A week before the Virginia High School League’s traditional first release of the statewide football power ratings is as good a time as any to discuss the uncharted territory the 2011 Group A playoffs are headed for.
The new five-week playoff system will effectively do away with regional championships while increasing overall participation and — at least theoretically — generating playoff matchups that are more interesting than what we are accustomed to seeing.
“The last three years at Powell Valley, we had to play at Gate City the first round. And it’s not been a pleasant experience,” observed Union coach Travis Turner earlier this season.
“This time, we may have the opportunity to play somebody else, maybe from the Roanoke area. That makes it a little more exciting for the fans,” added Turner, whose Bears take an open date this week.
The VHSL has divided the state into Eastern and Western sections, with Division 1 and Division 2 memberships for each. At the end of the regular season, the top 16 teams for each section will be seeded and bracketed according to the power ratings. At this point, district championships are meaningless. The lower eight travel to the higher eight.
Southwest Virginia teams can expect to face only Western Section opponents for the first three weeks. East-West pairings come into play in the state semifinals (Dec. 3). The state championship games will be played Dec. 10 at Salem.
The Division 2 Western Section is the most geographically far-flung of the two. But the Division 1 Western Section still provides early match-up prospects that are far remoter than those traditionally occurring within Region D.
“You could wind up in that lower bunch and have to go all the way to Radford for the first game,” said Twin Springs coach Mike Castle, whose Titans (3-1) host unbeaten J.I. Burton (4-0) in Nickelsville on Friday night.
“(The new system) gets more teams in. We’ll be tickled to go and go wherever they send us. But it’s going to be tough on smaller schools as far as travel and the financial end of things.”
The new playoffs are still a work in progress, with some details yet to be finalized until some time in October. But even after it’s all down on paper, the most significant learning will be the doing.
“Oh yes, we could have teams going to Bath County for the first week. That’s one that jumps out at me,” said Burton coach Jimbo Adams. “But I think before anyone is to criticize or praise it, we need to let it play out and see how it works.”
Twin Springs was a Division 1 playoff qualifier last year under the old system, and Adams anticipates the Titans to be a factor under the new. He does not take them lightly.
“I think Mike does a good job. He’s trying to utilize the talent that he’s got and use different dynamics to get his best athletes in space and isolate them,” said Adams, who had three running backs, Malik Miles, Riley Maggard and Colby Dean, with more than 100 yards each in last week’s 59-36 win over John Battle.
Titans quarterback Ritchie Morefield has passed for 376 yards and five TDs. Running backs Austin Hazlett and Evan Gibson, and receivers Jarrod Finch, Tyler Hazlett and Justin Gillenwater will have the Raiders defense on full alert. But it’s Morefield’s status as a kick returner that has Adams’ attention.
“You don’t have your quarterback returning kicks unless he’s one of your best athletes on the field,” Adams said.
“That tells you all you need to know about their quarterback.”
SW Va. Capsules
Castlewood (3-1, 1-0) at Rye Cove (2-1, 0-0)
A Cumberland District championship is no guarantee of a playoff berth this season, but the Blue Devils are well on their way to qualifying for postseason play while making a strong bid for the district trophy. Addison Rasnick had 187 all-purpose yards and three TDs in a 32-14 win over Wise Central last week while Reid Edmonds logged triple-digit rushing yardage. This is starting to look like the best Castlewood football team in many moons. The Eagles have had a week off to prepare for this one. QB Chase Rollins and RBs Silas Bush and Patrick Bush fuel the Rye Cove offense, which racked up 351 yards two weeks ago in a win over Hancock County, Tenn.
Thomas Walker (1-3) at Eastside (1-3)
The Pioneers gave newly-christened Wise Central a run for its money in the season opener. There’s no reason not to believe RBs Cody Cain and Jared Brewer won’t put a lot of pressure on the second of the three new Division 2 Wise County opponents Thomas Walker picked up for the 2011 non-district slate. A struggling Haysi suddenly stopped struggling last week against the Spartans, whose rushing defense was eventually loosened up and spread out by the Tigers’ passing attack. On a week-to-week basis, neither of these teams have performed predictably. This could be a wild one.
Clintwood (1-2) at Lebanon (1-3)
Two great programs meeting at a mutually low point? It might be premature to declare. Last week, the Pioneers got on the wrong side of a late-blooming Gate City squad grimly determined to avert the program’s worst opening losing streak in history. Clintwood, meanwhile, has been battered by a brutal non-district slate that reached its possible nadir with last week’s 61-6 loss to Grayson County. That’s a snapshot of what one can expect to see down the road in the VHSL’s Division 2 Western Section this year. This week’s game will probably say more about where D1 Clintwood stands.
Ervinton (0-4) at Tri-Cities Christian (2-1)
The winless Rebels look to break their losing skid by traveling to face an obscure Northeast Tennessee program that has garnered national headlines for tragic reasons. No change has been reported for Eagles player Tucker Montgomery, who suffered a brain injury in helmet-to-helmet contact in a game on Sept. 2. The youngster, who has been medically sedated since the injury two weeks ago, continues to inspire his teammates. Ervinton heads into the fray after a 44-8 loss to Thomas Walker. After a 37-0 opening defeat to North Greene, TCC beat Hendersonville Christian 50-6 and edged Oakdale 24-22.