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PREP FOOTBALL

Riverheads football team to host Essex in Class 1 state semifinals

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Robert Casto

Riverheads head coach Robert Casto watches from the sideline as the Gladiators defeat Buffalo Gap on Friday in a Region 1B championship game in Greenville. The Gladiators' next game is a Class 1 state semifinal matchup on Saturday.

High school football on a Saturday afternoon in December can mean only one thing in Virginia. Your team has advanced to the state playoffs.

Riverheads is the last local team standing after Friday night’s regional championships, and that comes as a surprise to absolutely no one. The Gladiators remained on track for a potential sixth-straight Class 1 championship after dominating archrival Buffalo Gap again this season.

The Gladiators unleashed a 21-point, first-quarter barrage on the Bison, including scoring on the first snap of the game, in running their winning streak to 48 overall and 23 in the postseason with the 37-0 victory in the Region 1B championship. In two games this fall, Riverheads outscored the Bison 79-0.

Riverheads improved to 42-20 in the overall series with the Bison that dates back every year since the two schools opened in 1962. It was also the 15th consecutive victory by a combined score of 591-122.

Now that Riverheads has another regional championship safety tucked away in the trophy case, the Gladiators turn their attention to the Class 1 state semifinals, which they will host next Saturday at 1 p.m.

The Gladiators will be entertaining an old foe from Region 1A when Essex makes the trip to Greenville. The Trojans booked passage in the semifinals by dumping King & Queen Central 28-14 Saturday in their regional title clash.

Riverheads (12-0) and Essex (8-1) are set to collide for the fifth time in the last six years. The Gladiators have won all four previous meetings from 2016-19, three of which were played in Greenville, by a combined 139-35. The closest contest came when the teams played at a neutral site (Middlesex High School) in 2017 where the Gladiators barely escaped with a 17-14 victory. Riverheads won the last matchup in 2019 by a 56-15 blowout.

The two schools missed another potential battle during the abbreviated 2021 spring season after the Essex school system opted out of playing the winter and fall sports campaigns because of COVID-19.

Augusta County had grown accustomed the last two years of watching Riverheads and Stuarts Draft play for state championships, but that run ended Friday when Central Woodstock slammed the door on the Cougars’ potent offense to came away with a 21-6 win for the Region 2B crown.

Draft had lost to Appomattox County in the last two Class 2 championships. The Raiders kept their hopes alive Friday for their sixth title in seven years by outlasting Glenvar 27-21 in the Region 2C game.

Central Woodstock will be making the school’s first foray into the state semifinals where the Falcons will host Region 2A power King William, which pummeled previously unbeaten Nottoway 59-12 on the road behind running back Demond Claiborne’s 196 rushing yards on 13 carries and six touchdowns. Claiborne has committed to Wake Forest.

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