This is the weekend when the grind of the high school football regular season starts to pay off.
Four of the five City/County teams that have qualified for the VHSL playoffs are in action Friday night in first-round games. All games start at 7 p.m.
In Region 2A East, top-seeded Stuarts Draft hosts No. 16 Nottoway, No. 11 Brunswick is at No. 6 Buffalo Gap, and No. 14 Robert E. Lee travels to Clarke County to face the third-seeded Eagles. In 3A West, Waynesboro, the No. 12 seed, takes on No. 5 Magna Vista, the two-time defending 3A champ.
Riverheads, the No. 2 seed in 1A East, has a first-round bye, and will host the winner of the first-rounder between No. 7 Essex and No. 10 William Campbell next weekend.
(14) Robert E. Lee at (3) Clarke County
The Eagles are no strangers to the Leemen, who finished the season 4-6. They are facing each other for the third straight year, with Clarke winning the first two meetings.
Clarke County finished the regular season on a six-game win streak to finish 8-2. The Eagles closed out the season last week with a 49-7 thumping of Madison County.
The Lee defense faces a tough challenge in Hunter Rogers, the Eagles’ lead back. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior has scored 25 touchdowns and rushed for over 1,700 yards this season — over 5,000 for his career — and leads an offense that averages almost 350 rushing yards and 42 points per game.
The winner moves on to face either Buffalo Gap or Brunswick in the second round.
(16) Nottoway at (1) Stuarts Draft
After starting the season 1-6, Nottoway, also nicknamed “Cougars,” won its last three games to slip into the playoffs with a 4-6 mark. The Cougars defeated Amelia County and Cumberland, then blew out Randolph-Henry 40-26 in the season finale.
But Nottoway, led by two-way threat Nate Dickens and sophomore back Devonte Booth, will have trouble getting through the Stuarts Draft defense, which is allowing just 7.5 points per game. The Nottoway defense, meanwhile, is yielding alomst 30 points per game.
Either No. 8 Madison County or No. 9 Nandua will be the winner’s second-round opponent.
(11) Brunswick at (6) Buffalo Gap
Brunswick’s record was 2-6 after an 18-16 loss to Sussex Central, the top seed in 1A East on Oct. 21. But the Bulldogs got it together in their last two games, beating Surry County (16-14) and Greensville County (36-6).
Running back Treven Easter, an All-Conference 34 first-teamer last year, is a 1,000-yard rusher who powers the offense, while junior Jadeen Person handles the quarterbacking duties.
The winner would face either Robert E. Lee or Clarke County in the second round.
(12) Waynesboro at (5) Magna Vista
Waynesboro has been in this position before — facing a heavily favored first-round opponent. That happened in 2014, when the Little Giants knocked off top-seeded Hidden Valley.
They will need a similar effort Friday against the Warriors, who have won the last two 3A state titles and are currently on a seven-game win streak. They lost their opener to Dan River and fell to Byrd in the third week.
A pair of underclassmen are the top players in Magna Vista’s offense, which averages almost 35 points per game. Junior running back Chris Scales had 195 yards and a touchdown in the Warriors’ season-ending win over George Washington, while sophomore Akira Greenfield runs the team’s spread offense.
The winner faces either No. 4 Staunton River or No. 13 Western Albemarle in the second round.