Friday, November 6, 2015

FOOTBALL: Hermitage to 10-0 Again, Four Teams In Playoffs

Hermitage may be 10-0, but Highland Springs rules the roost, for now, as the 5A South Central playoffs begin next Friday.

The Panthers knocked off fellow unbeaten Douglas Freeman 28-0 (story below), while Highland Springs easily defeated rival Varina 55-7. By virtue of Thomas Jefferson's win over Deep Run and Cosby's win over Manchester, the Panthers lost four critical VHSL rider points that would've clinched the top seed in their subregion.

Instead, the Springers, even though they lost opening night by a point to Hermitage in overtime, earn home field through the first three weeks of the playoffs. Playing a tougher schedule in the Capital District was a major factor.

Hermitage and LC Bird are tied at 336 points, and we await the VHSL's official playoff pairings, due Sunday, to see who will host #6 Matoaca and who hosts #7 Henrico next Friday in the first round.

Our friend Gary Hess of Fox Sports 910 projects Hermitage will earn the #2 seed, important because if the Panthers and Skyhawks each win their first round games, they would play each other the following week in the second round, marking the fifth straight year that has happened. L.C. Bird's last playoff loss was to Hermitage on November 25, 2011.

The Warriors (7-3) fell late at Hanover 24-21 to miss on their chance to avoid one of the "big three" in round one. The Rebels are projected to host #5 Lee-Davis (8-2) at William E. Long Stadium next Friday.

J.R. Tucker finished the season at .500 with a 24-14 win over Glen Allen, who post their second straight 1-9 season. Mills Godwin ended their season with a home win over John Marshall while Thomas Jefferson handed Deep Run a bitterly disappointing loss to end another difficult season.

(RVASN correspondent Preston Hausser files this report from the Hermitage win:)

On Friday night, Hermitage finished the season undefeated and showed all the critics why they might be better than Bird this year. All season, the Panthers have heard that they were the second best team in the region, second best in the area in 5A. There are not many critics left to say that LC Bird has the absolute advantage over Hermitage following the Panthers’ strong outing against Douglas Freeman. Hermitage shut out an undefeated Rebel team that had run straight through every single opponent it had faced this year, as it garnered one of its winningest records in decades. But the Panthers didn’t care if Freeman was 9-0 or 0-9, either way they were just another team standing in the way of their perfect season. And that’s exactly how they treated them.
                Hermitage was led by senior quarterback Eli Odom, who has been ranked as the number one passer in the Richmond area this season. On 14 of 24 attempts, Odom threw for 175 yards and three touchdowns. As the 1st half buzzer sounded, Odom connected with Christian Velasquez after ball bounced off a couple of Rebels on a Hail Mary pass. Odom was also a major threat on the ground, rushing for 55 yards and another touchdown, accounting for all of his team’s scores on the night. Jordan Hall was also potent for the Panthers, rushing for 163 yards on 22 carries. Alex Burton was 4/4 on extra point attempts, continuing his dominance into the final regular season game.
                The Freeman team from the first nine games of the season was almost nonexistent in tonight’s game. Besides a couple of spectacular diving catches from Bodhie Long, Trey Laughlin almost didn’t connect with a single other receiver the entire night. The Rebel coaching staff had to rethink the game plan at halftime, focusing more on plays on the ground instead of in the air. Korry Cooper received almost twice as many handoffs in the 2nd half compared to the first, but the Rebels still could not find a way to score. 

                After a convincing 2015 regular season, the Panthers look poised to make a legitimate case for a state championship, especially after easily defeating another undefeated team tonight. When Hermitage QB Eli Odom was asked about how he would be preparing for the playoffs, he was quoted as saying, “it doesn’t matter who we play as long as we stay focused and work together as a team.” When the coaching staff was prompted about what their plan for next week is, they replied, “We are worrying about tonight, fixing those problems…seeding does not come out until Sunday, so we can’t speculate too closely.” Speculating or not about seeding, wherever Hermitage ends up in those rankings, every team who faces them will have a difficult problem on their hands from the undefeated Panthers.

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