Nations: Football playoff picture positive

The Virginia High School League released the initial football playoff ratings this week, and were the season to end today it would indeed be another banner year for high school football.

With the top 16 teams in each of the newly fashioned classifications eligible for the postseason, five of the six area public high schools are on course for the playoffs. That would be a repeat of last year, despite all the VHSL’s slicing and dicing to create the new six-class system built around the ubiquitous conferences. Of course, the season is only half over and plenty of games remain. It’s an encouraging sign, nonetheless.

In the Class 4A North division, Sherando rated a strong third with 24.4 points. The Warriors have looked rock-solid this season in their annual tour of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle schools. Sherando (4-1) crushed border-state rivals Musselman, Washington and Jefferson, but suffered their only loss — an annual event — in a 27-13 setback to three-time defending West Virginia Class AAA state champion Martinsburg.

Sherando was also impressive in its lone matchup against state competition so far, demolishing a stout Kettle Run squad with a smothering defensive effort for a 17-7 win that wasn’t that close. The Warriors hit the road Friday to take on fellow 4A North member Liberty. The Eagles, off to a 1-3 start, are likely desperate to get back into the playoff hunt and are always dangerous.

Central (3-1) has largely taken care of business this season, with its lone loss coming in a 49-48 double-overtime loss to Spotswood. The Falcons’ high-octane offense is averaging 52.3 points per game, tops in Class 3A, and hasn’t scored less than 42 points in a single game so far this year. Central ranks sixth in the Class 3A East ratings with 19.25 points, and has a chance to move up a bit more in the next two weeks providing the Falcons deal with smaller-school Bull Run District rivals Manassas Park and William Monroe. After that, a dangerous road game awaits at Class 2A East opponent Clarke County (currently unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in its class), followed by a tough home matchup with new Bull Run member Warren County.

Skyline (3-2) has had its ups and downs so far this season, but the Hawks still are in comfortable position with a No. 7 ranking (18.6 points) in the Class 3A East ratings. Skyline opened the season with a huge 14-13 victory over cross-town rival Warren County, then fell to Fauquier before winning surprisingly close road matchups at longtime doormat Brentsville and Manassas Park before delivering another dud in a 35-0 loss to Kettle Run last week. The Hawks have battled injuries at key positions this season, and have an opportunity to start building serious momentum over the next few weeks with winnable games against Millbrook, Washington (W.Va.) and James Wood. Skyline should be favored in all those matchups, and then must close out the season with a road game at resurgent Handley and a home finale against Sherando.

Warren County (3-1) has won three straight since that disappointing setback to Skyline, helping the Wildcats earn a tie for eighth in the Class 3A East ratings with 18.25 points. Warren County’s road game against Clarke County on Friday night looks to be the area’s best matchup this week, and offers the Wildcats an opportunity to pick up an impressive victory if they can do what no one has so far — beat the Eagles. Warren County features plenty of big-play potential on offense, especially with shifty running back Demetrus Yates toting the ball. The Wildcats have been fairly solid on defense, as well, allowing 15 points per game through four contests so far.

Strasburg (2-2) could stand to move up a few notches in the Class 2A East ratings. The Rams are 13th with 14.75 points despite giving Clarke County all it could handle in last week’s 12-8 loss at Ram Stadium. The VHSL ratings don’t reward close losses, instead relying on a formula combining wins plus opponents’ wins to come up with its number. The problem for Strasburg is that its two wins — against Stonewall Jackson and James Wood — have been against winless teams, giving the Rams little boost in that department so far. The good news is that Strasburg also has a shot to start building some steam over the next few weeks with a slate of Bull Run opponents starting with a road trip to William Monroe on Friday. Games against George Mason, Manassas Park and Madison County follow before the Rams face a challenging finish with a road game at Warren County and a home matchup against explosive Central to close out the regular season.

Stonewall Jackson (0-4) is the lone area team on the outside looking in at the playoffs right now, and it could be worse for the chronically short-handed Generals. Based on their strength of schedule, the Generals still rank No. 21 in the Class 2A East ratings with 10.25 points. Should it reel off a few wins over the second half of the season, Stonewall could still easily get back into the playoff picture. It won’t be easy, of course — the Generals face Wilson Memorial (currently No. 3 in Class 2A East) and East Rockingham (No. 7 in Class 2A East) over the next two weeks.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>. Follow on Twitter @J_NationsNVD