Let the high school football playoffs commence.
Riverheads, Stuarts Draft and Buffalo Gap are the only area teams that have seats at the table when the 2019 postseason begins Friday.
The number of local teams that qualified may be on the low side compared to past seasons, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of firepower for deep runs with the trio involved.
Of course one has to look no further than the three-time defending Class 1 state champion Gladiators, who finished off their first unbeaten regular season since 2015 with a resounding 49-14 statement victory over previously undefeated Stuarts Draft.
Riverheads (10-0) begins its quest for a fourth consecutive title as the No. 1 seed in Region 1B, which brings home-field advantage throughout regional play. And if the Gladiators reach the Class 1 state semifinals, they also host for a second straight year.
The Gladiators start the playoffs against eighth-seeded and one-win Rappahannock County (1-9), a team that has been outscored 453-13 in its last eight games, including an 84-0 shellacking from Clarke County on Friday. The only win came in Week 2 at home against Craig County, 26-12.
This is the first season in quite a while that Rappahannock County, a Bull Run District member, played a Virginia High School League-sanctioned schedule to be eligible for the postseason. The Panthers may be rethinking that decision.
Riverheads had received a first-round bye the last couple years when the region only had six teams and all made the playoffs the even winless ones, but three schools — Franklin, Surry County and Sussex Central — were added this year and now eight of the nine teams are in the postseason.
The silver lining to the expansion, if you can call it that, is there are no more 0-10 teams in the postseason. Cumberland and its 38-game losing streak, the longest current one in the state, is at home after postseason appearances the last two years.
Stuarts Draft (9-1), despite its first loss of the season Friday, maintained the No. 1 seed in Region 2B for home turf during regional action. The Cougars are also in the hunt to host a Class 2 state semifinal.
A familiar county rival awaits the Cougars in the first round when eighth-seeded Buffalo Gap (6-4) comes to town for a rematch from the regular season. The Bison secured the region’s final playoff spot with an impressive second-half outburst against Fort Defiance, outscoring the Indians 24-7 for the 40-21 victory. While the win kept Gap’s season alive, the loss eliminated the Indians from Region 3C contention.
The Bison gave the Cougars a stiff test during their Week 7 clash at Buffalo Gap before succumbing in the second half, dropping a 34-21 decision.
The first weekend of playoffs is a dream for area football fans as no long trips to far away destinations are involved, and depending on the outcome of the Gap-Draft game, that could continue for several more weeks.