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Early gridiron excitement

new high school varsity football season always brings with it the possibility of excitement on the weekends in the fall, and the first week of the season this past weekend did not disappoint.

Grabbing the top headline for the teams in our coverage area was Buckingham County High School.

On Friday night, I was getting photos from the games at Prince Edward County High School and Cumberland County High School, but I was keeping track from afar of the Knights’ game against perennial state title contender Appomattox County High School with the help of Tim Hartless on Twitter and Richard LeSueur and Frank Shanaberger on radio station WVHL 92.9 Kickin’ Country.

I started working at The Herald in April 2016, and the Knights had never won “The Battle of the Axe” in football since I’ve been here. In fact, the Knights hadn’t won against Appomattox since 2014.

The Raiders have seemed like an unbeatable team against Buckingham in recent years, and their state-level achievements have made them seem all the more intimidating. They won the Virginia High School League Class 2 state championship in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

It was a testament to how good the Knights were in 2015 that they lost only 14-7 to Appomattox that year. That was the late great Craig Gill’s final year leading Buckingham, and the Knights finished 10-2 that year, including a brief playoff run.

But since then, it had seemed like the impossible dream for the Knights to even be competitive with the Raiders. In 2016, Buckingham lost 57-6. In 2017, the score was 63-14. Last year, with present Head Coach Seth Wilkerson at the helm, it was still 44-7.

I had gotten used to opening week being a good test for the Knights against the best the state has to offer, but also an essentially guaranteed Buckingham loss.

And then this year happened.

I was hearing that the Knights were holding their own with a 7-6 lead after the first quarter, and then they held that lead at halftime. There still seemed like there was room for the Raiders to wake up and put together a rout in the second half, but instead, Buckingham began adding to its lead. 13-6. Appomattox’s starting quarterback was sidelined. The Knights began driving on offense for even more points.

In the end, Wilkerson and his players achieved a 27-6 victory over the heralded Appomattox football program, bringing the axe back to Buckingham.

In so doing, the Knights taught me an important lesson — they have held their own with the best in the state before, and they can do it again.

Shifting our focus to Division III of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA), Fuqua School opened its season Saturday afternoon by taking on host Fredericksburg Christian School, the 2018 state champion of VISAA Division II, which features larger schools than Division III. The Falcons ended up routing the Eagles 52-27.

Fuqua Head Coach Ben Manis was careful to point out that a large group of seniors who helped the Eagles win last year’s title had graduated earlier this year. However, the Falcons’ big win against a strong Division II program helps highlight that, this year, it is they who are the senior-laden team showing significant strength.

As a younger, rebuilding squad last year, Fuqua still managed to make the Division III state title game. The Falcons lost that game in lopsided fashion to the elite Roanoke Catholic School, but graduation claimed some key Celtics talent, so the gap between the teams has likely shrunk.

Prince Edward and Cumberland did not generate the kind of headlines they were hoping for with big week one losses, but each program is led by new coaches who have fixed their attention on important things that will likely help bring wins to their teams moving forward. So, there is plenty of reason to stay tuned when it comes to the Eagles and the Dukes.

The promise of gridiron excitement is alive and well here in the Heart of Virginia.

Titus Mohler is the sports editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia LLC. His email address is Titus.Mohler@FarmvilleHerald.com.