their wins over Green Run and First Colonial, Smoke was a prime factor who made things happen with the football in his hands. In their loss to Salem, Mizzell ran the ball only four times, all in the first half. Of course, by the time the second rolled around, the score was out of reach, but the Marlins have to get him involved heavily in their offense early, get the tempo up and find a good rhythm so that the Dolphins' defense doesn't get settled. The more the opposition has to adjust to stopping one part, which in this case would be the run, will open up things for Blanding and Devante Batey at receiver and the passing game.
3 - - Third Down Defense: As Salem built a 27-0 lead at intermission, the SunDevils converted 7 of 8 third down tries against the Bayside defense. Other than on third down, Bayside's defense seemed to do okay as they got decent pressure on Bucky Hodges in that game and the likes of LB's Anthony Christman, Quanche' Sadler and Donte Hargraves as well as d-linemen Joshua Duhe-Harris and Corey Mayernik were in on positive stops. If Ocean Lakes moves the chains by converting third downs, it'll be another long night for Bayside. Games are often won and lost by a team's ability or inability to come up with clutch plays, and that's what the Marlins have to do in order to be successful.
#1 - - Establish the Run: Do this effectively, and it will help set up the play-action passing game to give Cutler a couple shots to attack down the field. Both Bobo and Simmons bring something to do the table running football. Simmons showed in their scrimmages great wiggle. They also have a short-yardage, goal-line factor in Mike Dunston, who scored a couple of touchdowns against Cox. When the defense has to stack the box or bring that safety down, which in this case would be a major playmaker in Blanding, that has to make the QB's and WR's eyes light up since that gives them a great chance to strike vertically.
#2 - - Get After Stitt: To take that next step as a program and truly be viewed as a regional and state title contender, Ocean Lakes needs to do on defense what Salem did just a couple weeks ago. That might be asking a lot, and Bayside could prevent that from happening by stepping up its play and blocking, but the Dolphins have to show their defense is able to dominate and control a game against an upper echelon team with the talent level of a squad like Bayside. Stitt is the general of the Marlins' offense and Ocean Lakes' defensive front wants to get him rattled and trying to buy time before he can operate and hit his receivers in stride.
#3 - - Make Bayside One-Dimensional: Which dimension do you want to take away from the Marlins? In my opinion, it's the ground game. Without Mizzell doing damage like he did to the Dolphins a season ago, that puts all the pressure on Stitt and his receivers to move the ball effectively down the field and score. Their kicking game probably isn't going to hurt you a ton either, so the mindset is six or nothing in most cases. The ideal situation for Ocean Lakes it to get up a touchdown or two, make the Marlins play from behind, abandon the run and force Stitt to throw Mizzell becomes a non-factor, which is precisely how things played out versus Salem. Being physical from the start is important in this effort.
Says: Oscar Smith 49-0
Stopping Cannon, who has rushed for 327 yards and 4TD's, will be the primary objective of the Phoebus defense as they want to force either Kecoughtan QB, sophomore Nick Carrera or freshman Desmond Savage, to take risks in the passing game. Kecoughtan's defense wants to do the same thing and make Phoebus' freshman QB, Terrell Toliver, have to make plays through the air rather than see RB Tony Pittman (320 yards, 5TD's) bludgeon them between the tackles. That enormous Phoebus offensive line, anchored by Walter Brantley, will pose some problems, though, paving the way for Pittman. On defense, the Warriors will be without standout safety Will Wright, who has a shoulder injury, and that could potentially be a big loss.
Both squads will have a pretty firm handle on each other's tendencies and ought to be well-prepared. The edge in overall talent, experience and depth goes to Phoebus, and in order for Kecoughtan to keep this game close they'll have to minimize their miscues and be able to loosen up the Phoebus defense with the passing game, particularly converting third down situations.
Says: Phoebus 26-13
Says: Lake Taylor 45-6
Says: Hampton 41-9
Says: Lakeland 42-18
Says: Western Branch 35-13
Says: Grassfield 34-10
The Vikings are no joke defensively with defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand, who made 21 sacks in 2011. Hands might possibly be the #1 ranked prospect in the country from the Class of 2014, and has the ability to wreck any game for an opposing offense. That's what the Granby offense with QB William Smith and WR Sidney Fulford (5TD's total) has to guard against. The Comets have several different guys who can make plays. Woodbridge sophomore QB Mike Majette, who holds an offer from West Virginia, has led a Vikings offense that has put up 67 points total on Franklin County and Broad Run. In what could be another tight contest, don't be surprised to see Majette be the difference late.
Says: Woodbridge 19-13
Says: Nansemond River 20-14
Says: Cox 34-6
Says: First Colonial 17-15
Says: Kellam 23-13
Says: Landstown 21-7
Says: GW-Danville 28-20
Says: Norcom 37-8
Says: Denbigh 20-17
Says: Heritage 37-9
Says: Warwick 34-28
Matthew Hatfield has covered Eastern Region Football & Basketball since 2004 for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related updates, and you can also read his work in the Suffolk News Herald. To contact Matthew, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and don't forget to listen to him on the VirginiaPreps.com Hour every Saturday at 11AM on ESPN Radio 94.1 plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.