After historic regular season, Falcons flip switch to playoff mode

Declan Franklin Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Central High School’s football team put together a regular season for the record books, going a perfect 10-0 for the first time in school history. Now the Falcons start all over again.

Central’s unblemished regular season netted the Falcons the second seed in the Region 2B playoff field, and they’ll look to keep their run of dominance rolling at 7 p.m. tonight when they host No. 7 Buffalo Gap in the postseason opener.

“In the regular season we were fighting for a position in the playoffs. Now that we’re in the playoffs our mindset completely changes,” Falcons junior lineman Declan Franklin said Tuesday. “We can’t have any mistakes. If we lose, we’re out. There’s no more second chances. … It’s more desperate. We’re more ready, ready just to fight.”

The Falcons’ perfect record – which included a 40-0 victory over Clarke County – wasn’t enough to vault them past Clarke for the region’s top spot. As a result, Central draws a first-round game against a Gap squad that Falcons head coach Mike Yew said has a “deceiving” 6-4 record.

Three of Gap’s four losses came to Robert E. Lee, Luray and East Rockingham, the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 seeds in the Region 2B playoff field, and the other came to defending Class 1 state champion Riverheads.

Kyle Clanton Rich Cooley/Daily

“I would even go so far as to say they are probably the best 6-4 team in the state Virginia,” said Yew, whose squad clashed with Gap in the first round of the Region 2A East playoffs in 2015 and fell to the Bison, 41-14.

Central and Buffalo Gap haven’t met since that playoff matchup, but Gap’s offense should look fairly familiar to the Falcons nevertheless. Though the Bison show elements of the wing-T, Yew said they primarily operate out of a single-wing offense that resembles a “more spread out version” of Clarke County’s scheme.

In their win over Clarke County on Oct. 6, the Falcons held the Eagles to just 163 yards rushing, nearly half of Clarke’s season average.

“It definitely helps,” Franklin said of Central’s defensive performance against Clarke. “We feel a little more comfortable. We’ve played other teams that kind of had the same formation in a way. So it makes us a little more comfortable, but at the same time they’re different athletes, different players, they think differently. So while it might be kind of the same formations and stuff, they play differently, so we can’t take advantage of that.”

Yew said Gap’s offense is also different from Clarke’s in that the Bison often “false pull,” meaning two offensive linemen pull in opposite directions to mask which direction the play is flowing.

“If you’re reading one thing you can get a false pull and you take off out of there and leave a gap,” Yew said. “You’ve gotta really be disciplined when you read a pull to make sure it’s actually going that way.”

In the last five games, starting with that win over Clarke, the Falcons have not allowed more than a touchdown in any of those contests. Central’s defense has posted three shutouts this season and is allowing only 7.7 points per game.

Buffalo Gap, meanwhile, is averaging 37.5 points per game. Junior running back Carter Rivenburg has rushed for over 1,300 yards and 20 touchdowns to lead the Bison.

“It kind of seems like he makes big plays for them several ways,” Yew said. “He catches the ball some, mostly running. He gets outside and he hits the seam, he’s got pretty good feet and he runs well. So stopping him is a priority, but then they also have other weapons. (Ryan Wilcher) is a power back and a couple other kids, (Jay Johnson) and (Josh Reed), can make plays as well.”

Central’s own offense has been nearly unstoppable all season. Led by a power running game with junior Shane Watson (1,120 yards rushing, 16 touchdowns) at the helm, an efficient quarterback in junior Zeb Dyer (48 of 66 passing, 1,147 yards, 17 touchdowns) and explosive perimeter weapons in junior Kyle Clanton (875 yards of total offense, 26 total touchdowns) and senior Varsey Bright, the Falcons are averaging 51.9 points per game.

Buffalo Gap is allowing 23.3 points per game.

“Teams that have beat them get outside on them a lot,” said Clanton, who was recently voted the Bull Run District Offensive Player of the Year. “… Maybe (we can) pass the ball a little bit more. Their (defensive backs) don’t seem to play up tight, so maybe we can get short passes in, let me and Varsey do our thing on the outside. It opens up the running game more when you can pass the ball.”

Central, which fell in the second round of the regional playoffs last season, has made the playoffs in three straight seasons.

“Everything starts over,” Yew said. “(The regular season) was a great run, but unless we continue to play the way we’ve been playing it’ll just be a great regular season to look back upon and then no success in the postseason. We wanna build on it, we wanna play well Friday night, we wanna get a win and we wanna move on.”