Returning to the gridiron

Published 12:58 pm Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Friday night lights will be ignited anew as the 2016 high school football season gets underway Friday evening for Buckingham County High School, Cumberland High School and Prince Edward County High School.

Buckingham at Appomattox — 7 p.m.

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When the Knights and the Raiders faced off last year to start their seasons, it turned out to be the deciding game of Courthouse Conference 37. The 14-7 result ended up being Buckingham’s only loss of the regular season, giving it second place in the conference.

Appomattox County High School took first place, going undefeated in the regular season and then sweeping the playoffs to claim the Virginia High School League Group 2A state championship.

The story of this year’s showdown between the conference powers is quite different in some ways.

The Raiders have coaches who have been in place for a while, and while they lost some players, they return a lot.

“We’re totally opposite of them right now,” said new Knights Head Coach Joshua Wallace, successor to legendary coach Craig Gill, who retired and died earlier this year. “We’ve got a new coaching staff and a lot of new guys. We only have three starters returning. So, it’s going to be tough. Our numbers are really low. They’ve got a lot of numbers, so it’s going to be a tough challenge.”

Buckingham is not fully healthy entering the season, which lowers its number of eligible players for Friday night to 18.

Wallace said they will be looking to limit a group of good running backs Appomattox has on offense.

Charles City at Cumberland — 7 p.m.

Cumberland Head Coach Edgar Knapp has helped his team understand the stakes are high for the season opener against the Charles City High School Panthers.

“I always look at the first game being the most important game, actually, because it’s how you start your season,” he said. “Starting off 1-0 is a big plus as opposed to starting off your season 0-1. So, you’ve really got to get off on the right foot.”

The Dukes did that last season, defeating the Panthers in Charles City, 22-8.

“We’re lucky this year we get to play it at home,” Knapp said. “We’re relatively healthy as a football team, so I feel cautiously optimistic. I think we’re going to be ready to play, and I know Charles City is improved from last year.”

He said the Panthers have a trio of skilled players — a quarterback, tailback and wideout — to whom his defense will be paying special attention.

While Cumberland struggled last year, finishing at 2-7, it boasts more experience this season, with seven returning starters on both sides of the ball.

Prince Edward

at Windsor — 7 p.m.

The Eagles hope to improve on the 3-7 season they had last year, though they will be flying on without graduates like star running back Delquan Bigelow and some of the linemen who helped pave his way.

“We lost a lot up front on both sides of the ball,” Prince Edward Head Coach James Ford said.

Some experience remains, however, with five returning starters on both offense and defense.

As for Bigelow’s role, “we’re not going to try to use one man to replace him,” Ford said.

Sharing rushing duties will be senior Brandon Scott and juniors Zion Lewis, Khalil Smith and Aneal Walker.

The Eagles crushed Windsor High School last year in Farmville, 61-8, and Ford is anticipating the young Dukes and their run-heavy offense will be out for revenge as they host this season.

“They look pretty good on film,” he said. “They have a really good tailback and fullback that we have to keep an eye on. Defensively, they change things up, so you really can’t focus on one set defense.”

Prince Edward is not fully healthy on the line, but will move players around to compensate.