Essex QB Ashton Ashlock (Photo: Andy Hilton/recruit757)
Essex looks to break a Riverheads stranglehold on the Class 1 state championship
by Andy Hilton, recruit804
Class 1 Semifinal: Essex (12-1) AT Riverheads (13-0) 1:30 p.m. Satuday
Riverheads has a winning streak that’s now at 25 games. If they win the state title this season, it will be the first time since 2000 that they’ve won the state title with a perfect record. Winning the state title this year also means that they would match the VHSL record of winning the state title four years in a row currently held by Phoebus, Hampton and Highland Springs.
Essex will have something to say about that.
The Trojans come in looking for payback. In 2018, this game happened in the state semifinal and the Gladiators marched all over Essex on the way to a 28-6 win. Essex last won a state championship in 2009. Since then, they’ve been knocked out by Riverheads in each of the last three years. These two teams have earned a spot in the state championship game every year since 2012. This year will be no different.
Riverheads lost in the state title game in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Riverheads lost in 2015 and has won three straight from there.
The Gladiators are led by junior athlete Zac Smiley, who has 1,947 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns this season. Cy Cox, Braeson Fulton and Noah Smiley provide support on the offensive side of the ball with 481, 434 and 346 rushing yards respectively. Fulton is the top receiver with 20 catches, 693 yards and 11 touchdown receptions.
As the signal caller for Riverheads, Elijah Dunlap has thrown for 501 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. The Gladiators have put up 48 points per game this season.
Essex will rely on quarterback Ashton Ashlock who has thrown for 1,605 yards and 23 touchdowns in 13 games. Senior wide outs Takeyo Day and Amonte Banks are the top targets in the Trojans’ potent passing game. Day has 43 catches for 712 yards and nine touchdowns. Banks has 31 receptions for 575 yards and nine touchdowns on the season.
Tahraun Hammond leads the Trojan rushing attack with 1,030 yards rushing and seven touchdowns to date.
The winner here heads to Salem City Stadium next week to take on the winner of Galax and Patrick Henry-Glade Spring, who also play on Saturday.
– Andy Hilton