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Three local football programs vie for regional championships

Three local football programs vie for regional championships

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A newcomer is helping Augusta County flex its football dominance in the postseason as the playoffs enter the regional championships.

Riverheads and Stuarts Draft are no strangers to this stage of the playoffs, but they are being joined by Buffalo Gap, which is showing a resurgence during the Bison’s first season in Class 1.

The Cougars and Bison manhandled their opponents Friday night in the regional semifinals. Second-seeded Draft blitzed third-seeded Clarke County 33-3 in Region 2B behind Aaron Nice’s record-setting five-touchdown performance that broke the school’s career TD mark. Second-seeded Buffalo Gap unleashed a relentless in-your-face ground assault of its own in overwhelming third-seeded Central Lunenburg 44-20 in Region 1B, allowing third-year head coach Brad Wygant to savor his first playoff victory after falling to the Cougars the previous two seasons.

The Bison got a measure of revenge for former Gap players, who had lost to the Chargers on the road in Victoria by lopsided margins in 1984, the first year the school ever participated in the playoffs, and 1993.

While the Cougars and Bison were having painless workloads on the cold Friday, the Gladiators were toasty inside their homes after receiving a forfeit earlier in the week from playoff opponent William Campbell because of COVID-19 issues. Top-seeded Riverheads hasn’t played since its Nov. 5 win over Stuarts Draft in the regular-season finale. The Gladiators had a quarterfinal round bye in the playoffs.

The Cougars hit I-81N to tangle with once-beaten Central Woodstock for the Region 2B championship and a state berth.

Gap’s victory sets up a county showdown with the five-time defending Class 1 state champion Gladiators and their 47-game winning streak in Greenville. School officials had hoped the two rivals would be meeting up in the playoffs when the Bison dropped to Class 1. This will mark the second sport this fall in a win-or-go-home scenario as the volleyball teams met in the regional semifinals where the Gladiators prevailed.

The Bison haven’t advanced to this stage of the postseason since 2015 when they lost to Appomattox County in the state semifinals.

Riverheads and Gap have met every year on the football field since the two schools opened in 1962, but next week will be only the second time in the playoffs, the first in 2009 when the Gladiators won 20-7.

The Gladiators have dominated the overall series 41-20, especially in the last decade-plus, winning 14 straight contests by a combined margin of 554-122. The Bison’s last win came in 2008, the year after they won their only state football championship with a perfect 14-0 record.

In the postseason, Riverheads is 46-18, including the last 22 straight during its historic title run, while the Bison are 18-23 overall.

The winner advances to the Class 1 state semifinals Dec. 4 against the Region 1A champion, which will come from either Essex or King & Queen Central. The Class 1 championship is Dec. 11 at Salem Stadium.

While Riverheads and Buffalo Gap have been going after each other tooth-and-nail for nearly 60 years, Stuarts Draft and Region 2B top seed Central Woodstock are mere strangers, having only played twice in 1999 and 2000. The Cougars, who were then coached by Tom Goforth, won the first clash 55-14 before losing the next year 14-6.

The Cougars, who have outscored their first two playoff opponents 77-10 this season, are hoping to reach the Class 2 championship game for the third consecutive year, but with a better outcome after falling to Appomattox County twice.

Draft has endured an interesting season so far with two cancellations and one suspended game that was never completed. Nice’s career touchdown count, which currently stands at 74, would be much higher if those three games had been played.

The Draft-Central victor rolls into the Class 2 state semifinals to battle the Region 2A champion, which will be King William or Nottoway. The Cougars had a tentative game scheduled with King William on Oct. 1 after the Luray cancellation, but the contest never materialized because of transportation problems involving King William.

The Class 2 championship follows the Class 1 title game at Salem Stadium on Dec. 11.

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