by Aaron Gregory (a special contribution to recruit757.com)
#4 Nansemond-Suffolk Academy @ #1 Trinity Episcopal School (12:00 noon, Aycock Stadium at Trinity Episcopal School, Richmond)
#3 Christchurch School @ #2 Blue Ridge School (1:00pm, Barons Field at Blue Ridge School, St. George)
#1 TRINITY EPISCOPAL TITANS (10.67 VISAA Rating)
Overall Record: 7-3
Conference Record: Independent of Conference Participation
Key Win(s): 20-19 vs. Norfolk Academy in Week 4; 29-26 vs. Christchurch in Week 9
Key Loss(es): -0-28 vs. Collegiate in Week 3; 14-22 @ Nansemond-Suffolk in Week 10
THE SKINNY: Trinity’s team has slowly worked their way from a new kid on the block to a consistent program in Division II. Junior QB Nick Parikh is pushing 500 yards passing, favoring senior wideout Dayton Strader (17 catches, 253 yards). Senior Bryan Black and junior Abraham Ferrell-Logan have 600 and 458 yards rushing respectively.
The high-octane offense compensates for a defense which has given up an average of over three touchdowns per game. The old adage about offense winning games and defense winning championships might not bode well for this year’s #1 seed.
#2 BLUE RIDGE BARONS (10.44 VISAA Rating)
Overall Record: 7-2
Conference Record: 3-1 Old Dominion Football Conference (ODFC Tri-Champions with Virginia Episcopal and Christchurch); 2-1 Virginia Independent Conference (VIC Runners-Up to Liberty Christian)
Key Win(s): 30-26 vs. St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes in Week 7; 37-20 vs. Virginia Episcopal in Week 9
Key Loss(es): 7-19 @ Christchurch in Week 8; 21-41 @ Liberty Christian in Week 10
The Skinny: Orlando Patterson’s team has become a staple of the D-II bracket, and their opening round game is one of several regular season rematches. They lost at Christchurch in Week 8, but this Week 12 matchup will be on the Barons’ home turf where they are undefeated this year. Seniors Shawn Steen and Cody Pegram lead Blue Ridge’s potent rushing attack, combining for almost 1,200 of the Barons’ 1,665 total rushing yards this year. Of junior QB Tristan Allen’s 784 yards this season, nearly half of them were on connections to classmate P.J. White. Leon Straus and Darryl Smith are the only other receivers with triple digit yardage. One apparent weakness is that Allen has fumbled 12 times, though usually falling on them to cover up.
Steen and Max Morgan lead the pass defense, and the Barons’ d-line has harassed quarterbacks all year, with 19 sacks for 170 yards. Christchurch beat these guys not by outrunning or outgunning, but by dominating time of possession. If the Barons can hang on to the ball, they should be in great shape for the rematch. Putting 21 points on the board on the road at LCA along with wins over VES and STAB since their loss to Christchurch, and you have to think the Barons’ have the momentum.
#3 CHRISTCHURCH SEAHORSES (10.33 VISAA Rating)
Overall Record: 6-3
Conference Record: 3-1 Old Dominion Football Conference (ODFC Tri-Champions with Blue Ridge and Virginia Episcopal)
Key Win(s): 27-26 vs. Nansemond-Suffolk in Week 3; 19-7 vs. Blue Ridge in Week 8
Key Loss(es): 26-29 @ Trinity Episcopal in Week 9; 13-20 @ Virginia Episcopal in Week 11
THE SKINNY: Ed Homer’s Seahorses lost two of their last three in an uncharacteristic late-season performance. The Seahorse corners weren’t ready for the speedy attack plan of Virginia Episcopal in the last game of the regular season, and with only a win over winless St. Anne’s-Belfield to show for their work in the last three weeks, their regular season win over Blue Ridge seems like ages ago.
Senior Jordan Wallace leads an offense which relies heavily on the run. Receivers Ashby Lewis and Brendan Cole equally share the receptions from senior QB Alex Girvan. On defense, senior Calvin Strong has three interceptions and senior DT Dylan Norwood has three sacks among his 24 tackles.
The key in their game will be controlling the ball as well as they did in their regular season game with Blue Ridge.
#4 NANSEMOND-SUFFOLK SAINTS (9.80 VISAA Rating)
Overall Record: 7-3
Conference Record: 4-1 Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools (TCIS Co-Champions with Norfolk Christian)
Key Win(s): 28-20 @ Bishop Sullivan in Week 5; 14-22 vs. Trinity Episcopal in Week 10
Key Loss(es): 26-27 @ Christchurch in Week 3; 8-16 @ Norfolk Academy in Week 8
The Skinny on N-SA: Veteran coach Lew Johnston finally seems to have some buy-in from his team. Senior QB Tim Burns started in Johnston’s system seeming to try to do too much, but he’s settled in nicely this season. He averaged about twelve passing attempts per game, racking up 824 yards for the season. But the Saints have achieved their greatest success on the ground; three of their rushers are over 500 yards on the season, led by sophomore David Gough who has racked up 937 yards on 145 carries. Sophomore Addison Peak and senior Ryan McClain chipped in 672 and 515 yards respectively.
The N-SA defense has come up big, especially late in the season. The team has 19 sacks for 170 yards on the season. Freshman LB Cole Christiansen averages almost 10 tackles per game. The Saints lost their first two games of the season by a combined two points and held a powerful Norfolk Academy offense to 16 points. This is a team not to be underestimated, and their path to a state championship may lie with a team they’ve already beaten (Trinity) and a team they lost to by one point (Christchurch).
Trinity Episcopal 29, Nansemond-Suffolk 26
Blue Ridge 21, Christchurch 14
– Aaron Gregory