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October 26, 2012
We're down to the last two weeks of the regular season in the Eastern Region. We have two matchups worthy of Game of the Week. Grassfield, which is coming off its first loss of the year a week ago, travels to Oscar Smith to play a Tigers team looking to win its ninth straight Southeastern District title. Over in the Beach District, Cox plays host to Bayside in a battle where the winner should be in the playoffs, and the loser is most likely out.
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.
#8 Grassfield (7-1) at #1 Oscar Smith (7-1) . . . Oscar Smith puts its 53-game Southeastern District winning streak on the line when the Grassfield Grizzlies roll into Beard-DeLong-Easley Field in Chesapeake. Grassfield is the only team in the district since 2007 to play Oscar Smith within single-digits, doing so twice. Of those 53 straight league victories for the Tigers, all but four of them have been by a minimum of 20 points, truly speaking to their level of dominance in recent years. Coach Rich Morgan has to like how Oscar Smith's offense has performed since the season-opening to Byrnes as they've won every game since then by no less than 29 points, averaging 48.3PPG against Virginia competition this year.
Tigers quarterback DaShawn Blow is playing as well as anyone at his position with 23 touchdowns to only two interceptions. In the backfield, DeShawn McClease averages over 11 yards per carry and is a home-run threat, while Marcus Smith would also have 1000 yards if he got over 15 touches a contest. Once UVA commit and star receiver Zack Jones came back fully healthy from the ankle injury, he has been a serious weapon the last two times out versus Western Branch and Deep Creek with 155 yards receiving and three touchdowns over that span to bring his season totals to 19 grabs for 536 yards and 7TD's. Opposite him is ODU commit Melvin Vaughn with 501 yards and 6TD's receiving.
The Grizzlies have thrived on long touchdowns all season long. Tailback Isaiah Harper has six touchdowns of 60 yards or longer with seven plays overall over 60 yards. His speedy backfield mate, fellow junior Vincent Lowe, has seven touchdowns with three of them on the defensive end. Quarterback Blake LaRussa continues to step up during his junior season with 1169 yards passing on 56 of 108 with 15 touchdowns compared to just four interceptions. Grassfield has seen Paris Smith come into his own this year as well; he leads the Southeastern District with 629 yards and 8TD's receiving.
While the Grassfield offense amassed nearly 400 total yards in their 25-21 loss to King's Fork, they had trouble stopping the run and getting penetration with its front seven. Facing an Oscar Smith offensive line that is one of the state's best will make it an unenviable task, and they've got to get others to step up around middle linebacker Marcus Mitchell, who although undersized, plays with non-stop hustle as he notched 15 total tackles last week. The Tigers have multiple defensive standouts with BCS-level prospect Andrew Brown, ODU commit Kanyia Anderson and Darren Flowers (9 sacks) all as headliners along the defensive line. Their secondary has speed and playmaking ability with Monty Fenner and Lakwon Chapel both scoring defensive touchdowns within the past month.
#1 - - Be Aggressive, Strike Quickly
#2 - - Force WR's Not Named Paris Smith to Beat You
#3 - - Limit Grassfield's Return Yardage
#1 - - Get Lowe & Harper the Ball in Space
#2 - - Be Physical with Ball-Control Style
#3 - - Disguise Blitzes as well as Coverage
#9 Bayside (7-2) at #10 Cox (6-2) . . . These two teams are fighting for third place in the Beach District, which doesn't seem like much with Ocean Lakes and Salem having already beaten both by double-figures, but a playoff berth is very much on the line. The winner should get in, while the loser is most likely out. Of course, the reward for the winner might not be a whole lot since a first round matchup with defending Division 6 State Champion Oscar Smith could await them. Bayside has won four in a row in the head-to-head series, including in the quarterfinals of the 2010 playoffs. Each team enters on a five-game winning streak, putting up impressive offensive numbers over that stretch and doing just enough on defense, whether that means key stops in the red zone or coming up with takeaways.
Four-year Marlins starting quarterback Deion Stitt enters this contest just 121 yards away from Great Bridge grad Casey Turner for fourth place on the VHSL career passing list. Perhaps the best stat of all is that he hasn't been picked off in the last five games after throwing four interceptions through their first four games. Tailback and UVA commit Taquan 'Smoke' Mizzell, a five-star prospect, leads the Eastern Region in rushing touchdowns with 19 and comes in just 103 yards shy of 1000 for the season. Offensively, Darnell Moore's Marlins are putting up 44.6PPG during their win streak.
Bill Stachelski's Cox offense runs a somewhat complicated triple-option that requires opponents to know their assignments and gaps or else they'll get carved up slowly but surely. Junior signal caller Tommy McKee (1146 total yards, 15TD's) and Mike DeMasi, who has added 472 yards and 4TD's, are the engines to that attack. Bryan Campbell at receiver has over 600 yards offense and accounted for 5TD's, proving to be one of their more versatile standouts. Up front on the line, tackle Gabe Hollins has the ability to be a next level player and is one of the district's better blockers. Bayside linebackers Will Dillard and Anthony Christman have to be able to keep the Cox runs via the option to minimal gains.
The matchups to watch will be the Cox cornerbacks against the Bayside wide receivers. Tahj Coleman (6 takeaways) and Isaiah Fenner have to be to keep junior standout Quin Blanding and senior Devate Batey from beating them over the top and cashing in with the big play. Crisp tackling is a must against Bayside. The Falcons have six players with 30 total stops or more, led by 37 apiece from Tucker Curran and Adam Carroll. Bayside has given up a number of sacks on the year, and when they lost to Ocean Lakes and Salem, their blocking really showed to be a weakness. Give Stitt time, and the Marlins should see plenty of opportunities to put points up on the board.
#1 - - Control QB McKee & the Option
#2 - - Stay Balanced Offensively
#3 - - Feed Mizzell & Blanding Early
#1 - - Limit Bayside's Vertical Passing Opportunities
#2 - - Rattle Stitt & Win Battle Up Front
#3 - - Finish in the Red Zone
Says: Lake Taylor 42-0
Says: Ocean Lakes 49-10
Says: Phoebus 45-3
Says: Salem 47-6
Says: Hampton 38-13
Says: Granby 32-8
Says: Bethel 42-9
Says: Western Branch 56-14
Says: King's Fork 36-12
Says: First Colonial 30-7
Says: Norview 27-21
Says: Nansemond River 26-16
Says: Lakeland 48-21
Says: Woodside 27-7
Says: Heritage 35-20
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.