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Five Bay Rivers schools face huge challenges in football openers

FootballCollege of William and MaryWest Virginia Mountaineers

The six Bay Rivers District football teams opening their seasons on Friday face a similar outlook to the four that did so this past week.

The only district school with an apparently easy path to victory is Smithfield High, which faces Southampton, a team that Poquoson defeated 50-0.

Clark Harrell, who guided the Packers to a share of the district title a year ago in his first season as their head coach, is ignoring any talk about a lopsided win. With eight new defensive and six new offensive starters, he won't take anything for granted.

"You can't base anything on comparative scores," Harrell said. "A football team makes its most improvement from the first game to the second, so we'll see a different Southampton team than the one that played at Poquoson."

None of the other five district coaches has to address questions of overconfidence. Each faces an opponent tough enough that it will take a good effort to win or even a great effort to compete.

Jamestown coach Lee Williams and his Eagles are in the latter category. They travel on Friday to Dinwiddie, which begins the season ranked No. 3 in state Group 4A by Virginia Preps, a designation they lived up to with a 56-13 season-opening win on Friday over Monocan.

"They're very explosive," said Williams, who sought inspiration from the play of his alma mater, underdog William and Mary, in a 24-17 loss on Saturday at West Virginia University. "You'd have thought that West Virginia, a larger school from the Big 12, would've won by 30 points, but William and Mary almost beat them.

"It might be because I'm young and dumb, but I'm always confident when my team goes out on the field. If you can get your guys in the right position, and get them to make plays, you've got a chance."

On the surface, New Kent's challenge against King William, which won its opener 62-19 over Arcadia, would appear nearly as difficult as Jamestown's. King William, which perennially wins two playoff games per year, won last year's meeting 49-18, launching an 0-10 season for New Kent.

But Trojans coach Dan Rounds returns an athletic offensive line and several good skill players. He feels the defense is much improved from the group that allowed 410 yards per game a year ago, and, if so, the Trojans could make it a game on Friday.

"Defensively, I think we match up well athletically, and offensively we should be able to run and throw," Rounds said. "If we play like we're capable of, we'll compete."

That should be true of the other three Bay Rivers schools in action Friday. York's opponent, Churchland, defeated Bay Rivers school Warhill 21-13 in a game that went down to the wire. York brings a team of about the same caliber as Warhill's to Churchland, so this Friday's game figures to be close as well.

Former William and Mary defensive coordinator Matt McLeod faces a huge challenge in his first game as Grafton head coach. The Clippers host Hopewell, a regional finalist on the AAA Division 5 level a year ago.

Hopewell lost eight defensive starters, but returns some of its skill standouts, so it's hard to handicap its matchup with Grafton, which is actually the larger of the two schools. For its part, Grafton lost some of its most explosive skill players from its third consecutive playoff team, but returns P.J. Jackson, who has some starting experience at quarterback.

Bruton is yet another Bay Rivers team opening against a foe that exploded for big numbers in its first game. Amelia County, which hosts the Panthers on Friday, defeated Charles City 64-26.

The game is Bruton's first in Group 2A — the same classification as Amelia — after decades as the smallest school in the Bay Rivers. Panthers coach Tracy Harrod hopes all of that experience against bigger schools helps on the road against a similarly sized but athletic Amelia team.

"They have speed all over the place, on offense and defense," Harrod said. "But our speed is very similar and it's not like we haven't seen their speed before.

"It doesn't get much better than it does around here in the Bay Rivers District."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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FootballCollege of William and MaryWest Virginia Mountaineers
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