#12 Jonathan Melvin of Kecoughtan and #5 Derick Hardy of Nansemond River (Photos: Joe Barnes and Sarah Murphy/recruit757)
Nansemond River-Kecoughtan Preview: 5A quarter-final matchup features clash of styles as the Warriors travel to Arrowhead Stadium
by Brandon Mitchell, recruit757
Kecoughtan (7-3) at Nansemond River (7-3) 7:00 p.m. Friday
Every season you can expect the same litany of teams at the top of the Peninsula District.
For the last two seasons, Kecoughtan has not been one of those programs.
The Warriors accumulated a record of 6-14 in 2016 and 2017 making post-season play an afterthought at the conclusion of both seasons. This year it’s been different around the campus of Kecoughtan. The Warriors started in a 1-2 hole after three games this season losing to Churchland and Woodside by a combined score of 54-0. Kecoughtan was able to string together five straight victories including wins over Hampton and Heritage to drive Coach Alonzo Coley into the playoffs for the third time since accepting the head coach position in 2012.
The Warriors will enter the playoffs with a record of 7-3 which is their best mark since finishing 8-2 in 2014. Kecoughtan has used strong defensive play as their alibi on the back half of the season and during their five-game winning streak. They’ve held opponents to just 19 points per contest this season and have held teams to eight points or less three times this season. The Warriors look to duplicate what the last time we saw them travel in post-season play. In what was one of the most stunning match ups during the 2015 playoffs, Kecoughtan was able to defeat Salem by a score of 20-7.
But in order to do that, Kecoughtan is going to have to put fear into a team that was just 11 points shy of knocking off Highland Springs in the Division 5 state semi-final game last season. However, Nansemond River appears to be a program built for post-season play. The Warriors have advanced to the playoffs for the sixth-consecutive season and they’ve been able to do so with three different head coach leading the cavalry. Justin Conyers took over for David Coccoli at the start of the football season and has kept the Warriors in line with the culture that’s helped get them this far.
Conyers coached the Warriors to a 7-3 record this season which is actually a win better than last season heading into post-season play. Helping prepare the Warriors for the playoffs this season were King’s Fork and Deep Creek both of whom Nansemond River were able to defeat. But if you take a closer look at the Warriors schedule, it’s the teams they didn’t beat that deserve the most recognition. The Warriors suffered losses to Maury, Indian River and Oscar Smith. The Warriors suffer mightily against the pass and all three aforementioned programs know how to sling the ball downfield. Kecoughtan isn’t a team that’s going to challenge the Warriors much through the air, but their ability to run the ball has kept them near the top of the Peninsula District this season.
Kecoughtan Key Players: Jonathan Melvin (2019 ATH 6-1 221), D.J. Cone (2021 RB), Adam Hatcher (2021 RB/DB 6-0 175) and James Mozelle (2020 WR/DB 6-1 188).
There’s good news and there’s bad news, which would you like to read first? We’ll start with the bad news.
Kecoughtan has relied heavily on the run this season and that’s due to its inability to find a quarterback that can come close to what Razohn Jackson was capable of producing. Jackson has been sidelined for the entire season which means we’ve seen more of Jonathan Melvin behind center than we’d like to see. Don’t get me wrong, Jonathan Melvin is a phenomenal athlete and an extremely coachable top-notch prospect. However, he’s also had to cover down on the quarterback position, play a little running back and then line up at his usual linebacker position. This has caused teams to load up the box in anticipation of the run because they know Kecoughtan has a hard time sustaining much of a passing game.
How about that good news now?
It’s actually working.
Or at least it’s working against teams that have a defensive line that is inferior to the Warriors offensive line. In the three games the Warriors lost this season, they were glorified losses. They couldn’t run, couldn’t pass and couldn’t breathe against Churchland, Phoebus and Woodside. But against their other seven opponents, there was nothing the opposition could do to stop Jonathan Melvin. Coach Coley understands that Melvin is the heartbeat of his offense and when the ball is in his hands something positive is going to happen. The question isn’t whether or not Kecoughtan can run on the Nansemond River defense. The question is how long will it take to actually break the Warriors defense down?
Nansemond River Key Players: Kevin Johnson (2019 RB/WR 6-0 175), Keonte Cobb (2020 DE 6-0 169), Ja’Quelle Harrell (2019 RB 5-10 225), Joeziah Autrey (2021 DT 5-9) and Quijoun Gordon (2019 DB/RB 5-10 180).
Nansemond River is cut from a different cloth on the Southside. They run out of a double-wing formation which means that they have a plethora of running backs they like to keep fresh. Trying to stop what they’re capable of doing on the ground is a very daunting task. Whereas Kecoughtan will give you more of a read-option look, Nansemond River moves the ball fast on the ground and they move the ball well. Ja’Quelle Harrell led all rushers for the Warriors with seven touchdowns this season. However, Kevin Johnson and Quijoun Gordon are just as capable of sparking the offense when their number is called.
Meanwhile, the defensive side of the ball is led by none other than Keonte Cobb. The Nansemond River defensive enforcer has picked up 19 sacks on the season to go along with 67 tackles. Complimenting him at the defensive tackle position is Joeziah Autrey who fell one sack short of 10 for the regular season. The Warriors finished up the season with a 42-0 defeat of Grassfield holding the Grizzles to just 95 total yards of offense. Grassfield might not be the appropriate measuring stick, but best believe the defense will be ready to elevate its game play against Kecoughtan.
Keys to the Game: Finding what makes one better than the other will be the key here. You have to think about the sweet spot where one team struggles more than the other. Both programs can run the ball very well and both programs have a hard time connecting through the passing game. Both programs have an eye for the ball on defense and have been known to play defense of the shutdown nature at times.
But where Nansemond River differs is in their ability to consistently stop the passing game. Fortunately, Kecoughtan isn’t the type of team that wastes possessions doing what they’re not great at. With that being said, I expect Coach Coley to turn some of those read-option plays into run-pass option plays. There’s enough speed on the edge for James Mozelle and D.J. Cone to find lighting in a bottle if Melvin can connect. That’s not to say that Kecoughtan will win this contest because a lot still has to go right for that happen. Either way, this has the potential to be one of the better first-round match ups in Region 5A.
– Brandon Mitchell