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August 23, 2013
Where did the summer go? High School Football is here beginning this evening for teams in the Hampton Roads area as the Norview Pilots and Maury Commodores from Norfolk get underway, while the perennial Peninsula District contender Phoebus takes on DeMatha on Saturday in Virginia Beach in one of the more anticipated early season matchups for the 2013 campaign.
Before we get to breaking down the action, let's review the Eastern Region Predictions from 2012 with State Football Editor Rod Johnson, VHSL-Reference.com and Matthew Hatfield.
#4 Phoebus vs. DeMatha at the Va. Beach Sportsplex . . . Few games seen all year long will feature as much talent on display as this one on Saturday afternoon at 5PM at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex when private school power DeMatha out of Hyattsville, Maryland takes on the Phoebus Phantoms, a team that has dominated the 2000's in Virginia High School Football with seven state titles, including four straight from 2008-11. The Phantoms' last contest was a 54-0 shellacking they suffered at the hands of Lake Taylor, which went on to win the Division 5 State Championship. DeMatha went 9-3 last year and go into the season nationally-ranked as high as #15 in the country in a couple of different polls.
DeMatha is absolutely loaded with FBS-level talents on both sides of the ball. On paper, it's tough to find a weakness with Coach Elijah Brooks' squad, which has five D-1 commits in running backs Taiwan Deal (Wisconsin), Mark Allen (Penn State), wide receivers Cameron Phillips (Virginia Tech) and Jarrell Jordan (Richmond), and defensive lineman Deonte Holden (NC State). It doesn't end there for the Stags either.
Returning starting quarterback Josh Lovett threw for 2156 yards and 21 touchdowns last season after transferring in from St. Anthony's in New York. In his first start, Lovett threw for 214 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions, showing the poise it takes to operate under pressure against tough competition. His offensive line is mighty large with 6-foot-8, 320-pound tackle Brock Ruble paving the way. Ruble holds offers from the likes of Maryland, NC State, Ohio State and Tennessee. He'll open up holes for Deal, a between the tackles rusher that racked up 955 yards and 21TD's last season, and Allen, someone that'll take off going outside.
At receiver, Phillips' athleticism is no joke. Double covering him will be tough for Phoebus to do because it leaves Jordan and three-star talent Chris Jones, who holds over a dozen BCS offers, them open or single covered. Defensively, there are nine starters back with Holden, a relentless force on the line, and linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley, two difference making players. Their secondary covers a lot of ground, too.
For Phoebus to keep this juggernaut in check, Jeremy Blunt's squad will have to do a lot of what we've seen from their teams in the past under Bill Dee and Stan Sexton, which means smash-mouth, ball-control and playing physical. They can't have repeat mistakes, and defensively must capitalize early by getting DeMatha off the field on third down or creating a turnover. Hampton transfer Marshawn Williams (Virginia Tech commit), who ran for nearly 1200 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, will be a workhorse in this one behind a large line of their own, anchored by guards Walter Brantley and Jamal Earls.
The big question mark looming with Phoebus entering this heavyweight tilt is who will be the quarterback? Sophomore Terrell Toliver, who had 12 touchdowns compared to only one interception, and junior Joe Addison, a Hampton transfer, are battling for the starting spot. Phoebus needs their receivers to come up in the clutch on passes in traffic to extend drives because it's likely DeMatha will load the box and not let Williams get to the second level of the defense.
On the defensive side of the ball for the Phantoms, can they apply pressure on Lovett? Deal and Allen are likely to get their 25-plus touches, but when the Stags go to the air, they can't let the signal caller have time to pick them apart because their receivers will make them pay, even with the Phoebus secondary, led by sophomore star Robbie Robinson, expected to be improved. Phoebus lost a pair of D-1 commits in Mark Wilson and Richie Staton to graduation with those guys at Cincinnati and ODU respectively. Four-year starter Kevin Lyles, junior Harry Lewis and the rest of the d-line gets a shot to prove their worth on the grand stage by both being disruptive in the run game and attacking the quarterback.
Ultimately for Phoebus to win this game in my opinion, they have to jump out in front early, and make it a one-dimensional style game about Time of Possession where they aren't forced to see a lot of third-and-long passing situations. Blunt believes that this game can be won by the defense setting up the offense with high-percentage scoring opportunities. That means they'll have to successfully disguise their blitzes and coverages to make that happen. DeMatha has so much firepower that it'll be awfully hard for any team in Virginia to beat them. After being throttled in the regional title game last year, I'm curious to see how Phoebus handles an initial burst, which DeMatha is talented enough to throw their way.
*** Since VHSL-Reference does not project scores with teams involving out-of-state opponents, we'll give them a win if I'm right or a loss if I'm wrong so that it doesn't affect the number of games or standings any in the Predictions battle.
Says: Maury 28-14
Says: Norview 27-21
Matthew Hatfield has covered football and 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 every Saturday at 10AM on ESPN Radio 94.1, plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.