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November 9, 2012
Eastern Region D-5 Quarterfinals Preview
The Eastern Region Division 5 quarterfinals get underway at four different sites on Friday night, all re-matches from the regular season. The higher seeded teams won each of the regular season meetings all by double-figures. Will it be more of the same with blowouts or is an upset in the cards?
Before we start to breakdown this week's quarterfinal matchups, let's review the Eastern Region Prediction Standings with State Football Editor Rod Johnson, VHSL-Reference.com and Matthew Hatfield.
About Lake Taylor: For the third time in six years, Lake Taylor under Coach Hank Sawyer ran off a perfect 10-0 regular season in capturing their tenth Eastern District crown in 14 years. Lake Taylor comes in as the second highest scoring offense in the Eastern Region at 46 points per game behind quarterback Delmon Williams, who has a remarkable 23-0 touchdown-interception ratio on the season, and set a school single-game record earlier this year with 6TD's through the air in their victory over Maury. Eight times this team has eclipsed 40 points, and their two running backs - - Brandon 'Pork Chop' Moore and Daquan Davis - - are major reasons why, combining for 2252 yards and 27TD's on the ground. Pork Chop was the Eastern District Offensive Player of the Year.
Three offensive linemen made All-Eastern District First Team for the Titans in senior center Cliff Arrington, junior tackle Justice Gilbert and sophomore guard A.J. Williams. That unit could be key to them making a deep run in the postseason as they will be counted on to get good push up front and help make sure they remain explosive offensively. Donovan Powell gives them a versatile weapon that can run, pass or catch the football, scoring 4TD's rushing in last week's victory over Norcom. Wideouts Harry Freeman (25Rec. 470Yds. 11TD's) and Jakale Pinkney (13Rec. 295Yds. 3TD's) and tight end Jalyn Holmes (13Rec. 154Yds. 4TD's) round out a talented receiving core. On defense, the Titans have made 39 sacks with Holmes, Brandon Lynch, Marquise Poole, Nyquan 'Big Money' Harris, Shiheem Johnson and co-Eastern District Defensive Player of the Year Jamel Spellman all applying pressure.
About Maury: After going only 3-17 over the last two seasons, year two of the Chris Fraser tenure has seen improvement for the Maury Commodores, who are making their fifth playoff appearance since 2005. The Commodores scored at least 21 points in each of their first five games, knocking off last year's Peninsula District Champion Woodside to grab early momentum. Their offense is putting up a respectable 28.3 points per game, but the Commodores have scored only 21 points over the last two contests with junior star receiver Davion Taylor out due to a torn meniscus. Not turning over the football is important because in last week's 32-8 rivalry loss to Granby, Maury had four of them, including three interceptions that proved to be costly.
Without Taylor, they lean more on their running game that features QB Anthony Smith (546 yards passing, 14TD's total), running back Nigel English, Russell Barclift and freshman tailback Delveon Little (725 rush yards, 8TD's). On defense, Maury got double-digit tackles in their regular season finale from sophomore LB/DE Derek Wilder, the son of ODU Head Football Coach Bobby Wilder. Derek will factor into the equation on offense as well at tight end. He and Taylor were the only players chosen First or Second Team All-District on defense for Maury. Smith makes a huge chunk of their tackles on defense from the linebacker spot.
Inside the Matchup: With Moore looking like he's not quite 100% the last two weeks, Davis has come on with 33 rushes for 309 yards the last two games, giving the Titans that lift. Powell and Williams both brings a dimension to their offense, and Maury has to find something they can dial up defensively to create turnovers. Furthermore, their offense can't be predictable without a bail-out playmaker in Taylor.
Opponents believe the way to test Lake Taylor is through the air rather than running against them, where they've given up only 102 yards on the ground the entire season, fewest in the region. Even back there in the defensive backfield, sophomore corner Nhyre Quinerly has made four interceptions on the year and junior Aaron Chandler came up with a big pick six against Granby, so offenses must carefully pick their spots to attack.
Final Thoughts: Can Maury establish anything offensively? Remember, in their regular season meeting that the Titans won 48-14, Maury gave up six touchdown passes through the air and this is a Commodores defense giving up 29.2PPG (most among all playoff teams), so their best chance of winning is in a high-scoring affair, not a low-scoring defensive battle. Both of their TD's in the regular season meeting came from Taylor and he's gone. The Titans are so very balanced on offense and are going to move the ball and score, even if they get off to a slow start. This is simply a tune-up type game for Lake Taylor as they prepare for the regional semifinals, at least one would think. Look for them to sniff out the run from the get-go, and attack defensively from all angles in a rout.
Says: Lake Taylor 56-10
About Lakeland: For the second year in a row, the Lakeland Cavaliers are in the Group AAA Division 5 Eastern Region Playoffs, only this time they are at home instead of opening up on the road in Portsmouth against Norcom, which eliminated them a year ago. Coach Glenwood Ferebee has an offense that can be potent at times, scoring 35 points or more in five of their seven wins, and one that also can get in a rut when they failed to crack 200 total yards, which occurred in losses to Western Branch and Oscar Smith. Quarterback Zach Super has completed 118 of 198 pass attempts with 1773 yards and a 16-11TD/Int. ratio, playing his best football down the stretch. At Super's disposal are a host of playmakers, led by wideout Antonio Jefferson, who has made 43 catches for 695 yards and 7TD's go with a district-high eight interceptions.
Last year's co-Southeastern District Offensive Player of the Year, running back Raekwon Johnson, has had his ups and downs, rushing for just 727 yards and 10TD's after accumulating over 2000 all-purpose yards as a junior. Receivers Derrick Edghill, Darnell McMillian and Mike Piersawl help spread the field and allow the Cavs to spread the field. When teams double Jefferson, it opens the door for one of them to make an impact. Outside of four games giving up 21 points or more, the Lakeland defense has held every other opponent to nine points or less. Only a freshman, linebacker Jaquan Yulee is a major force for them, coming through with some timely plays last week.
About King's Fork: Making their first playoff appearance in school history, Joe Jones' King's Fork Bulldogs have come on strong to end the season, upsetting Grassfield 25-21 on the road in late October, and giving Oscar Smith quite a scare in the regular season finale. They led the Tigers 20-7 in the third quarter and 28-21 with under a minute to play before falling 42-35 in double-overtime. Six times this year they have rushed for 200 yards and their season low of 23 came in a 35-7 loss to Lakeland. Virginia Tech commit Charles Clark and East Carolina commit Davon Grayson are the senior leaders for this team. Junior quarterback Uriah Adams has raised his level of play with over 1000 yards rushing and passing, and freshman RB Deshaun Wethington is a promising part of their offense for years to come.
Clark has rushed for 10 touchdowns and has followed up being the Southeastern District Defensive Player of the Year as a junior by returning four interceptions for scores this season. Grayson leads the team with 28 receptions for 414 yards, collecting 11 of them for 127 yards last week against Oscar Smith with most of that work coming on shovel passes. Senior linebackers TC Livingston, Deshawn Johnson and Will Black along with Tarrell Lassiter from the safety spot will deliver some solid hits. Limiting big gains has been an issue for this group at times, giving up over 300 yards of offense four times in the past six weeks.
Inside the Matchup: Can Lakeland establish the running game? On the year, the Cavaliers have rushed for only 875 yards, less than four yards a pop and four times finished with minus yards on the ground, including against non-playoff qualifiers Hickory and Nansemond River. Now, that being said, the Cavs did rush for a season-high 265 yards against King's Fork in their regular season victory. But will Lakeland's offensive line have trouble opening up holes and are their snaps going to be iffy like last week vs. Nansemond River? It's imperative that D'Kente White, Chris Rodgers, Craig Taylor and company are sharp in the trenches.
Meanwhile, King's Fork needs to be able to shut down Jefferson on the outside with Clark, Grayson, JaQuon Diggs or whoever because in a tight battle like this he's dangerous enough to be a game-breaker. Furthermore, run the ball and wear Lakeland's defensive front down. The Cavs aren't real deep outside of the skill positions. When the Bulldogs run the rock upwards of 40 times, they are 5-1, but they are just 2-2 with less than 40 carries. It's not hard to figure out that they're a team in that option/pistol system have four weapons with QB Adams, RB Wethington, SB Clark and WR Grayson give opponents problems and have the ability to keep the defense guessing. Even James Hibbs plays an integral role on offense and has to be accounted for by the defense.
Final Thoughts: This is a game I've gone back and forth on who will win all week. Quite honestly, it's a toss-up and either result wouldn't surprise me. A blowout would be a little surprising. It's a huge night for the city of Suffolk, known more for its basketball. To get a team to the regional semifinals is a giant step towards gaining some respectability in a district where Chesapeake has dominated for years and years. King's Fork seems to have more momentum (if you believe in such a thing) coming off taking Oscar Smith to 2OT's and beating Grassfield just a few weeks ago. Rather quietly, the Lakeland defense is playing quite well, not allowing a touchdown in the last three weeks, and Super at QB is making defenses pay when he gets time to throw. Ultimately, a compelling case can be made for either team and I see it coming down to converting in the red zone and minimizing the type of miscues that lead to points for other teams.
Says: King's Fork 30-28
About Hampton: For the 35th time in the past 36 years, the Hampton Crabbers are in the playoffs. They go with the postseason like Santa Claus does with Christmas. Their jolly guy wearing red is Coach Mike Smith (well, jolly sometimes), a man with 436 career wins, most in VHSL history. The Crabbers have claimed more state titles than any other program in Virginia, but haven't won one since 2005 when Tyrod Taylor, now of the Baltimore Ravens, led the way. This team has put up some mighty strong numbers, averaging 37.6 points per game and pitching five consecutive shutouts until last week's 35-21 loss to Phoebus in the regular season finale in a game where they out-gained the Phantoms. It's quite possible they see Phoebus again in the regional semis.
On offense, they are led by senior quarterback Deon Newsome and junior running back Marshawn Williams; both Virginia Tech commits who together have racked up 1929 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns. Newsome dislocated his kneecap in last week's loss, but should be okay to play here. Roscoe Hale gives them a speed dimension running the ball to complement those guys, accumulating over 100 yards on the ground in each of the past two games. On the offensive line, left tackle Jamonte Spriggs, guard Troy Garrett and center Daunte Wilson all earned either First or Second Team All-Peninsula District honors. Defensively, Wilson and Garrett are sure tacklers along with safety and ODU commit Daquin Moore. D-lineman Quan Henry also returns to the lineup this week.
About Norcom: Coach Larry Archie had his share of concerns going into this season with last year's Norcom team that made it to the regional title game graduating a lot, including their entire starting secondary and receiving core. Nevertheless, Norcom rebounded from a 1-2 start to reach the playoffs for a fourth straight year and notch their fifth winning season in a row. Offensively, they go where running back Traquan Martin takes them. Diminutive, yet shifty and elusive, Martin has rushed for 1021 yards and 7TD's on 143 attempts. They balance things out with a powerful, between the tackles runner in Aaron Parker, and even QB Darron Downing is capable of making things happen with his legs. Speaking of Downing, he has thrown for 753 yards on the season, often targeting Kevin Jones and lately Kenneth Wilder Jr.
Six of the opponents they've played, the Greyhounds have given up 14 points or fewer. Through the first six games of the year, Norcom was allowing only 105.3 yards rushing per game. Since that point, they are giving up 229 yards rushing a contest, including over 300 in a win over Maury. They give up some yardage, but usually buckle down in the red zone, which was the case in a 24-13 triumph over Maury where senior defensive back Darius Jackson came up with two clutch interceptions. At linebacker, Fred Harris, Triquan Holman and Antony 'Tweety' Styles don't miss too many tackles and excel fairly well at closing rushing lanes for ball carriers. Sophomore LB Brian Cavicante has stepped up lately, too.
Inside the Matchup: It's a really simple formula for success for the Greyhounds. When they rush for over 150 yards, they win. They are 6-0 when that happens. However, when their running game is bottled up for less than 125 yards, they have gone 0-4, three times being limited to less than 70 yards on the ground. The offensive line must create running room for Martin and give Downing time to throw so he doesn't have to scramble out of the pocket so much to buy time. This task will be up to DeAndre Morrison, Devin Morrison, Marques Harvey and the rest of that bunch up front.
Norcom also has to be able to stop the run, something they've not done against quality foes. Hampton passes as one of those quality foes. Whether it's Newsome, Hale, Williams or even freshman Demetrius Strickland, the Crabbers have dynamic rushing options, all capable of busting one to the house, even against a Norcom defense that doesn't give up too many big plays. What Hampton can't do is let this game come down to having to make a lot of plays in the passing game because they've been kind of spotty in that area. In other words, if they get behind a score or two, things could get a little dicey.
Final Thoughts: My biggest question is which Norcom team will show up? If it's the one we saw for about the first 15 minutes against Lake Taylor, where they were driving to take a 21-7 lead before fumbling in the red zone, then the Greyhounds have a great shot at springing the upset. If it's the one we've seen given up a ton of yards rushing on the ground and gave up 42 unanswered points to the Titans, they have next to no shot at advancing. This team has been largely inconsistent against teams that have winning records with each of their four losses coming to playoff teams and the only victory over a postseason-bound squad being versus Maury. Even if Newsome is not at full strength, Hampton has enough firepower to get the job done and their defense is playing even better than when Norcom saw them back on September 8th.
Says: Hampton 28-7
About Phoebus: Everything including the kitchen sink has been thrown at the Phoebus Phantoms' football program. Chasing an unprecedented fifth consecutive state title, which would be a VHSL record, Phoebus went through some turmoil at the midway point when Stan Sexton was dismissed as Head Football Coach following an incident at practice. Shortly after that incident, star running back Tony Pittman was suspended two games, and defensive coordinator Jeremy Blount became Head Coach. The Phantoms showed their grit, determination and Championship mettle though, not missing a beat and concluding another 10-0 regular season, making their record 151-11 since 2001. Possibly most impressive, Phoebus is undefeated with a freshman QB in Terrell Toliver, who has 10 touchdown passes and yet to throw an interception.
Pittman returned following his two-game suspension and continues to run like a bull, rolling up 1465 yards on the ground, third most currently in the Eastern Region, and 17 touchdowns. He was a driving force during their playoff run last year and will be tough to stop as will Da'Quan Lane, their #2 option on the ground with 1683 yards and 11 touchdowns. To go with an offense averaging 42PPG, the defense allows only 9.8PPG, combining speed, physicality and toughness with Wilson, Lewis, Kevin Lyles, Richie Staton (12TD's total), linebacker Atavius Matthews and freshman corner Robbie Robinson leading the way.
About Heritage: It has been a wonderful year in season two under George Massenburg for the Heritage Hurricanes, which earned its first postseason berth since 2007 and now will seek their first playoff win in 12 years. After being shutout by Hampton in the opener, Heritage proceeded to average 35 points per game over the next four, which included a 28-27 nail-biting loss to the Phantoms. That was the most points the Phoebus defense has given up all year. Heritage did suffer a late-season setback with a 35-14 loss to Warwick, which didn't make the playoffs. Throw out that performance and a loss to Bethel where they gave up 41 points and the defense is allowing only 14.6PPG. Offensively, they are led by the Peninsula District Offensive Player of the Year in Khalid Abdullah.
Abdullah, who one offer on the table from James Madison University, has an unorthodox running style, but it's successful to the tune of rushing for 1555 yards and 21 touchdowns. Heritage will mix in fullback Cameron Siler at times, and even Richard Outlaw will take off on some quarterback keepers. Credit goes to the Heritage offensive line as well, which is anchored by Second Team All-District performer Ian Giddings, a sophomore with nearly 50 tackles on the year on defense. Defensively, d-lineman Deonte Tucker, Charlie Harrison and sophomores Dimitri Holloway at linebacker and corner Marcus Van Hook have all risen to the occasion at different times.
Inside the Matchup: Phoebus did have a tough time slowing down Abdullah in the first meeting as he got over 100 yards and nearly led the Hurricanes to an enormous upset. The Phantoms know they have to put Heritage into some third-and-long passing situations where Abdullah isn't in the equation. Forcing the Canes to pass increase the number of takeaway opportunities for the defense, plus allows guys like Staton, Wilson and Matthews to tee off on blitzes.
What seems to be a daunting task for Heritage in this matchup is neutralizing that strong Phoebus running game by penetrating through the offensive line. The Phantoms are massive on the o-line with Jamal Earls, Harry Lewis, ODU commit Mark Wilson, Anthony Burrell, Tyreek Bailey and All-PD guard Walter Brantley. Those names mentioned earlier, such as Holloway, Harrison, Van Hook and Tucker, are all vital to the run stuffing effort for Heritage.
Final Thoughts: This one comes down to simply whoever can slow down the other team's workhorse running back. Given how much Phoebus raises its level of play in the postseason and thrives on playoff re-matches, the edge has to go to them. They just beat their archrival last week and could come out a little flat, except Heritage played them close so they will take them very serious on their 'Drive for Five.' Heritage has to be able to shorten the game with Abdullah and make the freshman beat them. So far, Toliver is doing a great job of being a game-manager and not taking many risks at all. Phoebus had the well-documented coaching change, but they don't seem to let much bother them when it comes to kickoff and between those white lines. Experience should mean a lot here, too.
Says: Phoebus 31-13
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 Saturdays from 10AM to Noon on ESPN Radio 94.1 plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.