Two of the Richmond area’s traditional powers will clash in the Class 5, Region B semifinals Friday when resurgent Hermitage hosts burgeoning Manchester.
The No. 2 Panthers (6-0) have undergone a stark revitalization in coach David Bedwell’s first year at the helm after winning five games over the previous two seasons.
“He and his staff have done a great job of bringing Hermitage football back to the forefront,” Manchester coach Tom Hall said of Bedwell. “It’s gonna be a good battle, we’re definitely going to have to play our A-game.”
Hermitage’s formidable ground game is spearheaded by senior back Nigel James (105 carries, 1,170 yards, 15 TDs this season). Sophomore back Jeremiah Coney is the lightning to James’ thunder — he’ll also see plenty of touches behind an offensive line led by senior center Billy Gough and senior tackles Nate Howard and Jvion Smith.
Junior running back Ramon Brown is the catalyst for No. 3 Manchester (5-1), Hall said he’s really settled in to the Lancers’ scheme the past few weeks.
But Manchester prides itself on a balanced attack, and sophomore quarterback Cody Shelton has “grown up in front of us,” Hall said.
He added that a young group of receivers have “really stepped up as well.” Junior pass catchers Brenden Shelton, Derreck Crawley, Ryan Heck and Cam Sturdifen could all see targets.
Hall knew going into the year that a young roster would need to grow up fast. The Lancers went into the season with 19 freshmen, 17 sophomores and 23 juniors.
“We were trying to figure out who we were and what our identity was early on,” Hall said.
Manchester’s only loss of the season was in Week 1, a 27-6 defeat to Monacan (6-0), the top seed in the Class 4, Region B bracket.
“We kind of regrouped, the kids took ownership and worked their butts off the last few weeks to get better,” Hall said.
“Watching the kids, how they’ve grown up in front of us, it’s been a treat for me to watch. We consider ourselves blessed that we had a season at all. To have an opportunity to continue playing, it’s like gravy on top for us.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Hermitage senior edge rusher Marcos Torres has spent plenty of times in opposing backfields this season. Keeping him away from Shelton could be a key concern for Manchester.
And for the Lancers defense, linebackers RJ Brown, Anthony Brunelli and Bryson Sink will fly around and make tackles. Sturdifen also plays DB and leads the back end. Senior lineman Tyleek McCoy (6-foot-5, 340 pounds) will be pivotal to slowing the Panthers ground game.
Though rain is in the forecast for Friday, Hall said he’s “old school” and ready to play in whatever the weather brings. He added that Hermitage’s turf field should keep the rain from playing too much of a part in the outcome.
“Just play, whatever it is, just play,” Hall joked. “If it’s rain, play. If it’s snow, play. Let’s just go.”