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October 19, 2012
Three more weeks in the regular season remain, meaning we're getting closer to crowning Champions in the four districts across the entire region. That also means the playoffs are right around the corner. The Game of the Week pits undefeated Granby against Lake Taylor. There are also some other battles that'll have significant implications on the postseason picture.
Before we start to breakdown this week's matchups, let's review the Eastern Region Prediction Standings with State Football Editor Rod Johnson, VHSL-Reference.com and Matthew Hatfield.
#2 Lake Taylor (7-0) at #8 Granby (7-0) . . . Enjoy this one football fans in Norfolk and across the Eastern Region. I say that because it's the last battle between undefeated teams until the playoffs arrive. Two of the remaining five unbeaten squads in the region square off here with the winner in great shape to go on and claim the Eastern District title. Lake Taylor has won seven straight meetings over the Comets with Granby failing to score more than 14 points in any of those matchups.
For resurgent Granby, off to its best start since capturing a state title back in 1966, they haven't won a league crown in eight years. Coach Curt Brown has his team two wins away from securing a playoff berth, and they haven't been there since he was a defensive coordinator under Dave Hudak back in '04 when Bobby Rome and Chris Bell led the team. Lake Taylor under Coach Hank Sawyer is used to winning the district crown; they've done so six times since 2005 and will be in the playoffs for an eighth consecutive year. Two great defenses that each have six shutouts over their last 12 games will be on display. Also, Lake Taylor brings in the highest scoring attack in the Eastern Region at 45.9 points per contest.
Lake Taylor has been impressive on offense with their ability to strike with the passing game or by running the ball. Junior QB Delmon Williams is red hot with 910 yards passing and 17 touchdowns without an interception. Receiver Harry Freeman (16Rec. 280Yds. 8TD's) emerged right away as his go-to option this year with Donovan Powell, Jalyn Holmes and Jakale Pinkney all proving to be capable targets for Williams when defenses key in on Freeman. On the ground, Brandon 'Pork Chop' Moore (109Att. 1026Yds. 15TD's) and Daquan Davis (84Att. 642Yds. 7TD's) are the bread and butter. D-linemen and linebackers haven't been able to stop them all year. Senior center Cliff Arrington, an All-Region performer, helps anchor the offensive line.
Granby's offense isn't real flashy or overpowering at 25.9 points per game, but the Comets manage the game and don't turn it over, checking in at +6 in the turnover margin category on the year. Junior signal caller William Smith (589 pass yards, 6-5TD/Int. ratio) is pretty efficient throwing the ball, not forcing the ball into tight windows too often and taking what the defense gives him. He'll also scramble away from trouble fairly well. Lawrence Harris (9TD's total) and Sidney Fulford are their two main playmakers. Harris has rushed for 474 yards and 6TD's with 98 on the ground and a pair of scores in last week's 14-0 shutout of Norcom. Fulford adds 15 grabs for 273 yards and 3TD's. Those two along with Emmanuel White may have to do more work at receiver than we've seen through seven games.
After they put up 383 total yards of offense in the opener versus Great Bridge, Granby has averaged only 241.5 total yards per game with juts 189 a week ago. The Lake Taylor defense is anything but generous as foes have negative rushing yards against them, and the Titans have more sacks with 29 than points allowed, 27. Holmes, Brandon Lynch (21TFL), Marquise Poole (8 sacks), Jamel Spellman and Nyquan 'Big Money' Harris are legitimate All-Region candidates from this group. Nhyre Quinerly in the secondary has three interceptions and the sophomore is one to watch when teams try to throw on the Titans.
As for Granby's defense, they have given up only 533 yards through the air, 468 on the ground and a meager 5.4 points per game. The team leans heavily on the pass rush with Tashad Charity, Sherrod Ryland and sophomore Quinton Brown on the defensive line to disrupt opposing offenses. Last week, that trio collected nearly a dozen tackles for loss, causing numerous problems for Norcom's offensive line. They break down the protection scheme, and then that allows linebackers Caleb Wilson, Tommy Spencer and Evan Stephens to make things happen. Wilson, nicknamed the Honey Badger, is their emotional leader.
#1 - - Don't Give Granby Short Fields: To me, it's the only way the Comets score. As long as Lake Taylor doesn't turn the ball over on its own end, which the most likely way being a fumble, then Granby's offense has its work cut out for them against an ultra-aggressive, ruthless defensive front of the Titans. If Granby has to start at its own 20 or 30 yard line, even if they hit one big play it doesn't necessarily mean a touchdown. They do so inside the Titans' 40-yard line, and that play could end up being a touchdown. It gives you room for error on defense, and even though the Titans seldom make mistakes or get beat over the top on that side of the ball, having a cushion isn't a bad thing.
#2 - - Establish the Passing Game: Usually, you hear it the other way around and that's establish the run. But Lake Taylor is used to seeing teams stack the box. Maury did it two weeks ago and it allowed Williams to set a school record with 6TD's passing. Granby is equally thin in the secondary as the Commodores were, and Lake Taylor wants to get some favorable one-on-one matchups with Freeman, Pinkney, Powell and Holmes on the outside. That should open up the run as well. If they are as productive as they've been throughout the course of the year, could very easily force Granby to make some adjustments on defense. There will be plenty of scoring opportunities as long as the offensive line keeps the pass rush with Charity, Ryland and Brown off of Williams.
#3 - - Make the Comets Abandon the Run: That's what Lake Taylor wants to do and needs to do for this to be a blowout. Granby hasn't thrown the ball more than 19 times in any games this year. Just last week, Norview had to put it in the air 33 times and failed to find the end zone, seeing their quarterback get hit on 30 of his attempts. The fewer times Harris and Fulford touch the ball early in the play, the better for the Lake Taylor defense as they'll be looking to tee off on Smith and blitz from a different angles.
#1 - - Create Turnovers: For the season, Granby has 20 takeaways, seven of them coming in a victory over Churchland two weeks ago. Seemingly, the only way to stop Lake Taylor is have the Titans stop themselves. So far, the Titans have six lost fumbles, which isn't a whole lot. But if Lake Taylor in their split-veer attack puts the ball on the carpet multiple times, that gets their high-octane offense off the field and allows Granby to churn out yards with its rushing attack. The Comets want to shorten the game, and their best way to do that is by having the football. At least two takeaways are needed in my opinion for this game to be close and Granby to have a realistic shot at winning.
#2 - - Convert Third Downs: Whether it's third down and long, third down and short or third down and medium, Granby must convert some of these plays. For the season, Lake Taylor's opponents are 6 of 77 on third downs. It's no wonder the Titans have won every game they've played thus far by a minimum of 21 points. That means on average opponents are faced with third down 11 times and converting less than one of them. This is a defense getting three-and-outs time after time. Even if you don't score a touchdown or field goal, move the chains on third down so that field position is in your favor.
- - Step Up in the Red Zone: That's
offensively and defensively. When the
Titans get there, you have to be able to come up with stops to hold them to
field goals (better to allow 3 instead of 7 of course), and make them decide to
go for it on fourth down or not. On the
other side of the ball, the Comets can't get great field position and not
capitalize or put together a nice drive and see it stall. A lot of this effort will fall on the
offensive line and Smith to be a judicious decision maker, not force anything
in the red zone like he did a week ago when Norcom's Triquan Holman picked him off because they probably won't
have a 14-point cushion like they did a week ago.
Closing Thoughts: Granby has had a wonderful season and been the surprise story in the region. Beating Lake Taylor is a tall task, and if they won this game, it would stun many people, yours truly included. It has to be a perfect storm for the Comets, which means a bunch of penalties, turnovers and self-inflicted mistakes by the Titans for this game to be tight by half-time and have a shot to win. That's asking a lot, particularly for a Granby team that doesn't really have a deep receiving core or secondary.
Part of Lake Taylor's transformation from a good team
to an elite title contender is the expansion of the passing game on
offense. Williams has throw nine
touchdowns over the last two games, and they're attacking defenses without any
interceptions so far. The Titans have a
bevvy of weapons on the ground or by air, so it'll be difficult to contain them,
even for a Granby defense that is one of the better around like Lake Taylor's
tough unit. Both defensive lines are
more than capable of winning the matchup up front. However, Lake Taylor has more flexibility and
versatility with what they can do on either side of the ball. Plus, the Titans are used to playing in games
with Championship implications like this, so anything less than a top-notch
showing would be surprising.
Says: Oscar Smith 56-7
Says: Ocean Lakes 46-0
Woodside has shown the ability to be balanced on offense with QB Darius Howell and RB Tyris Walker at the forefront of their attack, seeing the passing game progress from game one to now. Trey Reed, a virtual unknown going into the season, leads the PD with 20 receptions. Tim Flood is the catalyst for the Woodside defense. The senior linebacker has three defensive touchdowns over the last two games, both wins for the Wolverines. In order to spring the upset, Woodside must be able to contain Phoebus' ground attack, and convert third downs, something that is extremely difficult to do consistently the Phantoms' defense.
Says: Phoebus 33-17
Says: Salem 48-16
Says: Hampton 45-3
Says: Bayside 49-15
Says: Bethel 34-17
Says: Western Branch 31-14
Says: First Colonial 24-6
Says: Booker T. Washington 16-13
Says: Maury 32-10
Says: Lakeland 42-7
Says: Indian River 24-20
Says: Denbigh 20-13
Says: Heritage 30-20
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 email@example.com, and don't forget to listen to him on High School Sports Talk from 10AM to Noon on ESPN Radio 94.1 plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.