High School Football Notebook: Last regional teams bow out of the playoffs
Published 8:00 am Monday, November 13, 2023
By Matt Hatfield and Brian Carlton
Central High came into this football season with a focus to get back to the playoffs. Coming off its first unbeaten regular season since 1995, the team had some holes to fill, due to multiple players graduating. They did that by pulling some underclassmen up from the JV squad.
That made what they accomplished even more impressive, going 8-4 with several starters getting their first taste of varsity. The offensive production was nearly identical, generating 456 points compared to 458 from last year’s senior laden team. It’s worth pointing out they did all this in the team’s first year moving up from the Class 1 ranks.
And they made it back to the playoffs, going on the road to take on the 5-5 Southampton Indians Friday. But this time around, it was one and done for Central, as the Chargers lost 44-30.
It wasn’t business as usual, however. As we mentioned in today’s cover story, Chargers Head Coach William Thomas wasn’t on the sideline. He was recovering from a serious health scare, leaving the team in the hands of his assistant coaches, including longtime veterans Wallace Owens and Stanley Christopher, among others.
BREAKING DOWN THE GAME
Even though Lunenburg did some positive things from a statistical standpoint with 412 total yards of offense, thanks to strong individual efforts from senior Connor Mattox (22 rushes for 130 yards and 2 TD’s), junior Amarion Moore (22 rushes for 111 yards and a TD), sophomore Conner Buchanan (12 carries for 109 yards and a TD with 8 tackles) and junior Antonio Jones (11 tackles), the defense failed to contain Southampton from piecing together scoring drives.
“We’ve always struggled, especially if you get to spread, at stopping people. How we give up 13 to Buckingham and can’t hold some others down is hard for me to figure out,” Thomas said.
“I hate to make excuses for the guys, but this was a trying week,” he added. “It was tough and we were bad in all three phases of the game, although we did move the ball on them with around 300 to 400 yards of offense despite three turnovers. I might’ve missed one practice in 16 years and that was because my wife had surgery.”
Through it all, plenty was put in perspective for Thomas and those around his Lunenburg football program.
“Coach Owen was beside himself,” Thomas said. “I did not want them to do the whole ‘Win one for me,’ because it’s not about that. However, I just wanted one more week to come back and I think I would’ve been good to go this week. If we were still playing, and the doctors said that I could, I was planning to come back on Monday. I hate to lose. I can’t stand to lose because I wear it all week. But I also said to someone, ‘Dude, this (loss) is not the worst thing that happened to me this week.’”
BREAKING DOWN THE NUMBERS
The Chargers saw their 2023 campaign come to a close at 8-3 overall. They graduate 17 seniors, including First Team All-James River District selections in Mattox (both sides of the ball; running back and linebacker), offensive lineman Colin Burke and defensive end Seth Bishop.
“That was one of our first groups where we could have eighth graders play on our J.V. team. I begged for years for that and it has been huge for us,” Thomas pointed out.
“For guys like Seth, Connor, Colin Burke, Peanut Word and so many others, you hate to see it end for them,” Thomas added. “We won’t get to re-sign any of them and get those second contracts. We went through a lot and they’re good kids.”
BUCKINGHAM’S SEASON COMES TO A CLOSE
The Buckingham County Knights may have lost Friday, but they ended the football season the same way they played all year, delivering a tough, physical game.
Clarke County came into Friday’s game averaging 34 points on the season and following a two-game stretch where they scored 72 total points and only gave up 7. With that in mind, you might think this would be an offensive slugfest, but you’d be wrong. Facing a Buckingham defense ranked #1 in the region, Clarke County scored three touchdowns en route to a 21-7 win.
As we mentioned, those points didn’t come easy. Buckingham just coughed up one touchdown in each of the first three quarters, while getting on the board themselves in the third quarter. But while the Knights drove into Clarke County territory multiple times in the third and fourth quarters, they struggled to get the ball into the end zone.
Overall, Buckingham finishes the season improving in almost every way over 2022. Last year, they were 8-3. This time, they finish 9-2. Last year, they were 8-3 and 5-1 in the James River region. This year, they went undefeated in the region, clinching a regular season title. And there’s the improvement made on the field, on both sides of the ball. Including Friday’s game, Buckingham gave up a total of 99 points on the year.
As you’ll see below, there are some teams that gave up more than that in one game. Dividing that over 11 games, the Knights gave up an average of 9 points, by far the best in the region. And that’s an improvement over last season, where they only coughed up an average of 11.9 per game. With the majority juniors and underclassmen, the Knights seem primed to make another run next year.
THE UGLIEST FOOTBALL GAME FRIDAY
Finally today, we mentioned one team coughed up more than 99 points and even though they’re not in our region, it seemed worth mentioning. On Friday night in Region 4A, Phoebus took on Jamestown. Now it’s worth mentioning that the last time the Phoebus Phantoms lost a game was in 2021. This season, they have given up a combined 10 points total all year.
But the defense wasn’t the story Friday night. Instead, it was the offense, which just exploded for a 104-0 win over Jamestown. We had to double check and make sure we weren’t looking at a basketball score.